Audio: Senate Indian Affairs Committee takes up IRRIGATE Act

A view of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Photo by Great Plains Fish Habitat Partnership

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing this afternoon on S.438, the Irrigation Rehabilitation and Renovation for Indian Tribal Governments and Their Economies Act.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for managing irrigation projects on several reservations. But a backlog of maintenance -- the agency's current estimate is around $570 million -- has made it difficult for Indian and non-Indian users to rely on the system for agricultural and economic development.

The bill, known as the IRRIGATE Act, authorizes $35 million a year from 2015 to 2036 to cover the costs of operations and maintenance at 17 of the largest irrigation projects in Indian Country. The measure has bipartisan support.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Senate Indian Affairs Committee March 4 2015

"The IRRIGATE Act would bring Indian irrigation projects into the 21st century Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the committee, said at the hearing.

"This bill is a step in the right direction," added Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chairman.

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, did not outright state support or opposition to the measure at the hearing. He also apologized for delivering his written testimony late -- it wasn't sent until around 11am this morning.

Tribal representatives from Wyoming and Montana testified in support of the bill.

Committee Notice:
Legislative Hearing on S. 438, the IRRIGATE Act (March 4, 2015)

Government Accountability Office Report -- Indian Irrigation Projects: Numerous Issues Need to Be Addressed to Improve Project Management and Financial Sustainability:
AbstractHighlights  | Full Report | Text-Only

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