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Merkley: Senate appropriations bill contains millions for Warm Springs water system, other C.O. projects

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From wildfire fighting funding to Redmond water system, forest trails

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., announced Thursday major investments to support Oregon communities, strengthen forest health, protect public lands and the environment, tackle climate chaos, boost important programs for tribes, and more through the FY23 Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.  

 As the Chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Merkley drafted this bill and ensured that priorities for communities in every corner of Oregon were included.  

“All Americans deserve clean air and water, healthy forests and ecosystems, and infrastructure that works for them, no matter where they live. As Chair of the Senate Interior Subcommittee on Appropriations, I am in the driver’s seat to help achieve this mission—and this bill delivers,” Merkley said. “The legislation I wrote, which is built on the input of Oregonians from across the state, funds programs that modernize our water systems, combat climate chaos, champion critical projects long-sought by our communities and tribes and so much more, all while creating good-paying jobs. And at a time when wildfires are an ever-growing threat to our state, this bill makes big investments in preventing and fighting dangerous megafires. I am excited to see how these investments will play a key role in strengthening our state for generations to come.”  

 The Interior bill also includes funding to support wildfire management, as well as providing funding to support efforts to address the water crisis in the Klamath Basin. Key elements of the legislation that will impact Oregon include:  

  Wildland Firefighting, Personnel and Preparedness:  The bill provides a total of $4.4 billion for wildfire suppression, of which $2.55 billion is provided to the Wildfire Suppression Operations Reserve Fund and $450 million is provided as an emergency supplemental. This is $550 million (14 percent) more than fiscal year 2022. Since the enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Public Law 115-141), which authorized the Reserve Fund, the average annual cost of suppression has exceeded assumptions that informed the funding levels currently assumed in the Reserve Fund. Fiscal year 2021 was the most expensive year on record, for the first-time costs exceeding $4 billion, and fiscal year 2022 is tracking similar year-to-date expenditures. The additional $450 million in emergency supplemental funding was calculated based on actual average costs of firefighting in the 4 years since enactment of the Reserve Fund. This additional funding gives the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior an assured amount of funding to be used when regular appropriated funds are spent. The bill also increases funds for converting seasonal firefighters to full-time wildland fire positions at the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department, and provides $514 million for hazardous fuels management across both agencies, a $100 million increase.   

Wildfire Smoke Mitigation: The bill provides $10 million, an increase of $6 million over FY22, for the EPA wildfire grant program Senator Merkley established last year to support local efforts to prepare for and protect against wildfire smoke hazards, for example by developing smoke mitigation and filtration plans for schools and community buildings.  

Forest Restoration:The bill builds on Senator Merkley’s priorities for the Forest Service, including $28 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program. This funding will allow the works five collaboratives across the state to continue: Northern Blues Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, and Rogue Basin Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project. The bill also provides $2 million to respond to requests from smaller local organizations that need financial assistance to collaborate on restoration projects.  

  Outdoor Recreation: The bill continues significant investments in the outdoor recreational economy. The bill provides $124 million for Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management recreation and wilderness programs and $20 million to enhance trails on Forest Service lands. The bill also provides $11.5 million for the Rivers, Trains, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program at the National Park Service, which helps local communities plan and implement outdoor recreation projects, and provides $200 million through the Land and Water Conservation Fund State Conservation formula grants and $125 million for Outdoor Recreation Legacy competitive grants, which fund recreational projects at the state and local level.   

  Climate Chaos: To bolster executive action to tackle the climate crisis, the bill includes $656 million, an increase of $231 million and more than 50% over FY22, for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) climate and clean air programs. These funds will support EPA efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is driving climate chaos. The increased funding will also support efforts to protect clean air and make major investments in expanded community-level air quality monitoring to better identify and address pollution hot spots.    

  Environmental Justice: The bill provides $180 million for the EPA’s Environmental Justice program, an increase of $80 million from FY22’s already record levels. These resources will fund external grants for community-led initiatives as well as dramatically expand EPA’s ability to engage directly with communities to ensure they have a voice in EPA decision-making and have access to EPA programs, grants, and technical assistance to address environmental and public health challenges. The bill also fully funds the budget request for EPA’s enforcement and compliance programs by providing $436 million (an increase of $70 million over FY22) to better protect overburdened and vulnerable communities from illegal pollution. 

   Environmental Protection Priorities: Senator Merkley included several environmental priorities in the bill that he has been championing for Oregonians, including: a directive to spend no less than $10 million for monarch butterfly conservation activities in FY23; language and funding pressing EPA to bolster its efforts to address plastics pollution, including updating minimum recycled content guidelines; and $163 million (an increase of $65 million) to fund the EPA’s toxic chemicals program, which is responsible for rulemakings to address asbestos among other chemicals.  

