Western lawmakers ask USDA to bolster drought response

By Marc Heller | 04/30/2024 06:14 AM EDT

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and others urged the expansion of programs at the Forest Service and elsewhere.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) led a letter to the Agriculture Department pushing the agency to do more on water conservation. Mark Schiefelbein/AP

A group of Western lawmakers pressed the Biden administration Monday to ramp up water conservation, especially in national forests that provide nearly half the region’s surface water.

“Reliable and sustainable water availability is absolutely critical to any agricultural commodity production in the American West, and swiftly deploying funds to producers and watersheds in our States and Districts is crucial to help them respond to more frequent and severe droughts,” wrote the lawmakers, including Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The 31 members of the Senate and House, all Democrats except for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), credited the administration for several efforts related to water conservation, including promoting irrigation efficiency as a climate-smart practice eligible for certain USDA funding through the Inflation Reduction Act.


Any additional assistance, however, should also recognize the importance of water conservation far upstream from farms, they said.