Interactive tool shows what is possible for water conservation with increased funding in 2016
In December, we wrote that Congress struck a spending deal that makes significant investments in conservation. While it doesn’t exactly amount to a big Powerball jackpot for sportsmen, this bill does begin to reverse a decades-long decline for funding that impacts fish and wildlife habitat.
We’ve updated this interactive water budget tool on our website, so you can get a full picture of how Congress plans to pay for water conservation, in particular, this year. But, if pie charts (even incredibly cool ones) aren’t your thing, here’s a breakdown of how spending on freshwater species, from public lands to private lands, will shape up in 2016—making your days on the water even better.
This Smart Water Program
The end-of-year spending bill extends the WaterSMART Grant Program, administered by the Bureau of Reclamation, and invests 15 percent more in the program than last year. That means more critical grants can go to locally-driven water conservation projects. Sportsmen have been asking for a bigger spend on WaterSMART and assurances that this successful program would not expire—and we got both.
A chunk of money that you won’t see reflected in our Sportsmen’s Water Budget has been earmarked for a response to Western drought, construction of fish passages, and other supplemental water conservation work. Congress has supplied this kind of funding to the Bureau of Reclamation every year since 2014, and this year $166 million—$100 million of which is for Western drought response—has been allocated. Reclamation must come up with a plan for how to spend this money by February 2016. If history is any guide, a significant chunk of the additional funds will go towards sportsmen’s needs: Last year, it was used to boost WaterSMART grant spending by 25 percent.
These Farm Bill Fundamentals
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s conservation funding was already set by the 2014 Farm Bill and depends on how many farmers sign up for conservation programs, Congress still had the power to cut these programs back. Thankfully, it did not cut the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), meaning it will still receive about $1.3 billion, which could go toward enrolling farm acres in efforts to increase irrigation efficiency or select crops right for local moisture conditions.
Unfortunately, Congress did cap funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) at $1.329 billion—that’s a loss of about $321 million that could have gone toward improving wetlands and other wildlife habitat. This has a domino effect on the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which helps award funds to projects that improve soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat, efficient use of water resources, and activities that otherwise support natural resources on private lands. It receives $100 million per year in base funding plus seven percent of the amounts made available for CSP, EQIP, and two other conservation programs. Therefore, the cut to EQIP will translate into a $22.5 million cut to RCPP.
But, overall, the combined effects of these funding changes at the Bureau of Reclamation and USDA mean there will be more money available this year for projects that restore fish and wildlife habitat, support agriculture, keep water in our rivers, and generally make water resources more resilient to drought, climate change, and increasing demand from a growing nation. That is all good news for sportsmen who need healthy waterways, which support the places where we love to hunt and fish.
No Dis-Chord on Clean Water
As any great jazz musician will tell you, sometimes the notes you don’t play matter as much as the ones that you do. Despite a strong push from lobbyists, Congress did not include a policy rider to block the Obama Administration’s clean water rule, which clarifies that Clean Water Act protections do indeed apply to 200,000 miles of headwater streams and certain wetlands to the benefit of trout, salmon, ducks, and other waterfowl.
The clean water rule is not out of the woods yet, so to speak (more on that later), but it appears that freshwater anglers and waterfowl hunters are starting out 2016 with some extra help from Congress.