Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Thursday the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which Merkley sits, passed an Interior Appropriations bill including key provisions to keep Oregon communities safe with clean drinking water and to prepare for the possibility of a large-scale Cascadia earthquake.
“This legislation will help fund water infrastructure projects so our schools and homes have clean water, and also make sure that Oregon is well prepared in the event of a Cascadia earthquake,” said Merkley. “We’ve seen over and over the price we pay by shortchanging our investments in our future. This bill makes important down-payments on our communities’ long-term safety.”
“Safeguarding clean water statewide and ensuring that all Oregonians are properly prepared for a Cascadia quake both rank as top priorities for public health and safety,” Wyden said. “This bill takes significant steps toward achieving those objectives that are so essential to our state’s well-being.”
Key elements of the legislation that passed the Senate Thursday that will impact Oregon include:
Clean Water Programs: $30 million for the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Authority (WIFIA) that Senator Merkley has championed to help local communities finance safe drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects. This funding will help leverage $300 million in loans for water infrastructure.
In almost every town hall meeting that Senators Merkley and Wyden hold, in every corner of Oregon, they hear about the challenges that local communities are having finding funding to replace or upgrade aging water infrastructure.
Clean drinking water and modern wastewater treatment systems are critical for public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. Incidents like the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan or the news of what is happening in Portland schools, underscore the dangers that can result when the safety of our drinking water and state of our water infrastructure are not made a priority.
The bill also includes an increase of $113 million for the State Revolving Fund programs for water infrastructure.
Earthquake Preparedness: The senators were able to secure $8.2 million for the earthquake early warning system and $500,000 for seismic stations. They were also able to insert language that calls for more research and preparation in the event of a major Cascadia earthquake.
The senators said the bill also includes key provisions that will help Oregon’s rural communities. These include funding for the Klamath basin, wildfire prevention, sage grouse habitat improvements and the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.
“From implementing the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, to preventing devastating wildfires across our state, to moving forward with the sage grouse collaborative effort, this legislation dramatically helps Oregon’s rural communities that are working together for a common good,” said Merkley. “This legislation will create jobs in rural Oregon, while also making key investments in collaborative efforts that improve our environment, help wildlife and strengthen the economy of rural communities.”
“This bill moves forward on multiple fronts so that Oregon can continue building toward a healthy economy and environment in every corner of our state,” Wyden said. “Putting in place the Klamath Basin agreement, taking a smarter approach to fighting wildfires, supporting the ground-breaking sage grouse collaboration and funding the PILT program add up to a comprehensive strategy of generating both jobs and income for rural Oregon.”
Key elements of the legislation that passed the Senate panel Thursday that will impact Oregon include:
Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: Included is $4.5 million for activities to support continued progress toward resolving Klamath Basin water disputes, including both ecological restoration activities and support for settlement negotiations and implementation related to tribal water rights and tribal trust fisheries in the Klamath Basin.
Wildfire Prevention: An increase of $15 million and $10 million in hazardous fuels reduction from last year for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, respectively. This funding will help reduce hazardous fuels in federal forests and prevent wildfire.
Wildfire Management: Senator Merkley was also able to get an amendment added to the bill that builds on a provision Senator Wyden worked for, adding $661 million for emergency firefighting so that the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior will not have to borrow money from funds for fire prevention and other forest management programs to pay for wildfire fighting during this fire season.
Sage Grouse: $45 million for on-the-ground activities to improve sage grouse habitat. This will help the collaborative effort in Eastern Oregon that in continuing to address the loss of sage grouse habitat.
Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): $480 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing. This funding goes to Oregon counties that have large tracts of BLM land, which doesn’t pay property taxes.
Federal Land Collaboration: The legislation includes language that encourages the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to work with State and local governments, conservation groups and other third-party stakeholders to identify additional ways to enhance collaborative programs on federal lands.
The bill was voted out of the Appropriations Committee Thursday. The next steps would be for the bill to be sent to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote, and eventually to be merged with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.