Utah currently faces unprecedented environmental challenges, including an historic drought and a record number of wildfires. In 2020 alone, 1,547 wildfires scorched more than 300,000 acres of Utah land and cost our communities hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. As the American West gets drier, the wildfires become a more significant threat to Utah. The wildland fire policies of the past no longer work.
I introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act—legislation that establishes a committee of federal and non-federal stakeholders responsible for studying and recommending fire protection, mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands—to help Utah better address the threat of wildfires. This bill became law with the passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which I helped negotiate.
For the past two decades, we have experienced severe drought in Utah. Water is essential to the survival, livelihood, and recreation of Utahns, and we must do everything we can to ensure that it is accessible for all. In 2019, I was proud to help introduce and pass the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act, which ensured the implementation of the wide-reaching Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) forged between the seven Colorado River Basin states and Indian tribes. Senator Bennet (D-CO) and I have toured the Colorado River in an effort to learn more about ways to address the historic drought.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill, signed into law in November 2021, secured $50 million for the Central Utah Project, which provides water from the Colorado River for irrigation, municipal, recreation, and industrial use. I also fought to include a provision in the same bill to improve the quality of Utah’s water systems by allocating roughly $219 million to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and to the State Drinking Water Fund. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also fully funded the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act—legislation that brings running water to the 40% of Utah Navajos who currently lack it.
Congress must also start planning ahead for natural disasters by including future funding for mitigation in the annual budget. I have introduced amendments to the federal budget to include disaster relief funding, so we can live within our means while better preparing for natural catastrophes.