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Crapo, Risch, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Invest in America’s Forests and Watersheds

Washington, D.C.--U.S. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (both R-Idaho) today introduced the Headwaters Protection Act along with Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico).  This bipartisan legislation would expand federal support for U.S. Forest Service (USFS) programs that prevent water pollution at the source, improve the health of our watersheds, and ensure investments benefit downstream communities.

“Protecting our natural resources and the environment is a collaborative effort at every level,” said Crapo.  “This legislation provides much-needed funding for watershed restoration while encouraging collaboration as a benefit to small, rural and disadvantaged communities and tribes without exerting federal control over private lands.”

“When managed correctly, National Forest watersheds provide drinking water and irrigation, protect wildlife habitat, and strengthen landscape resilience,” said Risch.  “The Headwaters Protection Act will improve the ability of industry, community, and federal partners to improve and protect these critical forest water sources for decades to come.”

The Nature Conservancy strongly supports Senators Bennet, Crapo, Feinstein, Risch, Heinrich, Lujan, Kelly, and Hickenlooper’s Headwaters Protection Act. Healthy forested watersheds provide the natural infrastructure that supplies clean water for people and communities, agriculture, hydropower, and fish and wildlife.  Many of these forested watersheds are on both public and private lands, and many are in unhealthy condition, at risk of high-severity wildfire, and in need of ecologically based restoration.  The Headwaters Protection Act reauthorizes and improves the Water Source Protection Program, a tool that can bring investments from non-federal partners to support forest health, restoration, and watershed protection projects across the West.  This bill is a smart investment in our future,” said Carlos Fernandez, Colorado State Director, The Nature Conservancy.

America’s National Forests supply drinking water for nearly 1 in 5 Americans – making them the single most important source of water in the country.  Yet many of our watersheds that begin in our forests are considered “impaired” or “at risk.”

To ensure clean drinking water for communities, the USFS has two key authorities to manage our forests for watershed health: the Water Source Protection Program (WSPP) and the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF). The WSPP invests in projects that prevent water pollution at the source by encouraging farmers and ranchers, water utilities, Tribes, local governments, and the Forest Service to work in partnership to restore forest health and impaired watersheds.  The WCF establishes a consistent process at the USFS to evaluate the health of our watersheds and ensure investments benefit downstream communities.

The Headwaters Protection Act would:

  • Reauthorize the WSPP and increase the authorization of appropriations for the program from $10 million per year to $30 million per year;
  • Broaden the range of water users, including historically disadvantaged communities, who can participate in and benefit from the WSPP;
  • Reduce financial barriers for water users to participate in the WSPP;
  • Prioritize WSPP projects that benefit drinking water quality and improve resilience to wildfire and climate change;
  • Make a technical change to the WCF to ensure healthy watersheds do not become degraded; and
  • Authorize $30 million in new appropriations per year for the WCF.

In addition to Crapo, Risch, Bennet and Heinrich, this bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico), Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado).