New administration brings opportunities for Western agriculture
A massive flood event or destructive drought are two sure crises that will get
policymakers focused on improving water management policy. The recent drought has ramped up much-needed congressional interest in Western water. Late last year, President Obama signed into law the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. This will allow Western
water providers to better manage and prepare for future dry times. Earlier this year, historic snowpack levels and heavy rains overwhelmed parts of the West Coast. This further underscores the critical importance of upgrading infrastructure and policies to enhance water resources management.
The Trump administration and Congress
need to address Western water resources
development with priority. Right now, new
water projects are often hamstrung by a
vast array of dated federal environmental
laws and regulations. Unfortunately, it’s
hard to draw attention to these issues.
Right now, energy issues, repealing and/or
replacing Obamacare and tax reform are all
hogging the limelight in Washington.
It’s time to make Western irrigated
agriculture one of the priorities for the
American food production requires a
vibrant farm economy. For farmers to
survive, a stable water supply is a must. In
many areas of the West, water resources
are available and projects are waiting to be
developed. However, federal policies make
development of these stabilizing water
supplies nearly impossible.
Over the past decade, certain activist
groups have cynically used fish and wildlife
management to eliminate sectors of
production agriculture. Sometimes, these
efforts have been supported by our own
federal government. It has happened in
places like the Klamath Basin and California’s
Central Valley. Water originally developed
for farms and ranches has been redirected
to meet the unsubstantiated needs of fish
protected under the Endangered Species
Act. It is happening now in Oregon’s
Deschutes River Basin, where environmental
litigants are taking water away from farmers
and dedicating it to the debatable needs of
the ESA-protected Oregon spotted frog.
The producers and conservationists we
work with are always looking for ways to
find a sustainable balance of environmental
protection and economic prosperity.
Irrigated agriculture provides a $172 billion
annual boost to our economy. It also
provides important habitat for western
waterfowl and other wildlife. Its open
spaces are treasured by citizens throughout
the West and the nation. Family farmers
and ranchers are clearly willing to partner
with constructive conservation groups
and federal agencies. There are many
opportunities where producers can help
both strengthen their productivity and
improve the environment.
Still, many Western producers face daunting
regulatory and policy-related challenges.
Some of these are brought on — in part
— by federal agency implementation of
environmental laws. Others result from the
harmful tactics employed by litigious, anti-
farming activists. Plus, there are countless
new rules and policies skewed toward
On the ground, water systems built early
in the last century are aging. Once-reliable
federal grants and loan programs are a thing
of the past. Little progress has been made
toward developing new and improved
water infrastructure, while water demands
of expanding cities, energy production and
environmental needs continue to grow.
These challenges are daunting, and they
will require innovative solutions:
We must find ways to recover water
supply certainty by updating and
expanding Western water infrastructure.
Congress and the Trump administration
can find ways to curb environmental
lawsuits against federal agencies and the
rural communities they serve.
It’s time to update and streamline
outdated federal environmental laws
so they work to enhance the nation’s
food production, ecosystems and rural
We must start trimming chapters, rather
than adding new ones, to the regulatory
playbook. The current one is already too
voluminous, top-down and daunting.
We have worked closely with the Western
Governors Association to seek creative
ways to update the ESA and make it work
better. We are always looking for specific
recommendations that can be applied via
legislation or administrative means.
We value our relationship with the Irrigation
Association and will work on many of these
endeavors with them. I serve on IA’s 2019
Farm Bill Task Force. We will continue to
promote improved coordination between
Interior Department and USDA water
conservation program implementation. The
role of irrigation districts in conservation
grant programs must be elevated. We’ll also
push for a stronger state and local role in
decision-making on conservation matters.
The Family Farm Alliance has developed
specific recommendations for the Trump
administration that can help provide
solutions to meet these needs. It is our
hope that the administration will embrace
our approach: the best solutions are driven
locally by real people with a grasp of “on-
the-ground” reality and who are strongly
invested in successful solutions.