The U.S. Senate on May 12 delivered final passage of the Fiscal Year 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which included three amendments supported by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to address the effects of historic drought in Arizona and across the West.
The first amendment, which was filed by Senators McCain and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), calls on the Interior Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Academy of Sciences to study and develop a plan to eradicate salt cedar in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Salt cedar is a water-intensive non-native tree species found across the West that federal, state, tribal and local agencies have been trying to eradicate for decades.
According to the Central Arizona Project, there are over 120,000 acres of salt cedar in the drought-stricken Lower Colorado River region. If all salt cedar were removed and replaced with native vegetation, an estimated 860,000 acre feet of water would be reclaimed.
The second amendment would provide $50 million for water conservation projects at Lake Mead and other Colorado River storage reservoirs. The funding, which was authorized by Congress in 2013, supports voluntary water conservation pilot projects with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and state and regional organizations including Central Arizona Project, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
To date, these projects have saved over 60,000 acre feet of water, benefitting drought-stressed cities, farmers, and river ecosystems. The amendment greatly expands the resources available under the pilot program.
“For fifteen years and counting, Arizona and much of the West has lived under the effects of historic drought,” said Senator McCain. “These amendments support critical efforts to address historic drought by calling on federal agencies to eradicate non-native salt cedar trees, which each consume an estimated 200 gallons of water a day, and supporting water conservation projects in Lake Mead. Water is one of the top environmental issues for Arizona in the 21st century and these conservation projects and strategic planning initiatives will help us to ensure future generations are able to enjoy the same quality of life that we enjoy today.”
The third amendment would address the concerns of Arizona power customers about the Western Area Power Administration’s (WAPA) federal overreach. Specifically, the amendment would require WAPA to report on reasons why current and past contracts with power customers have not included contract termination provisions.
“Any long-term contract giving Arizona power customers no way out leaves them vulnerable to WAPA passing through increased costs as a result of the agency’s unnecessary and excessive spending,” said Senator McCain. “I’m proud this legislation advances critical oversight and transparency of WAPA’s activities, which have overstepped their bounds at Arizonans’ expense in recent years.”