Water Protections win Big in Farm Bill 2018 – An Interview with Mike Anderson
Healthy Headwaters is a big winner in the 2018 Farm Bill because the final bill includes three of the Healthy Headwaters Alliance’s top legislative priorities of the past several years.
The federal Farm Bill isn’t what western watershed protection advocates think of as the greatest space for policy change – but this year, our expectations were met and exceeded by the powerful new programs embedded in that behemoth bill that was signed into law today.
For years, Healthy Headwaters leaders have been pushing to create the national-level policy scaffolding for much higher funding levels. And now, we’re well on the way. To learn more, check out this interview with our friend and colleague Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society, who has pushed for these innovations for many years.
Congratulations to Mike, and to our whole team for a job well done and the beginning of a truly scaled-up approach to watershed protections!
In a time of novel crises and challenges, let’s Carpe that Diem!
What’s the headline about the recent passage of the Farm Bill and watershed protections?
Healthy Headwaters is a big winner in the 2018 Farm Bill because the final bill includes three of the Healthy Headwaters Alliance’s top legislative priorities of the past several years. In order of importance they are:
- The Water Source Protection Program, which requires the Forest Service to work with downstream water users to develop partnerships to protect and restore water supplies;
- Another section of the bill is the authorization of the Watershed Condition Framework, which directs the Forest Service to classify all national forest watersheds on their functionality, and develop watershed restoration action plans in cooperation with partners;
- The reauthorization and doubling of the funding level for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP), which funds collaborative restoration projects mostly aimed at reducing fuels and fire risk. The 2018 Farm Bill allows for existing projects to continue on a case-by-case basis, but also provides authorization for at least 10 new projects around the country.
What does all this mean in near term?
There aren’t any earmarks in the legislation, it just establishes the programs – so we need to await the 2019 appropriations process to see how much actual funding these new programs receive. But, we can look to the Forest Service to begin setting up the new partnerships and the Water Source Protection Program in particular. Will there be an application process? Will they wait to see what the appropriations committee does this year? For CFLRP we should expect the application process for new projects to begin early in 2019.
Does this new legislation begin to move us to a scale of action needed to tackle these enormous challenges?
It certainly helps. Another big help is the so-called fire funding fix that Congress approved back in the spring. That will end the practice of fire borrowing and should result in significantly greater funding coming to the Forest Service. That funding will be used to do watershed restoration, enhance fuel reduction and perform other important activities that have been greatly diminished in the past decade or so because of the escalating fire suppression costs. With the new authorities and the adoption of the fire funding fix, there’s a good chance we will see a significant increase in funding for watershed restoration work.
Now, that potential may not match up with the administration’s budget proposal for next year. Importantly, if the budget request is inadequate, then the congressional appropriators can fix that.
Change in House leadership from mid-term elections should be good news for environmental programs in general and for the Forest Service in particular. But, what’s really significant in the Farm Bill is the triumph of bipartisanship, with just about equal numbers of D’s and R’s supporting the final outcome. The watershed sections in particular were broadly supported. Sen. Heinrich of NM partnered with Sen. Flake of AZ on watershed legislation a couple of years ago that’s very close to what was enacted.
What can the Healthy Headwaters community do to take advantage of this opportunity?
Well, we have to use these new authorities. If they are not used, they will be lost! So, the utilities and other partners should be working with the Forest Service to develop their plans and proposals for the new federal funding. In some cases, the partnerships are already there, like Denver and Flagstaff and Santa Fe — those should be easy lifts for the partners to develop proposals.
And it’s the same with the CFLRP – groups who are interested in applying for that new funding should be working on their plans and strategies now. It is a competitive process, so creating strong proposals is important.
The other important thing network members can do is communicating with members of Congress on the appropriations committees about the opportunities these programs present, and the pressing need for full funding.
For the new members of Congress, there is an educational need. Some members may not even be aware of the drinking water sources within their districts, so that’s another important task — the basic education piece.
We know you’ve been working on this for a long time, and so have many Healthy Headwaters leadership team members. That must be so gratifying!
Yes! Some of our Healthy Headwaters Leadership Team have been personally involved in one way or another with this legislative success for many years. Sarah Bates, for example, did a lot of the early legal research on the potential for watershed investment partnerships when she was at the University of Montana.
Anne Zimmerman provided the early leadership in the Forest Service to create the Watershed Condition Framework administratively. Now Congress has written that program into law.
Also, the watershed partnerships in places like Salt Lake City and Aurora are the models that helped make this happen. The Farm Bill has provided legal recognition and hopefully a new funding stream, so the Forest Service doesn’t have to be looking under every nook and cranny in its budget to provide the federal funding part of these partnerships.
Our Leadership Team can take a lot of pride in seeing this legislation being enacted!
Mike Anderson is the Senior Resource Analyst with The Wilderness Society. His main focus is national forest management and policy, ranging from roadless area conservation to watershed restoration. He also helps coordinate all of The Wilderness Society’s litigation activities.