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Trump Proposes Rural Water Cuts Despite Bipartisan Support

President Donald Trump proposed cuts for Bureau of Reclamation in his early February 2019 budget proposal that would directly cut off funding rural water projects in Montana.
The proposal would cut funding for the Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water Supply System, Dry Prairie Rural Water and systems near Montana’s Rocky Boy reservation.


However, Montana U.S. Senators Jon Tester, Democrat, and Steve Daines, Republican, aren’t willing to let the funding go without a fight.


In a bipartisan effort, the Senators drafted the Authorized Rural Water Projects Completion Act which would invest $80 million annually for the next 20 years to construct and upgrade drinking water infrastructure in Montana and across the U.S.


That bill received a Senate hearing Feb. 28 in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee on water and power.


“Every Montana family and business needs reliable access to clean water,” Tester said in the Senate hearing. “Folks in rural areas have been waiting too long for these projects to be completed and this bipartisan bill will authorize the funding needed to invest in infrastructure, increase access to clean water and create good paying jobs.”


Daines told the Senate subcommittee, “No Montanan should be without clean and reliable water. We must provide the infrastructure to deliver safe and dependable water to our farmers, ranchers and rural Montana families.


“Water is and always will be key to the future economic development of the Hi-Line and north-central Montana,” said Larry Bonderud, president of the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority. “Communities with an adequate supply of clean drinking water will proser,” Bonderud continued, “and those without it will die and blow away. This funding is vital for the future of northern Montana.”

“Access to clean drinking water is a critical component to life, for both tribal and non-tribal communities,” said Harlan Baker, chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. “Due to the inadequate federal funding, the Chippewa Cree Tribe and North Central Montana Regional Water Authority have been forced to deal with aging infrastructure emergencies. With today’s hearing on the Authorized Rural Water Completion Act, this is a significant step forward to the protection of public health and prosperity of rural America including Indian Country.”


Following this Senate hearing, Tester wrote a letter directed at Trump urging him to encourage authorization of this bill.


Tester called Trump’s budget proposal a “major step backward for families and businesses in north-central and northeast Montana.”


In the letter, Tester states, “These drastic cuts are in direct contradiction to the bipartisan support seen throughout Congress for investing in these types of water projects that provide clean water to rural communities. I respectfully urge your administration to fully support the use of funds that accrue to the Reclamation fund for their intended purpose of supporting western water development, and rural water infrastructure projects and authorized Indian water rights settlements are well within that scope.”


Tester continues to outline the struggles facing rural communities and their limited access to clean drinking water. He also comments on the length of the projects stating, “Asking famils’ies with limited access to water to wait for half a century for assistance is unacceptable, especially for projects already authorized by Congress.”


Senator Tester says in the letter that the proposed budget cuts would cut the Fort Peck Reservation/Dry Prairie Rural Water system funding by $10.5 million. The Rocky Boy reservation and North Central Montana Rural Water System would see an $8.2 million cut.


Tester’s and Daines’ bipartisan legislation would provide investment in these projects by making $115 million available annually over a 20-year period. The funds would be paid out of the Reclamation fund for both rural water projects and Indian water rights settlements. An additional $80 million annually would be provided to authorized rural water projects.


This is a significant increase from the $28 million appropriated for these projects construction in fiscal year 2017. Tester also stated it would “make good on our trust and treaty responsibilities by dedication $35 million annually to funding Indian water rights settlements.”


Funds in the Bureau of Reclamation fund are not taxpayer money. Rather, that money comes from receipts from offshore oil and gas development and is supposed to be used to fund infrastructure projects.


The two Montana rural water systems that would have access to these funds, Rocky Boy and Fort Peck, serve 60,000 Montana residents.


This hearing follows Tester’s and Daines’ bipartisan support Clean Water for Rural Communities Act which seeks to improve Montana’s rural water infrastructure. This bill was recently introduced by Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, Republican.


Gianforte said in a press release, “Unfortunately, not all Montanans have access to a reliable water supply. The Clean Water for Rural Communities Act will better ensure more than 20,000 Montanans in our rural communities have a steady supply of water.”


Gianforte’s proposed act would authorize both the Dry-Redwater Regional Water System and the Musselshell-Judith Regional Water System. This would move the projects into the same category as the Rocky Boy and Fort Peck systems.


“The Dry-Redwater Regional Water Authority’s users in eastern Montana have waiting for the processes in Washington to work for them and bring quality drinking water to the area. Thirteen years ago, DRWA asked for assistance from the federal government to help provide clean, safe water. Trillions of dollars have been dispensed from Washington since, yet still we wait for authorization of our water system,” said Jerry Meissner, chairman of the Dry-Redwater Regional Water Authority. “We are thankful for the help Congressman Gianforte and for his introduction of legislation supporting our efforts. It is time for Congress to pass this bill to authorize this water system.”


If passed, the legislation would help provide water treatment and delivery to 22,500 residents in counties like Garfield, McCone, Prairie and Richland.


Both Tester and Daines showed strong support for Gianforte’s efforts when sponsoring this legislation.
“If I told you that 22,500 Montanans lacked steady safe drinking water, you would be angry,” said Senator Daines. “Water is a basic need of life: we depend on a steady supply to irrigate our crops, water our livestock and provide energy through hydropower and that’s why we need to roll up our sleeves and pass this bill.”


“Our rural communities need clean and reliable water in order to thrive,” said Tester. “Whether watering our fields or providing drinking water to our homes and schools, Montanans need clean water. This authorization is the first step to delivering safe water for our rural communities.”


Despite this bipartisan support, Trump has continued to target rural communities in his budget cut proposals. Along with water infrastructure, Trump also proposed cuts to Amtrak’s long-distance routes in his fiscal year 2019 budget proposal. In Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, funding for rural Emergency Air Services was threatened to be cut. However, EAS is still receiving federal funds as of 2018.


According to a press release, 11 rural water projects have been designated across the western United States since 1980. Today, six of the 11 rural water infrastructure projects are still under construction due to inconsistent funding from Congress.