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Assessing the State of Water and Power in the West

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 20, 2015 -

OP-ED: Assessing the State of Water and Power in the West

Water and Power Report
By Congressman Rob Bishop
Chairman, House Committee on Natural Resources


Those of us from the western United States are fully aware of what irrigated agriculture means to our local ways of life, regional economies, domestic food supplies, and international markets. Indeed, the visionary leaders who created our water projects were outside-the-box thinkers who transformed deserts into some of the most productive soils in the world and made our western urban and rural landscapes, and all those in between, what they are today.

Serial litigation and regulations are doing their best to undermine that promise. The current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the U.S.” proposal is a veiled Washington, DC-knows-best attempt to regulate almost any body of water—including irrigation canals—under the guise of environmental protection. The U.S. Forest Service has also proposed a directive regulating groundwater, an area that has historically been within the purview of state jurisdiction. These policies are part of a massive overreach of federal authority and are seen as unsolicited, unwelcomed, and unjust by those at the state and local levels. I know from my experience as a state legislator that it’s the people who live on the land and work on these issues that have the best knowledge of proactive environmental protection and water use, not unelected bureaucrats in Washington. Under my leadership, the House Committee on Natural Resources will introduce and advance legislation that will rein in this federal overreach.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is another well intended federal law that has been hijacked by real and threatened litigation that has forced many federal, state, and local water agencies and farming operations to walk on eggshells. The water crisis facing much of California’s San Joaquin Valley is a microcosm of how the needs of a three-inch endangered fish can be more important than entire communities and local farms. Now, it’s the irrigated farming communities that are endangered as these regulations exacerbate natural drought. My committee will focus on the role of states and localities in species protection, promoting data transparency and other common-sense proposals that are necessary to help both species and people. Indeed, federal laws like the ESA are often full of outdated notions that environmental needs and human activity cannot be in harmony. The truth is that they are mutually dependent and they must coexist— and the current policy regime is failing both. This mindset must be changed in both the law and regulatory arenas.

We must also have an infrastructure renaissance so that our society can prosper and that our natural resources remain healthy and robust for generations to come. Instead of accepting the status quo of water supplies, we must expand the water pie for both human and environmental needs. This return to abundance will include building more water storage, more canals, more hydropower, and more electricity transmission so that renewable energy can reach the marketplace.

Unfortunately, right now, many of our environmental laws and stove-piped bureaucracies are inhibiting new investments and curtailing innovative thinking. For example, our nation needs permitting reform that streamlines applications. Federal agencies must be stopped from blockading projects that help people and species. There are potential water storage projects in California that should be greenlighted to boost both irrigation and fish flows, and yet they have been stymied by a 20th-century, bureaucratic, paralysis-by-analysis approach. Our nation put a man on the moon in 8 years—yet these projects have been studied for over 12 years.

If these challenges are going to be addressed, we have to think differently and not be afraid to honestly assess other landmark laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is one of the most expansive regulatory regimes in the country. While no one can dispute the intent of NEPA, it is a law that requires oversight. NEPA created the White House Council on Environmental Quality and touches anything and everything with a federal nexus. Yet, a report last year from the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that there is very little available information on the costs or benefits of the thousands of NEPA-related analyses conducted each year. We must have greater oversight in this arena in order to identify regulatory duplication and mitigate exorbitant costs and delays associated with the NEPA process. To pursue these priorities, I have elevated NEPA to the exclusive jurisdiction of the full committee for the 114th Congress.

As an American history and government teacher for 28 years, I compare the past with the present to see which policies work and which need to be revamped. It is undeniable: When it comes to water and power, the current regulatory framework is failing us in the present and will fail us in the future. Policymakers must return to a can-do mindset that shuns the unacceptable bureaucracy and places our nation on a path to water and power abundance.

Click here to view on Irrigation Leader.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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