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LETTER: Governors encourage development of west-wide drought relief legislation

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May 13, 2016

Honorable Lisa Murkowski
Chairman
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
United States Senate
304 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Honorable Maria Cantwell
Ranking Member
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
United States Senate
304 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell:

On behalf of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), we commend the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on scheduling a hearing to discuss pending western drought legislation. Western Governors believe a comprehensive, west-wide response to drought and water security is needed. We ask that this letter be included in the May 17, 2016 hearing record.

Severe drought conditions have negatively affected large areas of the West. Nineteen western states are experiencing water shortages because of extended drought. The challenge is clearly diverse in implication and region-wide in scope. Challenges such as infrastructure financing, enhancing water supplies, averting economic and environmental harm, and maintaining food security must be met.

Our letter of November 24, 2015 (included below) contained recommended solutions consistent with WGA policies.

We encourage the Committee to develop comprehensive west-wide drought relief legislation. We appreciate your efforts and offer our support for bipartisan solutions that help all western states address drought and its effects.

Sincerely,

Matthew H. Mead
Governor of Wyoming
Chairman, WGA

Steve Bullock
Governor of Montana
Vice Chair, WGA

cc: Members, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources


November 24, 2015

Honorable Lisa Murkowski
Chairman
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
304 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Honorable Maria Cantwell
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
304 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell:

On behalf of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), we commend the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for its efforts to craft comprehensive Western drought legislation. The Committee’s October 8, 2015, hearing on Western and Alaska Water Legislation highlighted severe drought conditions impacting the West, proposals to address drought impact and the need for a unified response. We write to convey the position of Western Governors on water resources management.

At the Committee’s recent hearing, Chairwoman Murkowski requested “out-of-the-box suggestions” to address the drought, seeking creative cost-effective solutions given constrained federal budgets. Ranking Member Cantwell sought, “solutions that take an integrated and basin-scale approach… that take into account all needs within a watershed [and] are locally-driven solutions – collaborative and consensus-based.” WGA is a resource for you as you undertake water legislation.

Seventeen Bureau of Reclamation states, Hawaii and Alaska are impacted by water shortages because of extended drought conditions and insufficient infrastructure to assure adequate water supplies. This challenge has both regional and national aspects, including how best to meet the need for efficient infrastructure financing to maintain and enhance adequate water supplies, avert further economic and environmental harm, and maintain food security.

Last year, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval initiated the “Western Governors’ Drought Forum.” This was a mechanism for states to share best practices in water resource management and focused on improving drought preparedness and response. The forum identified federal water policy and resource needs.

Consistent with the attached WGA Policy Resolution 2015-08 (Water Resource Management in the West), we are pleased to communicate policy solutions for the Committee to consider. Solutions include:

  • Providing incentives for innovative water management policies among states (with federal, tribal and local partners) that preserve states’ primacy in water management, recognize state law, and align with the financial, environmental and social values of water to Western citizens today and in the future;
  • Strengthening federal efforts to maintain adequate collection of drought and water data;
  • Coordinating information programs across multiple agencies, enhancing data networks (where appropriate) and facilitating better use of existing information; and
  • Promoting greater investment in water infrastructure through tools such as loan guarantees, revolving funds, infrastructure banks, and water trust funds.

Among other things, we propose the creation of a budget neutral federal loan program that will make it possible for Western states, and other concerned public and private entities in western states, to secure financing on reasonable terms to complete important water resources management projects. Such investment should be accompanied by dedicated sources of funding with appropriate financing, cost-sharing, pricing and cost recovery policies.

Additionally, Western Governors encourage Congress to authorize federal agencies to provide resources and technical support to assist states in implementing state plans designed to provide water for municipal, rural, agricultural, industrial, and habitat needs.

We appreciate the Committee’s efforts and offer again our support for bipartisan solutions that help states meet drought impacts throughout the West.

Sincerely,

Matthew H. Mead 
Governor of Wyoming
Chairman, WGA

Steve Bullock
Governor of Montana
Vice Chair, WGA

cc: Members, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

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