  Water Infrastructure: The bill includes $75 million in critical water infrastructure loan programs under the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Authority (WIFIA) Act. Merkley authored the WIFIA program in 2012, working to ensure public drinking water and wastewater infrastructure are well-maintained to support public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. WIFIA was passed into law as part of the 2014 Water Resources Development Act. (WRDA). In total, the bill includes over $3.2 billion in loans and grants to support water infrastructure projects.  

  Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: As a key part of Senator Merkley’s continued efforts toward a long-term solution in the Klamath Basin, he included $20.6 million for water monitoring efforts and conservation, including fish and wildlife habitat restoration, which is a $5 million increase compared to last year.  

  Saline Lakes: The bill provides $2 million to expand a U.S. Geological Survey water monitoring assessment effort for saline lakes in the Great Basin, like Lake Abert.  

  Columbia River Treaty Fishing Access Sites: The bill provides $4.5 million for Columbia River In-Lieu Treaty Sites, including $1.3 million for fishing sites construction, to implement Senator Merkley’s Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act.  

  Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The bill provides $900 million, as required by the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) for the LWCF. For over 50 years the program has been the main source of funding for federal land and water acquisitions. Acquiring and protecting public lands not only provides environmental and recreational benefits, but also creates jobs in the tourism, recreation, timber, fishing, and other natural resource sectors.  This includes acquisitions at Pipe Fork-Port Orford Cedar Research Natural Area ($500,000), Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument ($1.2 million), and in the Umatilla National Forest ($10 million).  

  National Parks and Monuments: Within the Great American Outdoors Act Legacy Restoration Fund, the bill allocates, $9.5 million to fund maintenance at Yaquina Head, $7 million to replace the boiler at Timberline Lodge, $400,000 to replace the roof at the Siuslaw Visitor Center, and $10 million to address deferred maintenance at National Forests across Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. The bill also includes $68.3 million for BLM’s National Conservation Lands and directs BLM to prioritize management planning for Cascade-Siskiyou—this account has historically been underfunded and additional resources will be used for many projects, including recreation and management planning for new, expanded, and restored monuments.   

  Tribal Programs and Services: The bill includes $11.4 billion in critical funding for tribal communities across the country, and for the first time, $8 million to establish the Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program, which will address water infrastructure challenges like those faced by the Warm Springs reservation. The bill also provides an advance appropriation in FY24 for the Indian Health Service (IHS) to protect health care services funded by IHS to over 2.5 million Native Americans from future lapses in funding due to government shutdowns and unpredictable budget years. The bill also provides $8 million to expand tribal law enforcement programs to tribes that have historically been excluded from the programs, like The Klamath Tribes, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Reservation, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. 

  Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act (FRIMA): The bill provides $5 million in new funding to implement FRIMA, for fish passage devices, fish screens and other related features to mitigate water diversion impacts on fisheries in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and California. FRIMA is an important tool to conserve and restore native anadromous and resident fish populations in the Pacific Northwest. Funding for the program lapsed in 2015 and, for the first time since, the Interior bill proposes restoring funding.   

  Monarch Butterflies: The bill includes a directive for the Fish and Wildlife Service to spend no less than $10 million for conservation activities for monarch butterflies and other pollinators. This funding will go to continue to support the outcomes from Senator Merkley’s Monarch Summit.   

  Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $515 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing. This funding goes to Oregon counties that have large tracts of federal land.  

  Community-Initiated Projects: In addition to the funding allotments above, Merkley wrote into the bill federal funding for specific conservation, water infrastructure, and other projects sought by communities across Oregon. Those funds and community-initiated projects, which he advocated for with Senator Ron Wyden, include:  

·         $5 million for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs for Drinking Water Infrastructure  

·         $5 million for Talent Irrigation District for the Billings Siphon and Eastside Canal Project  

·         $3.5 million for the City of Burns for Water System Improvements  

·         $3.5 million for the Oregon State University for Elliott State Research Forest Monitoring Equipment  

·         $3 million for Owyhee Irrigation District for its Kingman Lateral Pipeline Project  

·         $2.82 million for the City of Paisley for Water System Improvements  

·         $2.5 million for the Ochoco Irrigation District for the McKay Creek Infrastructure  

         Improvement Project  

·         $2.2 million for the City of Carlton for its Sewer Collection Pipe Replacement Project  

·         $2 million for the City of Grants Pass for its Water Treatment Plant Relocation Project  

·         $2 million for the City of Redmond for Water System Construction  

·         $2 million for the Oregon Zoo for its Condor Restoration Project  

·         $1.7 million for Morrow County to address Drinking Water Contamination in Northeast Oregon  

·         $1.6 million for the City of Falls City for its Water System Project  

·         $1.2 million for the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument  

·         $1 million for the State of Oregon for the Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Area Act Implementation project  

·         $700,000 for the Deschutes National Forest for Recreational Access  

·         $602,000 for the City of Prairie City for Water Distribution System Improvements  

·         $250,000 for the Harney Watershed Council for Harney Basin Water Resource Planning Support  

·         $115,000 for Hood River Crag Rats for Historic Cloud Cap Inn Reroofing  

  “Once again, Senators Merkley and Wyden have stepped up to help the Warm Springs Tribe address its ongoing water crisis. This legislation would allow the Tribe to dramatically improve reliable access to clean, running water to thousands of people living on the Warm Springs Reservation,” said Tribal Council Chairman, Jonathan Smith. 

