New bill aims to help Army Corps fight drought in Nevada

FILE - A bathtub ring shows where the water mark on Lake Mead once was along the boarder of Nevada and Arizona, March 6, 2023, near Boulder City, Nev. Nearly half of the U.S. West has emerged from drought, but intense water challenges persist, scientists said Tuesday, May 9. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

By Casey Harrison

April 22, 2024

Lawmakers say the bipartisan bill would give the US Army Corps of Engineers tools needed to respond to drought conditions in the West and better manage water resources.

A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers introduced a bill last week that seeks to provide the US Army Corps of Engineers increased funding and authority to help combat long-term drought conditions in the West.

The Drought Resilient Infrastructure Act would direct the Army Corps to prioritize water conservation or storage efforts at Corps facilities over other missions such as flood control or combating invasive species during times of drought. But the bill would also provide the Corps with new infrastructure programs to help states, counties, tribes, and other locales to construct projects to mitigate drought conditions.

The bill was introduced Thursday by Arizona Democratic US Rep. Greg Stanton and co-sponsored by Nevada Reps. Susie Lee and Dina Titus, both Democrats. A nearly identical version of the bill was introduced in the Senate by lawmakers from Arizona, California, and Nevada.

“Southern Nevada continues to deal with the effects of our worst drought in centuries, and we need bold solutions to protect our precious water, natural resources, and the hardworking families who depend on them,” Lee said in a statement. “Our bipartisan legislation will make sure the Army Corps of Engineers is using all of their tools and resources to combat drought, upgrade our infrastructure and boost water conservation efforts.”

MORE: Nevada to get $9M in federal grants for water projects

The Army Corps operates more than 700 dams, 900 harbors, and 12,000 miles of inland waterways, according to Lee’s office. Among other responsibilities, the Corps stores emergency supplies of drinking water, manages navigable waterways, and funds drought mitigation projects.

“As Nevada and the West confront historic drought, we must implement innovative solutions to conserve water,” Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) said in a press release announcing the bill.

But Lee’s office says under current law, the Corps lacks the authority to modify operations at its own facilities. The new legislation would give the Corps new authorities to cut through red tape relating to its own water conservation, drought resilience, and emergency drought operations.

Despite recent winters with increased snowpack, the US Drought Monitor estimates more than half of the western US is currently impacted by drought conditions. Areas within Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming are all considered to be facing drought.

The drought has been especially burdensome for states like Nevada, Arizona and California — which are among a contingent of states that source drinking water from the Colorado River. Those three states reached a deal with the federal government last year to reduce their allotted share of Colorado River Water by 3 million-acre-feet through 2026 as states along the river continue to negotiate reforms to the 1922 agreement dictating how the river’s water is shared.

“With Arizona facing an unprecedented drought, proper infrastructure and water management systems are crucial,” Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-Arizona) said in a statement. “This bipartisan effort provides the Army Corps of Engineers with the needed resources to mitigate the effects of the drought, further prioritize water conservation efforts, and upgrade existing infrastructure to better serve our communities.”

  • Casey Harrison

    Casey Harrison is political correspondent for The Nevadan. Previously, he covered politics and the Oakland Athletics' relocation to Southern Nevada for the Las Vegas Sun, and before that, was a digital producer at The Detroit News. Casey graduated from Michigan State University in 2019.

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