December 10, 2016

Congress Passes Barrasso Bills to Address Aging Irrigation Systems and Dams for Native Communities You are here

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, praised Congress’s passage of S. 612, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WINN Act), the legislative vehicle for the Water Resources Development Act. The bill included both S.438, the Irrigation Rehabilitation and Renovation for Indian Tribal Governments and Their Economies Act (IRRIGATE Act); and S. 2717, the Dam Repairs and Improvements for Tribes Act of 2016 (DRIFT Act). Sen. Barrasso sponsored both the IRRIGATE Act and the DRIFT Act.
“For more than100 years, Washington has failed to keep its promises to tribes concerning irrigation projects,” said Barrasso in reference to the IRRIGATE Act. “In Wyoming, many farmers and ranchers depend on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to deliver water to them. I introduced the IRRIGATE Act to hold Washington accountable for its commitments to finish and fix these broken water-delivery systems. This law will be a boost for several tribes’ agricultural economies.”
“On the Wind River Reservation, in my home state of Wyoming, and across the west, there are a number of old dams that put Native and surrounding communities at risk of dangerous floods,” said Barrasso referring to the DRIFT Act. “This bill will require that the responsible federal agencies will maintain these dams and help prevent flooding. I am glad that Congress has acted and I encourage the president to sign this bill into law.”
Both bills are supported by the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, as well as the National Congress of American Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.
The IRRIGATE Act would require the federal government to address the maintenance backlog of aging Indian irrigation projects. These projects were initiated, but not completed or maintained, by the government during the late 1800s and early 1900s in Wyoming and across the west. The IRRIGATE Act would uphold the federal government’s promises to build and maintain these projects by authorizing $152 million over the next five years to help cover the costs of operations and maintenance. This includes any structures, facilities, equipment, or vehicles used in connection with the projects.
The SCIA held a legislative hearing on the IRRIGATE Act on March, 4, 2015.  The IRRIGATE Act passed the SCIA on March 18, 2015.
The DRIFT Act would address the deferred maintenance needs of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) dams, as well as reform tribal programs within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) that focus on flood mitigation and prevention in Native communities.
The DRIFT Act would instruct the secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the secretary of the Army, to:
·    Establish a High-Hazard Indian Dam Safety Deferred Maintenance Fund that would receive $22,750,000 each year from Fiscal Years 2017 through 2037;
·    Establish a Low-Hazard Indian Dam Safety Deferred Maintenance Fund which would receive $10,000,000 each year for the same time period;
·    Consistent with the Act, designate criteria for how the funds would be prioritized;
·    Reform the Army Corps’ Tribal Partnership Program, including allowing the Corps to pay for the first $100,000 of any feasibility study for a water resources development project or project for the preservation of cultural and natural resources;
·    Conduct a four-year pilot program for a BIA flood mitigation program for tribes; and
·    Create a Tribal Safety of Dams Committee within the Department of the Interior to make recommendations to Congress for modernizing the Indian Dam Safety Act.
The BIA is responsible for 137 high-hazard dams and more than 700 low-hazard dams on Indian reservations across the United States. The majority of high-hazard dams are in the western United States. On average, they are 70 to 80 years old and have more than $500 million in deferred maintenance needs. Two of the high-hazard dams are located on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming – the Washakie Dam and Ray Lake Dam.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed the DRIFT Act on April 27, 2016. The legislation also passed the Senate, as part of S. 2848, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, on Sept. 15, 2016.