Briefline

Senators ask USDA for equal consideration of Western drought needs

By: - December 7, 2022 3:25 pm

Aerial view of drought-affected Colorado farm lands near Strasburg on July 21, 2012. (Lance Cheung/USDA/Public Domain Mark 1.0)

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, and Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, led a bipartisan group of senators in asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give parity to Western drought needs with existing programs and funding.

In a letter addressed to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack the senators from across the Western states asked for continued resources to support projects for ranchers and farmers to conserve water, improve their infrastructure and efficiency, and provide technical support.

The senators want to see funds for agriculture conservation equally allocated “to reflect the contribution of every region, including the West.”  

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“The American West is in crisis. Across the major basins of the American West — including the Colorado River Basin, the Rio Grande Basin, the Great Basin, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin, the Columbia River Basin, and the Arkansas-White-Red Basin — farm and ranch families hang in the balance as they grapple with a 22-year mega-drought,” the letter says. “The acute shortage of water for Western growers threatens productive farmland across our states, which are both a pillar of our rural economies and drivers of America’s food production.”

The letter asks the USDA to address understaffing relating to Western production, specifically the lack of engineers and experts on Western water conservation efforts. The senators also want regular updates on the steps taken to assist ranchers and farmers in states most threatened by severe drought. 

“In addition to new funding provided by Congress, the dire drought conditions in the West require more resources and even more creative and tailored solutions through USDA programs, particularly given many existing programs do not translate well to the needs of Western agriculture,” the letter reads.

Researchers said in a study this year that the prolonged dry spell the Colorado River Basin is experiencing is the region’s worst drought since at least 800 A.D. They also said that much of the “megadrought” is due to human-caused climate change.

Other senators who signed onto the letter include Colorado’s Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper; Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat; Mike Lee, a Utah Republican; Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat; Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat; Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat; Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat; Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat; Jacky Rosen, a Nevada Democrat; Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat; Alex Padilla, a California Democrat; Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat; Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat; and Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat.

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Lindsey Toomer
Lindsey Toomer

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Newsline. She formerly reported on city government at the Denver Gazette and on Colorado mountain town government, education and environment at the Summit Daily News. Toomer graduated from the Pennsylvania State University, where she also served as managing editor of The Daily Collegian, with degrees in journalism and global studies.

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