Padilla Introduces Bill to Expand Army Corps Efforts to Combat Drought in the West

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the Drought Resilient Infrastructure Act to provide new resources and authorities through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to support communities experiencing long-term drought conditions.

The Drought Resilient Infrastructure Act enables USACE to prioritize water conservation efforts at Corps facilities, establishes new emergency authorities that direct USACE to prioritize conservation at multi-benefit projects during times of drought, and bolsters programs to help states, counties, cities, tribes, and other water users construct projects that respond to or prevent worsening drought conditions.

“As the West recovers from years of severe drought, we must ensure that states can rely on the U.S. Army Corps’ support for drought resilience projects without delay,” said Senator Padilla. “The climate crisis demands that we stay prepared for flood control, conserve water, and streamline federal investments in drought-stricken communities during the dry years that stress our water supply. This legislation would also support tribes across the Colorado River Basin while protecting public safety and water rights.”

“As Arizona and the west continue to face a historic drought, it’s essential to have all hands on deck to combat the problem,” said Senator Kelly. “This legislation will make sure the Army Corps steps up to put their vast water infrastructure resources and expertise to work for states, tribes, and communities as they respond and adapt to drought conditions.”

“As Arizona faces record drought conditions, we’re working together to deliver innovative solutions securing our water future. Our new bill expands our water storage capabilities to ensure a lasting water supply for generations to come,” said Senator Sinema.

“As New Mexico continues to grapple with the impacts of long-term drought and aridification, I’m focused on ensuring that our government is using every tool available to protect our water sources. Expanding the Army Corps of Engineers’ ability to protect our rivers is a big part of that. I’m proud to introduce this legislation, building on our recent investments in water infrastructure projects across our state, to ensure the long-term health and vitality of the water our communities depend on,” said Senator Heinrich.

The Corps operates more than 700 dams, maintains 900 harbors, and oversees 12,000 miles of inland waterways. As various regions of the country experience drought conditions, the Corps is well-positioned to bolster water supply, manage navigable waterways during times of drought, and fund infrastructure improvements that help communities and water users better prepare for and respond to drought conditions. Yet in many instances, the Army Corps of Engineers lacks the necessary authorities to quickly modify the operation of existing Corps facilities or invest in infrastructure improvements in response to drought conditions.

The Drought Resilient Infrastructure Act gives the Army Corps of Engineers the necessary tools to respond to drought conditions and better manage scarce water resources. Specifically, the legislation gives the Army Corps new authorities on the areas of water conservation measures, emergency drought operations, and drought resilience projects. Additionally, the bill amends and funds existing authorities and programs to increase water supply, reduce the risk of floods and other natural hazards, and support tribal communities.

Senator Padilla has long been a staunch advocate for building drought resilience and ensuring access to safe water throughout California and across the country. Earlier this week, Padilla and Representative Scott Peters (D-Calif.-50) introduced the DROUGHT Act, legislation to help alleviate the Western water crisis caused by the long-term drought conditions affecting the Colorado River and its reservoirs by allowing government loans to take on a greater share of the rising cost of water infrastructure projects. Last year, he and Representative Mike Levin (D-Calif.-49) introduced the Water Efficiency, Conservation, and Sustainability Act of 2023, bicameral legislation that would authorize $550 million for states, municipalities, water systems, and tribal nations to implement water-efficiency upgrades and establish programs to repair leaks, especially in areas experiencing severe drought and in low-income communities.

Last year, Padilla was named Chair of the EPW Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, where he leads federal efforts to improve water resiliency and oversees implementation of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Padilla recently introduced the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) Establishment Act, legislation that would establish a permanent, nationwide water assistance program to help families afford their water bills. The bill has since received bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. Padilla also led 24 Senators in requesting continued funding for LIHWAP in any funding legislation.

Full text of the bill is available here.

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