Gardner, Western Senators Call on USDA to Implement New Drought Tools and Establish Western Drought Initiative

Bipartisan Letter Urges USDA to Immediately Implement Drought Provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill and Establish a Targeted Initiative for the West

Washington, D.C. – This week U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan coalition of Western senators called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to immediately implement water conservation tools, included at the direction of a Gardner-led amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law in December 2018. These new tools and resources will help farmers and ranchers adapt to the prolonged drought in the West.


In their letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the senators highlighted the need for the USDA to move quickly to implement the 2018 Farm Bill and provide further guidance to the agency on these provisions. They also requested that the USDA use the new drought-related conservation tools in a coordinated and strategic manner to establish a voluntary, targeted western drought initiative.


In addition to Gardner, the letter was signed by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tom Udall (D-NM), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).


In June, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced the bipartisan Drought Resiliency and Water Supply Infrastructure Act, a bill to improve the nation’s water supply and drought resiliency.


In April, Colorado Senators Gardner and Bennet helped secure congressional passage of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act, which authorized the implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan agreements forged between the seven Colorado River Basin states and Indian tribes.


NOTE: Full letter available here.


The letter reads in full:


Dear Secretary Perdue:


The 2018 Farm Bill (P.L. 115-334) includes critical western drought provisions that provide funding for voluntary water conservation efforts to farmers, ranchers and the entities that serve them. We request that you immediately implement these new authorities and use them in a coordinated and flexible manner to establish a western drought initiative to address the water supply challenges in the West and sustain our agricultural economy. The Farm Bill was signed by the President on December 20, 2018 and our constituents are concerned with the delay in implementing conservation programs.


Drought is now the single largest cause of U.S. farm production losses, in recent years accounting for more than 40 percent of total crop insurance payments, averaging $4 billion annually.  Most western producers rely on water delivery systems that require both on and off-farm infrastructure. Substantial water is lost as it is conveyed from its source to their fields, and reductions in agricultural water use can also have environmental consequences.


The 2018 Farm Bill provides multiple new authorities for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address these natural resource challenges in a strategic fashion. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized USDA to address water supply and drought challenges at an expedited pace and watershed scale by modifying the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, the Watershed Protection and Flood Control Act, and the Conservation Reserve Program. Below, we describe these new authorities and our intent in writing them, to help guide USDA implementation.


The Department has administratively established several major programs across the country to target substantial funding toward voluntary conservation efforts that address urgent natural resource concerns. Until the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA lacked the authority to effectively target a sizable investment to western agricultural producers to address water supply and drought challenges. Accordingly, we would like to now work with you – as you implement the new Farm Bill authorities - to establish a targeted, voluntary western drought initiative.


Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to working with you.