Our nation’s water and power infrastructure is vital to our economy, yet is an often overlooked aspect of the Western way of life. Since its genesis in the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Reclamation’s vision to construct multipurpose surface storage water projects has transformed barren landscapes, fostered one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world and helped communities thrive economically.
In Colorado, where I am fortunate enough to live and represent the people of the 5th Congressional District, water and power infrastructure is an indispensable feature of daily life. As Chairman of the Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee in the House Natural Resources Committee, I am reminded daily of this fact. With primary jurisdiction over the Bureau of Reclamation and the four Power Marketing Administrations, the Subcommittee plays an important role in my congressional district. Many utilities and military installations receive water and renewable, emissions-free hydropower from these federal water projects in my district.
For generations, people throughout the West have depended on these projects and they will continue to do so well into this century. Yet, many of these types of facilities are aging and it is getting increasingly difficult to build new projects. Meanwhile, Western populations continue to rise while the inventory of our nation’s infrastructure has remained largely stagnant.
As such, we must address our nation’s infrastructure. People expect their water and electricity to be cheap and reliable, and rightfully so. In Congress, we must look at ways not to only build new water storage but also ensure that our existing water and power facilities are maintained and that federal agencies are transparent and held accountable to the ratepayers.
The problem, however, is that the current regulatory environment is broken. A host of burdensome, costly and sometimes conflicting federal regulations and statutes has stifled development of new water and power infrastructure and has greatly impeded the modernization of existing facilities. This “paralysis-by-analysis” approach to permitting infrastructure is ripe for reform. The American people deserve nothing less.
Having a clean environment and strong infrastructure are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go hand-in-hand. To get the permit for a new water storage facility merely delays or endangers the ability to develop additional water supplies for humans, fish, agriculture, recreation and a multitude of other activities. It’s disturbing that federal studies for new storage or hydropower relicensing processes continue on for decades when we put a man on the moon in eight years.
I’m encouraged by President Trump’s Executive Order on “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure,” which highlights the need for reform. In addition, Congress has put forward proposals like a “one-stop-shop” permitting process to ensure greater agency coordination and certainty for developers looking to build new water projects.
At a time when many of Reclamation’s aging facilities depend on the uncertain federal appropriations process, the transfer of some Reclamation projects or portions of projects to a local irrigation district can help address the needs of our nation’s aging infrastructure. Transferring ownership from federal control to local ownership has proven to be an effective way to allow locals to use their ownership to obtain private financing to upgrade or repair their facilities.
Despite these benefits, there have been only 30 title transfers in the past two decades. It should not take a decade and a full environmental analysis to study a transfer if the entity has paid for and already operates and maintains the facilities. Furthermore, pending title transfers shouldn’t have to sit in Congress for years waiting for authorization once the administrative review is complete.
This is why I crafted the Bureau of Reclamation Title Transfer Act, which seeks to streamline both the administrative and congressional review for easy, noncontroversial transfers. We need to think outside of the box to address the nation’s infrastructure needs and title transfer is a win-win for both the federal government and water users. Furthermore, the Senate and Trump administration have put forward title transfer proposals and I look forward to working with them to get these reforms across the finish line.
Access to a reliable supply of water is a fundamental necessity for any and all economic development. An investment in water infrastructure is an investment in our nation’s economy, its health and its future. The magnitude of these benefits makes clear that water infrastructure must be a high priority in any serious infrastructure proposal Congress considers.
• Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican, serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, where he is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans.
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