Panels kick off policy debates on water, Western lands

Two House Natural Resources subcommittees held their opening hearings of the new Congress.

March 09, 2023

House Natural Resources Committee Republicans showcased their priorities for the 118th Congress on Wednesday, holding a pair of hearings that addressed a broad swath of policies on public lands and waters.

In the Federal Lands Subcommittee, Chair Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) reignited an age-old debate about the government’s grip on Western lands. In the Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee, Chair Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.) helmed a wide-ranging session on water policy, including hydropower permitting, agriculture needs, tribal rights and saltwater fishing.

"We really don't have the luxury of time," Bentz said. "We absolutely must focus now on encouraging states to increase the sustainable supply of water, to stop using water in ways that irreversibly deplete groundwater resources, and we can't avoid taking on the incredibly difficult question of what we do when there simply isn't enough water."

But, echoing the theme of the hearing, "Benefits and Access: The Necessity for Multiple Use of Water Resources," Bentz also warned that he did not want lawmakers to focus on "why one water user is most deserving or why one approach is most scientific."

Lawmakers discussed impacts of reduced water allocations to agricultural users — including in California, where farmers reliant on federal water projects saw cuts to their allocations in recent years — as well as the costs of new infrastructure projects like reservoirs and desalination (Greenwire, Feb. 22).

Bentz raised the possibility of valuing the cost of water used to support endangered species or in-stream flows in drought-impacted states.

"I think it's time we put a number on the amount we're spending on the water allocated in-stream," he said.

California Rep. Jared Huffman, the subcommittee's top Democrat, warned against setting environmental demands for water against those flows needed by agriculture and municipalities.

"Our water challenges and shortages in the West are not driven by the Endangered Species Act, radical environmentalists or the deep state. In fact, the principal driving force is climate change," he said.


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By:  Jennifer Yachnin, Kelsey Brugger
Source: E&E Daily