As mentioned in the Fall 2022 “Legislative update,” the Senate passed its $1 trillion infrastructure package back in August 2021, and for months this legislation languished as Congress worked to figure out whether the House of Representatives could pass the bill and whether the related $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package could pass either chamber.
For three months neither chamber moved on either bill, but on Nov. 5, the House passed the infrastructure bill and then only two weeks later on Nov. 19 it passed the now smaller $1.7 trillion “Build Back Better” package. President Biden has since signed the infrastructure package into law, but we are once again in a holding pattern on what the future of the BBB package might be.
The Fall issue of Irrigation Today breaks down the provisions that the Irrigation Association was focusing on in the infrastructure package, namely federal investments to help mitigate concerns over access to water in future droughts. While these investments are long-term efforts to ensure the availability of water for agriculture and Western communities, the funding included in the House passed BBB package provides a more direct and immediate support of agriculture and the irrigation industry.
The White House has promoted this legislative package as a “once-in-a-generation investment that responds to the historic challenges facing the country” and it includes approximately $555 billion in climate investments across several sectors of our economy. Included in this package is $9 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps agriculture producers reduce their impact on the environment. Normally, stakeholders in the agriculture community have one chance every five years during farm bill negotiations to make changes to this program’s funding, with the next opportunity coming in 2023. However, in sync with the once-in-a-generation theme, this unique opportunity to provide a significant increase to the EQIP program is welcomed.
The EQIP program currently provides cost-share dollars to help agriculture producers upgrade their irrigation systems to become more efficient users of water. As pressure on water resources continues to be a headline, not just in the Western states but across the nation, we must ensure that our nation’s farmers have access to the latest technologies and irrigation systems to continue producing food, fuel and fiber, while using this limited resource more responsibly.
We must ensure that our nation’s farmers have access to the latest technologies and irrigation systems to continue producing food, fuel and fiber, while using this limited resource more responsibly.
While it is unclear what changes the Senate might make to the House-passed bill, to help put this investment into perspective, the 2018 Farm Bill provided $9.125 billion for the EQIP program from fiscal year 2019-2023. If signed into law, the BBB package would almost double the available funding for EQIP over the next five years (FY 2022-2026) and could help ease pressure on funding decisions as Congress debates the 2023 Farm Bill. While there are major policy changes that the IA may advocate for during the 2023 Farm Bill debates, providing this funding now would be a major victory for all those who support American agriculture’s ability to preserve our limited natural resources