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Flake, Feinstein Introduce Amendment to Aid Drought-Stricken States
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29 January 2016   Elizabeth Berry
Flake, Feinstein Introduce Amendment to Aid Drought-Stricken States

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today offered a bipartisan amendment, which would help drought-stricken Western states store more water in hydropower reservoirs, to the energy bill currently under debate in the Senate.

Under current law, federal and non-federal dam operators utilize outdated forecasting methods to determine how much water storage capacity in a dam should be left unfilled in order to prevent weather-induced flooding. The Flake-Feinstein amendment would direct up to 15 of these hydroelectric dams to reevaluate flood control operations with up-to-date forecasting information and modern forecasting techniques. The result will be dam operations that more accurately reflect the lessened chance of flooding during dry years, allowing those dams to use more of their water storage capacity to store much-needed, electricity-producing water.

“Congress ought to be taking every action to help drought-stricken states better utilize current resources to strengthen their water management and storage capacity,” said Flake. “ Today I am happy to introduce this commonsense legislation with Senator Feinstein to help our Western states better use existing dams to aid water conservation efforts.

“In the midst of what is shaping up to be a robust El Niño, we must do all we can to capture additional water and increase our water supply. This amendment does just that.  By modernizing the Army Corps of Engineers and Reclamation storage operations at up to 15 sites, we would get much-needed additional water storage at little to no cost. And with the benefit of technological advancements in weather modeling, the agencies could do this while still protecting the surrounding communities from the risk of flooding. Such efforts have worked in the past. When storage operations at Prado Dam were updated, for example, the Corps created space for an additional 10,500 acre feet. It makes sense to replicate that model elsewhere,” said Feinstein.

Flake also spoke in support of the amendment on the Senate floor today. A video and the transcript of the remarks can be viewed below.

Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of a bipartisan amendment that I have introduced, along with the senior senator from California, that would enable Arizona and California and other drought-stricken states to store more water in hydroelectric dams. As everyone knows, water is a controversial issue in the west. Arizona and California have long been at odds on a number of water-related issues, particularly the very long-running Supreme Court case on the Colorado River. However, recognizing the importance of wisely managing water in the West is something that we can all agree on and look for ways to cooperate on. Today I am glad to introduce, along with Senator Feinstein from California, one of these helpful management provisions to better use existing dams in our drought-stricken states. These dams are critical to the management of the West and we've got to store water obviously in dry times.
The Western U.S. relies on dams to produce clean, renewable hydropower as well. Also to deliver drinking water to growing cities, to irrigate fields but because they are large and expensive, these dams are increasingly difficult to have built; it's imperative that we make the most of those that we have already.
In a bill introduced last year, Senator Feinstein included a pilot program to allow the updating of how flood control operations are conducted at many dams. This very helpful provision allows the use of modern forecasting tools and better records of hydrology to reevaluate the flood control operations in order to create additional water storage space. Increased storage space would allow more water to be kept behind the dams, allowing more hydropower to be produced exactly when it's needed.
This amendment simply expands on Senator Feinstein's proposal broadening the scope to all drought-stricken states, not just California, and increasing the number of projects in the pilot program and allowing more types of facilities to opt into this pilot program. This is a commonsense amendment, it will help us make the most of the capacity that we have to store water and to produce hydropower. And I would urge its adoption. 

Background: In December, Flake and Feinstein led a bipartisan coalition of nine western senators in sending a letter to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) encouraging the committee to advance west-wide drought legislation. The signed letter can be viewed here.