Bennet, Moran, Heinrich introduce groundwater conservation bill

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., on Tuesday introduced the Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act, which they said will “give family farmers and ranchers the flexibility they need to protect groundwater sources while keeping their agricultural lands in production.”
The Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act creates a new voluntary groundwater easement program at the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resource Conservation Service within the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program. This easement program is modeled after the experience of Colorado Open Lands, which signed the first groundwater easement in 2022 for the Rio Grande River Basin.
Specifically, the Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act would:
▪ Create a new Groundwater Conservation Easement Program at USDA to encourage voluntary, compensated reductions in groundwater consumption on agricultural land and advance local, regional, or state groundwater management goals;
▪ Allow NRCS to reimburse transaction costs up to 5% of the federal share and requires an advance payment for limited resource producers to cover these costs;
▪ Guarantee long-term management flexibility for a producer to continue farming and choose how they reduce their water use, as long as they conserve the amount they’ve committed to reducing each year;
▪ Ensure that farmers are fairly compensated using a payment based on the market value for the water right instead of a per acre payment; and
▪ Clarify that easement funds shall not be counted toward a farm’s adjusted gross income and that producers with an adjusted gross income of more than $900,000 are eligible for a waiver from the secretary to participate in groundwater conservation easements.
“Building off the work of Coloradans in the San Luis Valley who first used voluntary easements to support groundwater conservation to sustain the local agricultural economy and wildlife habitat, this legislation creates a new tool for farmers to voluntarily reduce their groundwater use and continue to farm,” Bennet said in a news release.
This legislation is supported by: Colorado Open Lands, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Colorado Farm Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, Ogallala Land & Water Conservancy of New Mexico, Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3, Big Bend Groundwater Management District No. 5 of Kansas, Texas Agricultural Land Trust, National Wild Turkey Federation, National Audubon Society, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Western Landowners Alliance.
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