“Talent Irrigation District would like to give our sincere thanks to Senators Merkley, Wyden and their staff for working diligently to have our Billings Siphon and Eastside Canal Project included in the bill,” said Mike Winters, President of the Board of Directors. “The project will replace aging infrastructure and the piping of the open canal will have a profound water savings due to reducing evaporation and leakage. This will be able to provide more water to our district patrons and provide water savings that will be directed toward enhancing streamflows in Bear Creek and ultimately the Rogue River.” 

“This Interior Appropriations bill provides many important investments for forest research,” said Dr. Tom DeLuca, Dean of the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. “OSU is particularly appreciative of the efforts of Senators Merkley and Wyden to secure funding for OSU to purchase and install forest monitoring equipment that supports the start-up of the Elliott State Research Forest. The Elliott State Research Forest has been established by the State of Oregon to serve as an enduring, publicly owned, world-class research forest to advance understanding related to forest health, climate resilience, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, water quality and quantity, and forest recreation.” 

“The Owyhee Irrigation District is excited and deeply grateful for the support shown by Senators Merkley and Wyden for this project. Piping the first mile of the Kingman lateral will save money and stabilize the embankment, ensuring irrigation delivery to 6,500 acres,” said Clancy Flynn, General Manager, Owyhee Irrigation District. 

“The City of Grants Pass is particularly grateful to Senators Merkley and Wyden for putting our Water Treatment Plant Relocation Project forward on this bill.  The Water Treatment Plant Relocation project builds resilience from flood and seismic events, ensuring the residents and businesses of our community  are not without a fundamental life source: water. The funding will help mitigate recent service fee increases that have the greatest impact on the those in our community with the fewest financial resources.  The funding from this bill will explicitly go to design and construction preparation activities including much needed geotechnical borings, pipeline route work and other design related tasks needed to ensure the success of the project,” said Jason Canady, Public Works Director, City of Grants Pass. 

“City of Redmond proudly prioritizes safe and clean water as well as protecting its natural resources.  Being awarded funding in the Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS) portion of the Interior Appropriations bill enables us to accelerate needed investments in our water infrastructure and more efficiently meet the demands of our growing community,” said Mayor George Endicott. “This federal support, spearheaded by Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley, ultimately eases the burden shouldered by water utility ratepayers, and enhances needed water capacity for our community to grow and thrive well into the future.” 

“The condor is a symbol of what the Pacific Northwest can be; a promise based on restoration, on tribal ownership and leadership, on taking action to undo centuries of environmental harm. As one of only four condor breeding facilities in the country, the Oregon Zoo has for 19 years played a critical role in saving this species from the brink of extinction. This Interior Appropriations bill invests in the future of this iconic bird and its eventual restoration to its historic Oregon range. Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden’s work means that the Oregon Zoo will continue to be a leader in condor conservation,” said Lynn Peterson, Oregon Metro Council President. 

“This federal funding will help Morrow County move beyond the short term nitrate emergency and help us work towards longer term solutions.  The Senator’s support during the nitrate emergency has been so valuable.  This new source of significant funding will allow Morrow County to develop a standardized data and testing program to monitor rural wells and also study long term solutions to secure clean drinking water for rural residents. This is also an exciting time to partner with Umatilla County to finally move to implement solutions for the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area (LUNGWMA) around drinking water.  I look forward to working with our local, state and federal partners and appreciate the efforts of Senator Merkley, Senator Wyden and their staff,” said Melissa Lindsay, Morrow County Commissioner.

“I really appreciate the respect the Senators have expressed and realization of the critical need for this project,” said Dan Dorran, Umatilla County Commissioner.

This vital funding support will help Falls City replace many of the old Asbestos Cement water lines that impact our public safety every time they break. Due to their old and brittle condition, we run the risk of contamination to the public each time they fail. In addition, being able to improve the intake system at the source will greatly extend the life of the sand filters and the Water Treatment Plant overall. Finally, the ability to improve our billing system through wireless metering, will help our limited staff manage our community’s customer accounts more efficiently,” said AJ Foscoli City Manager, Falls City.  

