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Sens. Cramer, Merkley Introduce Bill to Create Western Water Committee for Army Corps Projects

Posted on August 3, 2022

U.S. Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a bill to establish a Western Water Cooperative Committee. The Western Water Cooperative Committee would ensure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) flood control projects in Western States are operated consistent with congressional directives and adhere to state water rights and water laws. The committee also establishes a platform for Western states to work out water appropriation and other issues with the Army Corps.

“North Dakotan and Western water issues are often the result of the Army Corps overrunning state authority. Our bill creates the Western Water Cooperative Committee to provide our states with a new avenue for input and cooperation with Army Corps leadership. This increased communication and transparency will help bring about the cooperative model Congress envisioned between states and the Army Corps, ultimately bringing about better policies, water management, and recreational opportunities for the West,” said Senator Cramer.

“Oregon, like other western states, has endured and continues to deal with extreme weather conditions and mega-droughts, taking a toll on regional water resources and deeply affecting families and businesses throughout our state. This bill creates the Western Water Committee, which will, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, work to ensure water projects in Western States are operating and abiding by state water rights and laws. By establishing the Committee, we can ensure Western states have resources, operations, and the advocacy needed for fair and equitable water rights. I look forward to working with Senator Cramer and colleagues to move this bill through the Senate,” said Senator Merkley.

Language for the creation of a Western Water Cooperative Committee was included in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022, which passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support last week.

Senators Cramer and Merkley’s legislation is endorsed by the Western Governors’ Association, Western States Water Council, and Conference of Western Attorneys General.

“Western Governors know that states are the preeminent authority on water management within their boundaries.  In carrying out water resource activities, federal agencies need to recognize natural flows and defer to the states’ legal right to allocate, develop, use, control, and distribute such waters.  For this reason, the Western Governors’ Association applauds Senators Cramer and Merkley for their bipartisan legislation which recognizes that increased collaboration between states and USACE will provide greater alignment between USACE’s development of flood control projects and state water rights and water laws,” said Western Governors’ Association Executive Director Jim Ogsbury. 

“The Western States Water Council strongly supports collaborative, cooperative dialogue with our federal partners, recognizing the critical value of federalism and the vital primary role of western states in addressing the Nation’s present and future water needs. Water resources management must be recognized as a critical public policy priority given the importance of the resource to our public health, economy, food security, environment, and western way of life.  We very much appreciate Senator Cramer and Senator Merkley’s bipartisan leadership in introducing this legislation,” said Western States Water Council Chair Jennifer Verleger  

“The Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG), a bipartisan group of state attorneys general, writes in support of…  a Corps of Engineers Western Water Cooperative Committee (Committee). The Committee will provide a much-needed forum for discussions between the Corps and Western States regarding their respective roles under the Flood Control Act of 1944 and the Water Supply Act of 1958. Given the ongoing drought throughout the Western United States and the ever-increasing demand for water in arid Western States, it is more important now than ever for the Corps to consult with Western States to ensure operation of federal flood control projects in prior appropriation States do not interfere with the right of States to allocate and distribute water supplies within their borders for present and future uses,” said Conference of Western Attorneys General Executive Director Karen White.

Click here for bill text.


At a Senate Environment and Public Works hearing in January, Senator Cramer discussed states’ water rights and emphasized his desire to remove unnecessary layers of the bureaucracy with Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commanding General and Chief of Engineers Lieutenant General Todd Spellmon.

“As we pursue now a new WRDA, I think we should consider setting up some sort of a venue or a commission that would allow states to have a platform to discuss and sort these issues out with the [Army] Corps. It would provide North Dakota and other Western states the forum to bring localized problems they may be experiencing directly to you,” proposed Senator Cramer.

Learn more here.


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