Over the weekend, Representative Josh Harder voted to pass the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act which will provide billions in new funding to combat wildfires and fight the drought. Two pieces of legislation authored by Rep. Harder are included in this wide-ranging package. Nationally, the effects of drought and wildfire costs in the United States were roughly $20 billion in 2021 alone. This year, parts of the western United States are experiencing the driest conditions in over 1,200 years and 60 percent of California in “extreme” drought or worse, including the entire Central Valley.
This bill enshrines the need to protect and preserve the Delta into federal law by “reducing a reliance on imported water supplies from imperiled ecosystems like the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.”
“I refuse to have my daughter grow up in a Central Valley filled with smokey skies, dried out reservoirs, and poor water quality is the norm,” said Rep. Harder. “That’s why I was proud to help write and pass this bill which will make unprecedented investments in fighting wildfires and securing our water future. Passing a bill that protects the Delta and keeps Valley water in the Valley is a win for every family and farmer in our community.”
To combat, prevent and aid those impacted by wildfires, the bill:
• Includes Rep. Harder’s Fire Department Repayment Act of 2022 which ensures that the agreements local fire departments enter with the USFS are completed more transparently and in a timely manner, helping give fire departments clarity about when and how much they will be reimbursed for wildfire costs.
• Improves the US Forest Service’s ability to hire and retain firefighters by establishing a minimum basic pay rate of approximately $20 per hour for wildland firefighters, providing for up to seven consecutive days of special mental health leave for wildland firefighters, and taking steps to ensure pay parity with structural firefighters and non-federal wildland firefighters.
• Authorizes funding for hazardous fuels and prescribed fire activities, along with the resources necessary for the protection and management of high conservation value areas, like priority watersheds, old-growth forests, habitat for at-risk species, and designated roadless areas.
• Provides enhanced assistance for those impacted by recent wildfires by waiving replacement fees for certain critical documents that are lost in a natural disaster, allowing flexibility for the Fire Management Assistance Grant cost shares, providing emergency federal assistance to community members at-risk from wildfire smoke in areas where the air quality is unhealthy, and providing additional resources for state and local governments facing cumulative impacts from repeat wildfires or other consecutive disasters.
To fight the drought, the bill:
• Invests in new drought-proof water supply projects with rapid construction timelines, such as water recycling and reuse and innovative desalination projects.
• Provides $500 million for actions to prevent key reservoirs of the Colorado River from declining to critically low water elevations. The Colorado River supplies water to tens of millions of people and is experiencing severe ongoing drought exacerbated by climate change.
• Advances modern water management data and technology by promoting the use and development of 21st Century water data, tools, research, and technologies, and supports the development of innovative water technologies, including research related to water desalination methods that reduce environmental effects.