Officials highlight infrastructure act’s water recycling provisions

Officials highlight infrastructure act’s water recycling provisions
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland joined Nevada Reps. Dina Titus (left) and Susie Lee in Las Vegas Sunday to highlight how the newly enacted infrastructure act would benefit the West. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)

by Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
December 13, 2021

LAS VEGAS–With President Biden last month signing a historic $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law to fortify roads, bridges and waterways, among other things, Western states stand to gain major water infrastructure investments. 

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland joined Nevada Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Dina Titus in Las Vegas to tout the Biden administration’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that includes more than $50 billion for water infrastructure programs.

Haaland opened her remarks with a land acknowledgement of Las Vegas as the ancestral land of the Pauite people. Haaland pledged federal resources and cooperation with state, local, and tribal governments.

“Unfortunately drought conditions in the West continue to worsen and water allocations are at historic lows,” Haaland said. “Drought doesn’t impact just one community, it affects all of us.”

The bill includes $8.3 billion for water and drought resilience that will fund water efficiency and recycling programs, rural water projects, and WaterSMART grants.

Halland also highlighted the $2.5 billion in Indian water rights settlements the law provides to help Interior fulfill its obligations to tribes. Those settlements will help tribes build clean water infrastructure, a much needed investment. Native American households are 19 times more likely to lack piped water services than white households, according to a report from the Water & Tribes Initiative.

“We at the department are committed to upholding our trust responsibilities and delivering long promised water resources to tribes,” Halland said.

The infrastructure act guarantees $450 million for water recycling projects within the Bureau of Reclamation’s seventeen western states. 

Lee was one of the original sponsors of the water recycling provision, which establishes a competitive grant program within the Department of the Interior for water recycling projects that have a total estimated cost of at least $500 million.

The grant could help fund a regional water recycling project that will produce enough water to serve more than 500,000 households in Southern Nevada and California. 

“We know that climate change means less precipitation and less water in the Colorado River Basin,” Lee said during the press conference at the Spring Preserve. “It is going to be a regional approach and we’re going to have to make some tough decisions here in the future.”

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, hit record-low water levels earlier this year, triggering the first-ever officially declared water shortage in the Colorado River Basin.  The reservoir supplies water to 25 million people across Nevada, Arizona, and California.

Since 2000, Lake Mead has fallen 130 feet and lost 60% of its volume, a result of the ongoing drought and continued water withdrawals by cities and agriculture.

Nevada is set to receive $71.6 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to help Nevada communities and tribes upgrade drinking and wastewater systems across the state in 2022 in the first round of water infrastructure funding. Funding will be distributed through the EPA. The final allotment of funds to specific tribes, communities, and regions will be up to the state of Nevada.

Titus argued strengthening western states ability to recycle water and manage irrigation will cut dependence on Lake Mead. 

Despite Las Vegas being one of the fastest growing and fastest warming metropolitan areas, the city has also had “one of the best stewardship programs of our water,” said Titus.

“But you certainly have to take into account planning around growth and water shortage. That will be our challenge in the future,” Titus said.

The lawmaker also praised the bill’s funding to tackle wildfire resilience, drought management, conservation efforts, and other problems made more difficult by climate change.

Experts in government, agriculture, water management and the environment have stressed the danger that droughts fueled by climate change pose in the West, including the Colorado River Basin.

The law provides $1.5 billion for Interior wildfire resilience programs. It also appropriates $16 billion for legacy pollution cleanup and another roughly $16 billion for reclaiming abandoned mines and plugging uncapped oil and gas wells.

Officials said conversations and announcements on water agreement would continue at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference this week in Las Vegas.

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