Nov 24, 2021
Infrastructure bill passage to boost California projects

In actions that carry out President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed two pieces of significant legislation, including a $1.2 trillion bipartisan package that includes $8.3 billion for critical water projects in drought-parched California and the West.

The House also passed the president’s social safety-net bill, the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act, on a party-line vote. That bill, which funds universal pre-K, expansion of Medicare, renewable energy credits and affordable housing, now moves to the Senate.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed out of the House last week with 13 Republican votes, after moving through the Senate earlier this year. The legislation was signed by the president on Nov. 15.

“The diverse investments in western water infrastructure and our national forestlands included in this package will assist farmers, ranchers, water providers and rural communities impacted by wildfires, water shortages and a changing hydrology,” California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said.

Erin Huston, California Farm Bureau federal policy consultant, said the $8.3 billion included in the infrastructure legislation “provides the opportunity for funding several California infrastructure projects such as Sites Reservoir, the Friant-Kern Canal subsidence project and many others.” In addition, there’s $3.3 billion in the package that seeks to address the threat of wildfire, she added.

“We’ll be monitoring implementation very closely to ensure this funding opportunity is allocated smartly and addresses the needs of California’s agricultural communities and results in actual, real structures being built in California,” Huston said.

To advocate for investments in water infrastructure, Farm Bureau is one of five groups leading a coalition including more than 220 organizations from 15 states that collectively represent nearly one-third of all agricultural production in the country and many local and regional public water agencies that supply water to more than 75 million urban, suburban and rural residents.

“The bipartisan infrastructure bill will provide western water managers with valuable resources for storage, conveyance, recycling, ecosystem and dam safety projects,” said Dave Eggerton, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, which is also part of the coalition.

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, stated in a press release that the spending on western water infrastructure is “the largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history.”

“From 2010 to 2020, California experienced 16 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $1 trillion in damages. Over the next 20 years, California’s drinking water infrastructure will require $51 billion in additional funding,” Harder said.

Nationally, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides $110 billion for roads and bridges, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, and $65 billion for improving broadband, particularly in underserved rural communities.

On Nov. 14, President Biden tapped former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to coordinate the implementation of the physical infrastructure bill.

Meanwhile, the Build Back Better Act has received opposition from American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. In a letter sent to Congress before the vote, he expressed concerns over spending levels and taxes.

“While some of the elements in the reconciliation package would benefit agriculture,” Duvall wrote, “the massive amount of spending and tax increases required to pay for the plan outweigh the gains we would see in rural America.”

California Farm Bureau director of federal policy Sara Arsenault said the conversation in D.C. now turns to funding.

Congress must address raising the federal debt limit and determine whether it will pass another continuing resolution or a full appropriations bill to continue funding the federal government for the next fiscal year. A government shutdown looms if Congress fails to pass either by Dec. 3.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen estimates that the government will run out of money on Dec. 15 unless the debt ceiling is raised.

Christine Souza, California Farm Bureau Federation

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