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Why Western Water Policies Aren't Going Away and Where to Engage

Last week, the United Nations held its annual UN Water Conference bringing together governments, companies, and NGOs on global water solutions. Globally, we’re seeing too much water in places from floods and rising sea levels, and too little water elsewhere.

We don’t have to look further than the Southwest and California to see this dynamic playing out in our backyards. As states negotiate how to use shrinking water supply in the Colorado River and California faces atmospheric rivers, communities and companies are feeling these impacts in real time. Given the profound impact that water, and the lack thereof, is having on western states, this is a prime time to work with government officials on finding solutions.

There is a somewhat rare bipartisan desire to act on water conservation and an interest to hear from constituents on what can be done. This means companies that are concerned about operational risk of lower water supplies, employers worried about attracting employees in water-strapped towns, communities facing natural disaster concerns, or organizations concerned about the impact of shrinking water supply on local ecosystems will have an interested audience should they choose to engage. At the moment, lawmakers are still very interested in finding solutions using carrots rather than sticks - which means there is a unique opportunity to talk through blue sky ideas, share technological advancements, and brainstorm how federal dollars could best be used to assist conservation efforts.

There are several ways to engage in the water conservation debate this year. The most time-sensitive opportunities include:

Farm Bill: Western lawmakers are introducing legislation that could fit into the Farm Bill, a once-every-five-year bill that authorizes all areas of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bills such as the Protect the West Act, which would establish a $60 billion watershed and ecosystem restoration to support local work on drought wand wildfires in the west, are an example of water conservation proposals.

Appropriations: As of now, most of the water conservation priorities involve increased funding for watershed protection and expansion. We will likely see increased funding levels in the FY24 spending bills to go to work on the ground supporting these efforts in the form of grants and public-private partnerships.

Infrastructure Implementation: There was historically high funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for western water conservation that is slowly being rolled out through the Bureau of Reclamation. With so much funding sitting within Reclamation, working with the agency to determine how that funding is distributed could be the fastest way to see real change at the community level.


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