AUSTIN – President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law has the potential to advance Texas watershed projects that had previously been postponed, state water officials have said.
Biden enacted the more than $ 1,000 billion spending plan on November 15. In it, $ 4.5 billion is earmarked for the restoration of watersheds nationwide, including $ 2.4 billion to support the removal, rehabilitation and modernization of dams.
Watersheds allow water to move to larger, more central watersheds. Texas is home to at least 90 licensed watersheds and 23 major river basins, according to Texas Water.
Protecting watersheds is important because the outlets they flow to are the sources of at least half of Texas’ drinking water, said Michael Kuitu, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program specialist.
âWe want to help protect these watersheds, as this in turn can help protect the quality of surface water, which we use as a source of drinking water or as a source of recreation, such as if you go boating or swimming. fishing, âKuitu said.
A report from Texas Parks and Wildlife said the state depends on rivers to provide wildlife habitat, drinking water, irrigation for agriculture and recreation for millions of Texans, among others.
âThe burden we place on our state’s drainage basins can result in degraded water quality and reduced environmental flows,â he says.
Serena McClain, director of river restoration at American River, said the funding has the potential to help repair and restore rivers and dams that have been damaged or aged in Texas.
In 2019, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board estimated that about $ 2.1 billion was needed to repair or rehabilitate dams included in small watershed programs.
McClain added that rivers are a source of life not only in the water they provide, but as a place to fish to feed a family or a source of recreation, allowing individuals to take a break from daily stressors.
âHealthy watersheds are the key to healthy communities,â said McClain. âHealthy watersheds not only provide fish and wildlife, but they also provide us with the water we needâ¦ we could not survive without rivers, because rivers are a central source of life. “
While a significant amount of money is spent on certain assets, there are no pre-set allocations directed to Texas, said Mark Northcut, landscape planning manager for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Instead, the NRCS National Office will receive program funding requests from the NRCS State Offices.
Funding requests are expected to be submitted to the NRCS by Jan. 19 for review, officials said.
To be eligible, projects must have a government sponsor such as state, county commissioners, city governments, or land and water conservation districts. Sponsors will need to be able to generate taxes or generate income, participate in cost-sharing funding and provide expected O&M costs for any measures that may be part of this project, Northcut said. .
The NRCS Texas has three programs that are eligible for infrastructure funding – Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program; Watershed Rehabilitation Program and Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
Northcut said the federal allocation does not add any new programs, but only provides more funding for overdue projects to be completed. State officials said the NRCS would make a decision on initial funding for the project in late January and the funds would be released in early February 18.
âThese long-standing programs are getting a pretty substantial pot of money,â he said. “[The funding will] help solve problems that perhaps in the past we had not been able to solve due to lack of funds.