US govt. discusses drought with Colorado River Basin ag leaders

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US govt. discusses drought with Colorado River Basin ag leaders

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with leaders of the state Departments of Agriculture for the seven Colorado River Basin states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) to address the challenges faced by farmers and ranchers as a result of the historic and ongoing drought affecting the region.

The convening was part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s comprehensive approach to addressing Western drought and making communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

During the meeting, Secretary Vilsack highlighted the Biden-Harris Administration’s investments in the seven states. 

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers resources and programs to mitigate the impact of the historic megadrought, as well as other natural disasters exacerbated by climate change such as flooding, on agricultural and rural communities across the region.

“Through the strategic deployment of financial resources, technical assistance, and cutting-edge research, we are working with communities to help them adapt to the challenges brought on by a changing climate and water scarcity,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. 

“USDA is acting to support producers, forest landowners, and rural communities throughout the Colorado River Basin with a comprehensive approach that will assist impacted producers with conserving water and becoming less reliant on the Colorado River, promoting irrigation and water-use efficiency, and recovering from economic damages incurred from the unprecedented and ongoing drought,” he added.

Below are USDA’s Drought Recovery and Mitigation Efforts throughout the Colorado River Basin:

Western Water Framework

Last month, as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to making Western communities more resilient to drought and climate change impacts, Secretary Vilsack and the USDA announced the Western Water and Working Lands Framework for Conservation Action.

The comprehensive, multi-state strategy under USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) addresses key water and land management challenges across 17 Western States. 

The framework includes guidelines for identifying vulnerable agricultural landscapes and 13 strategies to help NRCS state leaders, water resource managers, and producers respond to priority challenges.

WaterSMART Initiative

In February 2023, Secretary Vilsack announced a $25 million investment in three new priority areas and 37 existing priority areas in the West as the result of a collaboration with NRCS and the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) WaterSMART Initiative to help farmers and ranchers conserve water and build drought resilience in their communities. 

These investments complement projects led by irrigation districts, water suppliers and other organizations receiving WaterSMART program funds from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. NRCS works with the Bureau of Reclamation to coordinate investments in the same community to accelerate water conservation and drought resilience and make a bigger impact where it is needed most.

Investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is making investments for NRCS’s watershed programs, which provide much-needed assistance for drought-stricken communities. That includes $500 million in additional funding for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) program, which supports federal, state, local, and tribal governments in protecting and restoring watersheds. Importantly for drought mitigation efforts, these projects help further the conservation, development, and use of water. 

Additionally, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $118 million for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program. This program helps project sponsors rehabilitate aging dams that are reaching the end of their design lives. 

Watershed Rehab projects in drought-stricken states can take advantage of additional water supply to increase storage capacity and have more water stored for droughts. 

Finally, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also invests $300 million in the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP), which provides much-needed assistance for communities after wildfire damage – an important component of drought response efforts in many Western states.

Investments from the Inflation Reduction Act

President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act is supporting critical investments in climate-smart conversation practices that will help build resilience to climate-change impacts such as drought, wildfire, and floods. USDA has announced $850 million in fiscal year 2023 funding opportunities for producers in Western states and across the nation who want to participate in NRCS conservation programs and adopt these climate-smart practices. 

This is part of a $19.5 billion investment through the Inflation Reduction Act for climate-smart agriculture. These investments can increase the storage of carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and may also help to address drought and other climate-related stressors.

USDA Climate Hubs

USDA’s ten regional Climate Hubs develop and deliver science-based, region-specific information and technologies, with USDA agencies and partners, to agricultural and natural resource managers that enable climate-informed decision-making and provide access to assistance to implement those decisions. 

During times of drought, the Hubs work closely with their regional partners to ensure the latest information, resources, and tools are shared with stakeholders and land managers so that they can mitigate the acute and chronic effects of drought on their land.

Recovery and Loss Support

Producers in the seven basin states have received over $1.8 billion in Federal crop insurance indemnity payments due to drought and drought-related impacts. USDA has provided nearly $680 million in Emergency Relief Program (ERP) funding for producers impacted by natural disasters, including drought, in 2020 and 2021. 

 Farm Service Agency administers additional relief programs such as Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm Raised Fish as well as the Livestock Forage Disaster Program to support producers in the Basin.


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