Farm Bill and Water in the West_vF.10.26.2022

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Western water conservation and drought mitigation on private working lands

Policy opportunities in the farm bill and beyond

The western United States continues to face extended and increasingly severe drought conditions that threaten municipal and agricultural water supplies, energy production, wildlife and aquatic habitat and overall water quality and ecosystem health. 

Although western water is largely managed under state laws, private landowners play a critical role in efforts to conserve limited water and steward large, ecologically and economically functional working landscapes. While agriculture represents a significant portion of water usage in the West, efforts to conserve water or reduce consumptive use of water for food production must be balanced with potential accompanying negative impacts to ecosystem health, local and national food security, and rural communities. 

In this report, we examine amendments to farm bill conservation programs under the 2018 Farm Bill along with other relevant federal programs that may be used to address western water challenges, with the goal of preventing the need for further federal restrictions on water allocations within the Colorado River Basin and other western watersheds. Based on these findings, WLA also provides recommendations for amendments to the next Farm Bill and other state and federal policies to:

  • Expand farm bill conservation programs’ focus on water conservation and western drought mitigation;
  • Empower community-based leaders to play a larger role in addressing water shortages and innovating in agricultural water conservation;
  • Improve coordination among state and federal agencies to leverage collective capacity and resources;
  • Address challenges to farm bill program delivery to improve landowners access to programs that support land and water stewardship.

The Western Landowners Alliance and the authors reserve all copyrights on publications posted on our website unless otherwise noted. Please contact us for reprints or for special use requests.

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