“These federal dollars are coming at a good time. The natural resources and people of the Santiam Canyon have suffered greatly in the wake of the 2020 wildfires. Using these funds to help build a trail that can be both enjoyed by locals and enhance recreational tourism in the region will continue to support this community's economic recovery. We thank our federal delegation for investing these dollars in the people of the Canyon,” said Commissioner Kevin Cameron. 

“The Harney County Watershed Council works to improve watershed health for the benefit of our communities and the environment. Our Community Based Water Planning Collaborative is a partnership with the Oregon Water Resources Department and a range of stakeholders including agricultural producers and environmental groups. The Collaborative is working to create and implement a plan for our future water use and needs.  Learning over the last four years that our basin is over-appropriated for groundwater use and facing multiple years of drought have created a need for this guiding document. We thank Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden for the funding that will enable us to complete our plan,” said Karen Moon, Coordinator, Harney County Watershed Council.  

Merkley and fellow Oregon Senator Ron Wyden on Thursday also announced Senate passage of critical priorities for Oregon that were included in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022.  

“For much of Oregon, our coast and our rivers are the beating heart of our communities, and whether the ports, levees, dams, and other water infrastructure are up to snuff can dictate whether families and business thrive or are at risk from extreme weather events. That’s why I fought so hard to make sure this bill delivers for Oregon,” said Merkley, who serves on the committee that writes the bill. “The Senate’s WRDA supports Oregon’s 23 working ports – making sure they are properly maintained and continue to serve the families and businesses who depend on them for a living, while keeping workers and communities safe. The bill also authorizes investments in flood management – something that our nation will need even more as we continue to fight climate chaos and make our communities more resilient for the future.”  

“Modern water infrastructure throughout Oregon is vital to quality of life in communities statewide that rely on ports, levees and dams for jobs, economic activity, flood protection and more,” Wyden said. “This bill achieves those goals for Oregonians counting on these federal investments in communities large and small to build an even stronger and safer state along the Coast and waterways in every part of Oregon.”

WRDA ‘22 also continues Merkley’s work to require the federal government to finally fulfill its promise to replace tribal housing that was displaced by the creation of the Dalles Dam in the 1950s. 

Some of the Oregon projects and policy initiatives in the bill include:  

Columbia River Tribal Housing   

Following the 2018 WRDA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was required to create tribal housing for displaced tribal people of the Columbia River caused by the development of The Dalles Dam. The Corps responded to a 2018 congressional authorization by producing replacement village options that were not mutually acceptable to Columbia River treaty tribes. The 2022 WRDA would require the Corps to revise and then carry out the village development plan for Dalles Dam, Columbia River, Washington and Oregon to address the impacts to Indian villages and housing sites that resulted from construction of multiple dams by the Corps in the Columbia River Basin.  

Portland Metro Levee System - Authorization of Portland Metro Levee System Chief’s Report  

Authorization of the Army Corps of Engineers Portland Metro Levee System Chief’s Report will reduce flood risk and increase the resiliency and reliability of the 27-mile levee system along the Columbia River in the Portland metro area. The total cost of the project is $110, 498,000 and it has a benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.7 to 1.  

Ecosystem Restoration General Investigation Feasibility Study for the Mill Creek Levee Project on the Walla Walla River 

The Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Milton-Freewater Levee project for flood control purposes in 1951. The project reduced the historic 5-mile floodplain width to approximately 200 feet and has since impacted ecological functions within the reach. To address these ecological impacts, a feasibility study is requested to identify actions to improve floodplain-riverine processes, stop channel incision, enhance fish passage and rearing habitat, and decrease surface water seepage while having no negative impacts and likely improving flood risk management.   

   Nationwide Low-Head Dam Inventory  

Low-head dams are engineered structures built into and across stream and river channels for a variety of important purposes. In the 1800s, low head dams were constructed across rivers and streams nationwide to provide services such as diverting water for irrigation or municipal and industrial water uses. Others are in place to prevent erosion of embankments or to control flooding impacts. The structures are numerous and widespread. Nicknamed “drowning machines,” low-head dams have proven over time to be extremely hazardous to public safety, as well as having negative impacts on fish populations and ecosystems. The bill would establish a Nationwide Low-Head Dam Inventory and a State Low-Head Dam Inventory and Rehabilitation Program to be administered by the USACE in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Bureau of Reclamation.  

Lane County Environmental Infrastructure (Sec. 219) Authorization   

The bill adds Lane County to the list of eligible entities to receive Section 219 (Environmental Infrastructure) funding from the USACE. This authorization will allow Lane County to pursue critical USACE assistance and funding to support water supply and storage, treatment and distribution systems, and wastewater treatment systems. 

The Senate and House will now work to merge the bills.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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