Bennet Commits to Protecting Water Conservation Funds at Annual Water Congress Summer Conference

Denver — Today, Colorado Politics highlighted an interview with Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet following his remarks celebrating federal investments in Western water infrastructure that he helped secure in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act at the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference. Bennet was joined at the conference by other members of the Colorado Congressional delegation. 

At the conference, Bennet addressed his priorities as Congress begins writing the next Farm Bill, including protecting the $20 billion for agricultural conservation in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and $10 billion for forestry in the IRA and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. As Chair of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources, Bennet is focused on addressing drought, improving our country’s conservation and forestry programs for the West, and ensuring our farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to adapt to a changing climate in the upcoming Farm Bill. 

The full article is available HERE. Excerpts are below.

Colorado Politics: Colorado's Bennet, Hickenlooper vow to protect water conservation funds

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said his priorities include protecting the $20 billion for conservation that came from the Inflation Reduction Act and $10 billion for forestry from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Some people on the U.S. Senate Committee On Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, of which he is a member, will try to grab that money, Bennet said.

"We have to make sure farmers and ranchers in the West have the chance to participate meaningfully" in addressing climate change, he said.

Once the August recess is over, Bennet will have in front of him the 2023 U.S. Farm Bill as a member of the agriculture committee.

The ability to expand farm bill programs so people can have a chance to support soil health and other initiatives is important — and that money has to be protected, he said. 

In addition, Bennet said he wants to ensure programs work better for the West on watershed protection. Such initiatives include the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program administered by the Farm Service Agency, as well easement projects tied to groundwater, he said. 

"We're going through a 1,200-year drought. We aren't getting any more water. Producers are in the position to apply their ingenuity and imagination to create value on their farms and ranches that can be passed on to the next generation, and that needs to be reflected in the farm bill," he said. 


Bennet addressed what could be the next steps in water arena beyond federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and the The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which are directing billions of dollars into drought and water infrastructure issues. 

"We have to make sure we provide oversight" over how that money gets spent, Bennet said.

That includes $4 billion from the inflation bill for permanent and long-term reductions in the lower basin states, as well as $8 billion from the infrastructure legislation, he said. 

It will take a while for those dollars to move through the system, Bennet noted.

The next steps, he said, include trying to forge a consensus among the seven basin states of the Colorado River that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can ratify.

"I do not want the Bureau telling the American West what this will look like," Bennet said. 

Bennet noted the Biden administration has said "we're not fooling around," referring to the demands by the reclamation bureau that the seven states come up with agreements on how to handle the crisis on the Colorado.

That's helpful, he said.  

Bennet said Democratic and Republican states share a view about the science of the river, which he called a major step.

"We have to decide what kind of agreement we can get to," he said.

Bennet said the reclamation bureau should have some rulemaking in place by the end of the year that will carry the seven states to 2026, when the operating guidelines for the Colorado River are set to expire and renegotiated.

"This work will never be done. It never goes away," Bennet added.

Both Hickenlooper and Bennet addressed the role of the 30 tribes of the Colorado River basin that are advocating for a permanent seat at the table on water renegotiations.

Bennet vowed to using his influence to ensure that happens.

"We're trying to respond to the almost-hopeless lack of responsiveness by the federal government with respect to tribes," he said.

He said the tribes did get attention from the infrastructure bill with about $5 billion set aside for their projects.

In prior negotiations, tribes were largely excluded, he noted.

"The lever we can push, as elected representatives of these states, is that we can push to make sure tribes' voices are heard, that they have a meaningful participation in those negotiations and that federal agencies won't push them aside," he said.