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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, let me speak for a moment with regard to amendment No. 2364 that Senator Hutchison and I had intended to offer. We have been in consultation with the managers of the legislation. They have agreed to some changes in the report language that accommodate our concern.

Our concern is about water conservation and ensuring that water conservation, particularly in the arid West but in any part of the country where there are underground aquifers and wherever there is depletion of water supplies that is going to make farming and agricultural activities impossible in the future. The managers have agreed to some changes in the report language that accommodate our concerns. They have agreed to a colloquy that accommodates our concerns. Accordingly, we will not proceed with the amendment.

Before I withdraw the amendment, could I ask Senator Hutchison to make any comments she would like to make.

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Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, I rise to discuss the Ogallala Aquifer--also known the High Plains Aquifer--region, an area that is impacted on a daily basis by groundwater pumping for agriculture. In fact, that region leads the Nation in the amount of groundwater pumped for irrigation purposes, with some 17 billion gallons per day being withdrawn for irrigation. I have for many years been concerned about the rapid groundwater depletion occurring in the southern portion of that aquifer. There are parts of the Ogallala underlying New Mexico that have seen a decline in water levels of more than 150 feet since groundwater pumping for agriculture first started.

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Mr. BINGAMAN. I understand that the bill before the Senate will make resources available to address the problem of the declining groundwater resources in the Ogallala. It would be helpful to my colleague from Texas and me if the chairwoman and ranking member of the Agriculture Committee could confirm our understanding on certain aspects of the bill. First, am I correct that substantial funds under the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, EQIP, will continue to be made available for practices that result in the conservation of groundwater, including the use of more efficient irrigation systems and conversion to less water-intensive crops or dryland farming, which may, within the discretion of the Secretary of Agriculture, include long-term grassland rotation?

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Mr. BINGAMAN. With respect to the designation of critical conservation areas under section 2401 of the bill, I would encourage USDA to look to areas where they already have initiatives in place addressing the area. I understand that any funding under this program would be in addition to funding that would otherwise be available to the region under any other provision of the bill. Finally, it is my expectation and understanding that in determining whether an area would be designated as a critical conservation area and in determining the level of funding to be directed to the area, the Secretary would carefully consider areas where continued agricultural activities are threatened by groundwater depletion.

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