Last Year’s Federal Western Drought Provisions Yet To Go Into Effect

Sep 4, 2019

The 2018 federal Farm Bill included several provisions to lessen the effects of persistent drought in the West, but they still haven’t gone into effect. Now, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators is urging the Secretary of Agriculture to put them into practice. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Arizona Sen. Kyrtsen Sinema speaks with Northern Arizona University Forestry Professor Han-Sup Han during a recent visit to Flagstaff.
Credit Ryan Heinsius / KNAU

President Trump signed the Farm Bill into law last December. It contained funding for voluntary water conservation efforts among farmers, ranchers and others. The law expands federal assistance for drought and flood mitigation and watershed improvement. It also funds upgrades to some irrigation systems where large amounts of water are lost as its pumped to fields. But none of it has been enacted.

The letter was signed by several western senators including Arizona Republican Martha McSally, as well as Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

"We’re really concerned about the continuing drought that Arizona has been experiencing as we know for going on two decades … We are an arid climate and we receive less precipitation than, well, any other state in the country … so we have to deal with drought differently than other states," Sinema says.

A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture says the 2018 Farm Bill was signed after the start of the USDA’s fiscal year, when existing programs were already underway. The agency also says it’s working on implementing the drought provisions and continuing other on-farm water conservation measures.   

According to the senators, drought is the largest single cause of production losses on U.S. farms, and accounts for almost half of all crop insurance payments averaging $4 billion a year.