Marshall-Feinstein Bill Would Improve Local Water Districts’ Access to USDA Grants

Washington, D.C. – Senators Roger Marshall and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today announced the EQIP Water Conservation Act to allow local water agencies to access larger U.S. Department of Agriculture grants for water efficiency and conservation projects that benefit multiple farmers.

In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress authorized the secretary of agriculture to support water projects that conserve water, provide fish and wildlife habitat, and combat drought through the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). However, a subsequent USDA rule effectively nullified this provision by capping EQIP payments for water agencies at $900,000, only twice the funding limit for individual farmers’ projects.

Since water agencies can represent hundreds of farmers, the bill would remove that $900,000 cap and allow water agencies to receive EQIP grants proportional to the number of farmers they serve.

“While in recent weeks we have got some much-needed rain at home, 70 percent of Kansas still remains in drought conditions. Even though I can’t change the weather, I am looking to the Farm Bill to help mitigate future droughts. Having flexibility in programs is key to helping farmers diminish the impacts of adverse weather. This bipartisan legislation would ensure that irrigation districts and groundwater management districts have meaningful access to EQIP dollars when they are undertaking a project that will benefit multiple farms,” Senator Marshall said.

“Climate change is making drought a persistent threat to agriculture in the United States and our farmers need more tools to adapt. EQIP grants are crucial to that effort,” Senator Feinstein said. “Unfortunately, sufficient funds aren’t being made available to water agencies to complete larger-scale projects that benefit multiple farmers. Our bill would fix that, by allowing water agencies greater access to USDA grants to invest in water efficiency and conservation projects.”

Drought cost California’s agricultural sector $1.1 billion in direct costs and nearly 9,000 jobs in 2021, while farmers were forced to leave 400,000 acres of land unplanted.

In addition to Senators Marshall and Feinstein, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.), Alex Padilla (Calif.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Michael Bennett (Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (N.M). It was introduced on July 27.