House Passes Bill to Make Water Supply Project Permitting More Efficient

In late June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1654, which would coordinate federal review of water supply projects. The bill, known as the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act, was introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA).

In comments before the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. McClintock argued that the bill would not bypass existing environmental regulations, rather it would bring order to “bureaucratic chaos.”

“Droughts are nature’s fault. Water shortages are OUR fault. Water shortages are a choice we made a generation ago when we stopped building new reservoirs to meet the needs of a growing population,” said Rep. McClintock. Later he added, “For years, this committee’s subcommittee on water issues has taken volumes of testimony from frustrated water districts unable to navigate the Byzantine maze of regulations and a phalanx of competing, overlapping, duplicative and often contradictory federal agencies.”

He explains that agencies spend years meeting the requirements of a federal agency only to have another agency claim jurisdiction and set forth another set of requirements. To highlight how the process holds up water supply projects, Rep. McClintock points to High Savery Dam in Wyoming, which took 14 years to permit, and the proposed Sites Reservoir in California, which had studies on over 50 alternative locations and has “no end in sight for the feasibility process.”

H.R. 1654 would establish the Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”) as a coordinating agency for potential projects on Interior or Department of Agriculture lands. Reclamation would be responsible for identifying federal agencies that may have jurisdiction over any part of the review or permitting process and notifying those agencies that they have been designated as a cooperating agency. Reclamation would also coordinate with state agencies, as applicable; serve as a point of contact for the applicant, state agencies, tribes, and other interested parties; and oversee the preparation of unified federal environmental documentation. The bill would also provide transparency and allow for independent review of the science by requiring that all data to be published online.

H.R. 1654 has eight original co-sponsors, all from western states: Liz Cheney (R-WY), Paul Cook (R-CA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Scott Tipton (R-CO).

An identical bill, S. 677, sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), is under consideration in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. S. 677 also has support in the west, with five co-sponsors from four western states: Jeff Flake (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), Dean Heller (R-NV), Michael B. Enzi (R-WY), and James E. Risch (R-ID).


Written by Marta L. Weismann