Padilla, Peters Introduce Legislation to Tackle Drought, Support Local Water Infrastructure

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, and Representative Scott Peters (D-Calif.-50) introduced the Drought Relief Obtained Using Government Help Today (DROUGHT) Act, legislation to help alleviate the Western water crisis caused by the long-term drought conditions affecting the Colorado River and its reservoirs. The bill would allow federal government loans to take on a greater share of the rising cost of water infrastructure projects.

Currently, projects receiving assistance from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) Program cannot accept assistance from the federal government for more than 80 percent of project costs, creating undue burdens for state and local governments. The DROUGHT Act would raise the limit from 80 percent to 90 percent for projects in areas experiencing extreme drought or serving historically disadvantaged communities.

“Every American deserves access to reliable, clean drinking water and sanitation, but aging infrastructure and years of historic drought have stretched water systems and increased water bills across the West,” said Senator Padilla. “The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act has successfully invested billions of dollars in California water projects, and this legislation will provide critical additional financial relief for drought-stricken and disadvantaged communities.”

“San Diegans know that we cannot take our water for granted — that’s why the city and county are investing in long-term solutions like Pure Water,” said Representative Peters. “My bill will make sure the federal government is also investing in the most basic needs of the millions of people in the West who are subject to drought. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and our local partners to pass this bill into law.”

The DROUGHT Act would allow drought-impacted and underserved communities to both draw down additional federal funds and remain eligible for long-term, low-interest WIFIA loans. It does not affect the obligation of borrowers to repay their loans, the timeline for repayment, or interest rates of applicable loans.

This bill would support San Diego’s landmark water-recycling project, Pure Water, which will supply half of San Diego’s drinking water by 2035.

Representatives Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.-44) and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.-25) are cosponsoring the bill in the House of Representatives.

Senator Padilla has long been a staunch advocate for water affordability and ensuring access to safe water throughout California and across the country. Last year, he 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. He also led 24 Senators in requesting continued funding for LIHWAP in any funding legislation. More than 150 organizations — including water associations, environmental and public interest organizations, consumer advocates, and labor unions — wrote a similar letter urging Congress to provide FY24 funding for LIHWAP.

Additionally, 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.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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