Luján, Heinrich, Bipartisan Colleagues Introduce Bill to Invest in America’s Forests and Watersheds
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined their bipartisan colleagues U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and others to introduce the Headwaters Protection Act. This bipartisan legislation would expand support for two U.S. Forest Service (USFS) programs created by Heinrich in the 2018 Farm Bill. The two programs together prevent water pollution at the source, improve the health of our watersheds, and ensure investments benefit downstream communities.
“Water is vital to every community. Protecting our watersheds is a high priority to ensuring access to safe drinking water is available,” said Luján. “That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Headwaters Protection Act. This legislation will invest in water pollution prevention and watershed management to help ensure clean water for the livelihood of our communities and habitats.”
“Nearly a decade ago, I was proud to lead the bipartisan effort with Senator Jeff Flake to establish these programs within the U.S. Forest Service. While our work helped improve the management of watersheds in our national forests and reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfires, last year’s historic wildfires made clear: there’s more work to do,” said Heinrich. “As we continue to confront the reality of drier forests and more extreme wildfire seasons, we must extend and strengthen these programs to support the long-term sustainable use of our land and water.”
“In the West, the survival of our economy and our way of life depends on the stewardship of our forests and watersheds,” said Bennet. “We need to pass this legislation to protect critical water resources for downstream communities and make our forests more resilient to wildfire, drought, and a changing climate.”
“Protecting our natural resources and the environment is a collaborative effort at every level,”said Crapo. “This legislation provides much-needed funding for watershed restoration while encouraging collaboration as a benefit to small, rural and disadvantaged communities and tribes without exerting federal control over private lands.”
America’s National Forests supply drinking water for nearly 1 in 5 Americans – making them the single most important source of water in the country. Yet many of our watersheds that begin in our forests are considered “impaired” or “at risk.”
To ensure clean drinking water for communities, the USFS has two key authorities to manage our forests for watershed health: the Water Source Protection Program (WSPP) and the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF). The WSPP invests in projects that prevent water pollution at the source by encouraging farmers and ranchers, water utilities, Tribes, local governments, and the Forest Service to work in partnership to restore forest health and impaired watersheds. The WCF establishes a consistent process at the USFS to evaluate the health of our watersheds and ensure investments benefit downstream communities.
The Headwaters Protection Act improves the WSPP by increasing its funding, expanding access to it, and directing the program to prioritize local, collaborative partnerships to protect forests and watersheds. It also creates dedicated funding for WCF and makes a technical change to the program to ensure management activities in our National Forests do not lead to the long-term degradation of our watersheds.
Specifically, the Headwaters Protection Act would:
- Reauthorize the WSPP and increase the authorization of appropriations for the program from $10 million per year to $30 million per year;
- Broaden the range of water users, including historically disadvantaged communities, who can participate in and benefit from the WSPP;
- Reduce financial barriers for water users to participate in the WSPP;
- Prioritize WSPP projects that benefit drinking water quality and improve resilience to wildfire and climate change;
- Make a technical change to the WCF to ensure healthy watersheds do not become degraded; and
- Authorize $30 million in new appropriations per year for the WCF.
In addition to Heinrich, Luján, Bennet and Crapo, this bill is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.).