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Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, I rise today as an original co-sponsor of the Authorized Rural Water Projects Completion Act, introduced by my colleague, Senator Baucus. I am pleased to support this important legislation which would address the serious backlog in the construction of Bureau of Reclamation water projects that are intended to serve rural and tribal communities.
All of these projects have already been studied and authorized by the Congress. However, the funding for constructing the projects has lagged, causing a delay in addressing the needs of rural and tribal communities to have potable water delivered for their use.
In 1902, the Reclamation Fund was established by Congress, intended to be used as a funding source to construct water projects in the West. It is funded through a variety of receipts, including Federal mineral leasing receipts. However, the use of monies from the Reclamation Fund has been subject to appropriation, and therefore, large balances have remained in the Fund. The average annual surplus in the Reclamation Fund from FY 2005 through FY 2011 was $960 million. While these monies were intended to be used for water project construction, they have not always been appropriated when needed.
The bill that is being introduced today would direct that every year $80 million that would otherwise be deposited in the Reclamation Fund be made available without further appropriation for the construction of the authorized rural water projects--projects that Congress has already determined are in the public interest and should be built.
I would like my colleagues to note that according to Bureau of Reclamation analysis, an increase in funding for the construction of rural water projects to $80 million per year would reduce the total Federal appropriations needed to complete the projects by more than $1 billion, due to project costs and inflation. Therefore, this bill will have a positive fiscal impact. The bill also includes language that states that amounts may not be transferred for rural water projects pursuant to the legislation if to do so would raise the deficit.
The legislation provides that the Secretary may not expend amounts under the bill until the Secretary develops programmatic goals that would: enable completion of rural water projects as quickly as possible; reflect the goals and priorities identified in the laws authorizing the rural water projects; and reflect the goals of the Reclamation Rural Water Supply Act of 2006. The bill does not direct that a particular project receive funding, but rather provides that the Secretary develop funding prioritization criteria to serve as a formula for distributing funds consistent with considerations set forth in the bill.
This bill is important to our citizens in rural and tribal communities in the West. Adequate water supplies are fundamental to our way of life, and far too many Americans still live without safe drinking water. Congress has already determined that the rural water projects it has authorized are needed to provide water supplies to our rural and tribal communities and are in the best interests of public.
Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this important legislation, so that the promise of these important water projects can become an on-the-ground reality.
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