Washington, DC – Today Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-01), Chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, released the following statement after H.R. 5118, the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation builds on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Rep. Titus pushed, to make targeted investments in our country’s heroic first responders battling costly wildfires and create a whole of government approach to wildfire preparedness and mitigation. As a result, Western communities can become more resilient in the face of historic droughts.
“Nevada and other western states need resources to help prevent wildfires, improve response efforts, and develop resiliency among affected communities,” said Rep. Titus. “Today’s bill will help those living in Western states meet the challenges of fire and drought which have been exacerbated by the climate crisis. This legislation will save lives, property, farms, and businesses from damage and destruction.
“I am proud that the package includes the Las Vegas Wash Program Extension Act, legislation I co-lead, to ensure continued federal support for the Wash. As Nevada and other Western states face the worst drought in 1,200 years, this expansion is essential for the continued support of rehabilitation, maintenance, and other critical infrastructure projects at the Wash. We must make fundamental investments in our future as we continue working to tackle the climate crisis.”
Climate change has made droughts more severe and puts the water supplies of millions of Americans, especially in the West, at risk. In Nevada, nearly all of Clark County is experiencing “extreme drought” which is defined as major, widespread water shortages. Additionally, Lake Mead is currently at 27 percent of its capacity and water levels have dropped 161 feet since June of 2000. This is the lake’s lowest point since it was filled in 1937. The Bureau of Reclamation has projected that Lake Mead could drop another 20 feet by next summer. This legislation enhances drought resiliency by investing in water projects with rapid timelines, modernizing data and technology, and providing near-term drought responses.
Wildfires are also becoming more intense and costly in recent years because of climate change. Combined with the West’s historic drought, the impacts of these conditions cost the U.S. nearly $20 billion in 2021. Wildfires are now a year-round threat, burning larger areas with greater intensity for longer times. This destruction is projected to increase as drought and climate change reduce soil moisture and convert living forest vegetation into dry fuels.
Strategic and targeted investments in resilient landscapes can improve conditions for fire-adapted ecosystems, provide defensible space for firefighter response, and protect communities from these catastrophic disasters.
The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act would:
- Authorize $500 million for emergency actions to preserve water levels in the Colorado River system, including at Lake Mead and Lake Powell. This is based on the Colorado River Drought Response Act that Rep. Titus is a lead cosponsor of.
- Authorize an additional $25 million to allow the continuation of restoration and water quality improvement projects in the Las Vegas Wash. The Wash serves as the primary drainage channel for the Las Vegas Valley watershed, carrying 200 million gallons of water to Lake Mead daily and providing drinking water for over 25 million people in the West. This is based on the Las Vegas Wash Program Extension Act that Rep. Titus introduced with Reps. Susie Lee (D-NV) and Steven Horsford (D-NV) earlier this month.
- Authorize $600 million for Title XVI water recycling and reuse projects, including assistance for Western water agencies to expand, plan, design, and build modernized water infrastructure. This is based on the Water Recycling Investment and Improvement Act that Rep. Titus introduced with Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) last year.
- Authorize an additional $700 million for large-scale water recycling and reuse projects that can help keep more water in Lake Mead and create drought-proof water supplies in Nevada and other Western states. This builds on investments made in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which included the Large-Scale Water Recycling Project Investment Act Rep. Titus cosponsored to establish a large-scale water recycling and reuse program at the Department of Interior.
- Authorize technical assistance grants to help public water systems establish and implement water efficiency incentive programs and detect water losses. This is based on the Water Efficiency, Conservation, and Sustainability Act of 2022 that Rep. Titus cosponsors.
- Establish an interagency Water Data Council to develop and implement a National Water Data Framework which will assist state, local, Tribal governments, and nongovernmental stakeholders improve water data in their efforts to address drought and water security across the country. This is based on the bipartisan Water Data Act that Rep. Titus introduced with Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM) earlier this year.
- Set a minimum pay rate of $20 per hour, or $43,000 per year, for wildland firefighters and remove the annual pay cap for federal firefighters who work overtime during wildfire emergencies.
- Authorize the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) to send incident investigators to collaborate and assist local firefighter investigators. It also requires the USFA to coordinate with federal, state, and local authorities to issue a report on their findings and provide recommendations for preventing similar fires from occurring in the future. This is based on the bipartisan Empowering the U.S. Fire Administration Act that Rep. Titus cosponsors. It passed the House in May 2022.
- Require the Department of Agriculture to maintain regional Community Mitigation Assistance Teams (CMAT) to assist communities with mitigating wildfire risks before fires strike. Currently most CMAT’s are deployed after a wildfire.
- Establish a National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program to improve Federal agency efforts to protect lives and property from the impacts of wildland fires and smoke.
- Authorize a 10-year National Wildfire Response Plan, including resources for hazardous fuels and prescribed fire activities, as well as protecting and managing priority watersheds, old-growth forests, and habitats for at-risk species.
Today’s legislation further builds on the historic investments made through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, such as:
- $8.3 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation, a water management agency within DOI, to support Western water projects including drought planning, water recycling, and storage.
- $300 million for Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Projects to establish or conserve Colorado River water supplies, including for Lake Mead and other Lower Colorado River reservoirs.
- $1 billion for Rural Water Projects, including those that have already been approved for serving rural and Tribal communities throughout the Western United States.
- $500 million for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Safety of Dams program to ensure dams do not present an unacceptable risk to people, property, and the environment.
- $550 million for Water Recycling and Reuse Projects to help stretch limited water supplies through the planning, design, and construction of eligible projects.
- $400 million for WaterSMART which provides funding for projects focused on water efficiency, drought resilience, environmental benefits, small-scale water management improvements, and the development of water management tools.
- $300 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection program which provides technical and financial assistance to reduce risks when a watershed is impaired by a natural disaster.
- $500 million for Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations which provide technical and financial assistance to state and local stakeholders to prevent erosion, sedimentation, and flood damage, and to conserve, develop, and use land and water resources, including water storage.
- $3.4 billion to support wildfire risk mitigation measures, including fire response pre-planning and training, long-term post-fire restoration, communications technology, ground-based wildfire detection, and hazardous fuels reduction.
- $2.1 billion for ecosystem restoration efforts including state, local, and Tribal government grants, hazard mitigation on mined lands, and eradication of invasive species.