May 19, 2018
Casper Star Tribune
Most people turn on their faucets without giving much thought to where the water comes from. Just as little consideration is given to the intricate series of dams and levees protecting communities from floods.
In Wyoming, we are very aware these infrastructure systems are critical to keeping our communities prosperous and safe. Our ranches and farms depend on consistent water delivery. Our communities must have faith in the promise that our dams won’t fail.
Years of deferred maintenance have put this promise at risk. That’s why, as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I have worked closely with a bipartisan group of senators from around the country to introduce America’s Water Infrastructure Act. It will boost our nation’s economy, help keep our homes safe from the threat of floods and cut needless government red tape.
For ranchers and farmers, a disruption in water service can be catastrophic.
Sediment buildup behind dams severely limits how much water reservoirs can hold. We’ve seen this firsthand in Wyoming. The Bighorn Lake has lost over seven percent of its water storage capacity because of sediment buildup. Our bill develops regional sediment management plans to increase water storage capacity in Wyoming and throughout the West.
Expanding water storage through projects like this, and the expansion of Fontenelle Reservoir in Lincoln County, give our rural communities a reliable supply of water to keep livestock and crops healthy.
Water storage isn’t the only challenge ranchers and farmers face in Wyoming. Deferred maintenance on aging irrigation systems – particularly on the Wind River Indian Reservation – has slowed water delivery. Irrigation projects Washington started almost a century ago have fallen into disrepair or were simply never finished.
A 2016 law I authored holds Washington accountable for its commitments to finish, fix, or replace these broken irrigation ditches and canals. America’s Water Infrastructure Act extends this important program.
This bill also makes clean drinking water a priority. America’s Water Infrastructure Act will help provide drinking water in tribal communities like the Wind River Reservation.
America’s Water Infrastructure Act isn’t just about keeping our economy strong, it’s also about making Wyoming safer.
This bill makes Wyoming’s water infrastructure a priority and increases local input in deciding which projects get done first. The people of Wyoming should be the ones telling Washington which programs and projects would have the most impact.
Many communities face a continual threat of dangerous flooding. This bill creates a flood prevention action plan to protect Wyoming communities in the Snake River Basin.
It also creates a permanent program to help mitigate the threat of floods caused by ice jams. Last spring, severe flooding in Greybull and Worland on the Big Horn River caused serious damage. America’s Water Infrastructure Act authorizes important programs to find permanent ways to prevent these ice jams.
Often the biggest hurdle for smaller communities starting water projects is complying with all of Washington’s burdensome and expensive regulations.
America’s Water Infrastructure Act expands grants and technical assistance for towns during this process. Every town in Wyoming would qualify and could apply for this program.
On a national level, the bill includes projects to dredge and deepen significant ports, and to maintain the navigability of inland waterways across the country. This means products from Wyoming like beef, soda ash, and coal can be shipped around the world. That benefits Wyoming and America.
Mark Twain supposedly said, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” In the West, water is vital to our way of life.
Let’s use this opportunity to pass major bipartisan water infrastructure legislation that will help grow the economy, make our communities safer, and keep Wyoming thriving.
U.S. Senator John Barrasso is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.