Western Governors Ask for Infrastructure Funds

Addressing the West's aging and overburdened water infrastructure is essential, if the region is to maintain past gains in environmental quality and to meet future needs with a growing population and competing demands, Western governors told Congress recently.

Tony Willardson, deputy director of the Western States Water Council, testified before the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His testimony was delivered on behalf of the council and Western Governors' Association.

"In general, we are not yet in a crisis, but face a chronic problem that will only get worse without aggressive, affirmative action," Willardson said. "If we are to leave a firm water infrastructure foundation for future generations, we will need to increase spending for project repairs, replacement, and new construction."

He said receipts from the Reclamation Fund currently exceed appropriations by roughly $1 billion annually. The association and water council strongly believe the Administration should request and the Congress should appropriate more of this money for reclamation project operation, maintenance, rehabilitation and replacements, as well as to build new capacity necessary to meet demands related to growth and environmental protection.

"Receipts in the past were insufficient for the construction of major federal projects, such as Grand Coulee and Hoover dams, which required the appropriation of general Treasury funds," Willardson said. "But, today, it appears that the Reclamation Fund balance is more than sufficient to pay for Reclamation's water resources programs at current levels."

The President's 2009 budget request for the Bureau of Reclamation's Water and Related Resources account is $779 million, compared to $949 million for 2008.

"Reclamation's facility maintenance and rehabilitation figure for FY2009 is $183 million, compared to $195 million for FY 2008 and $201 million for FY 2007," he said. "Obviously, spending on Reclamation infrastructure is going in the wrong direction.

The association and the water council also testified on Indian water rights settlements before the House Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Water and Power. The governors urged Congress to "take steps to ensure that any settlement authorized by Congress and approved by the President will be funded and implemented without a corresponding offset to some other tribal or essential Interior Department program."

Susan Cottingham of the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission warned that, "State and tribal commitment to pursue these settlements may be jeopardized if federal support is not forthcoming."

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