2023 Annual Report - Family Farm Alliance - Feb 2024

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2023 Activities and Accomplishments

February 2024 | dan@familyfarmalliance.org



2-24 Activities and Accomplishments


Deschutes Basin Board of Control Member Districts

Arnold Irrigation District • Central Oregon Irrigation District • Lone Pine Irrigation District

North Unit Irrigation District • Ochoco Irrigation District • Swalley Irrigation District

Three Sisters Irrigation District • Tumalo Irrigation District

DBBC President – Craig Horrell, chorrell@coid.org

PO Box 919 - Madras, OR 97741

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments



Dear Family Farm Alliance Members and Friends,

I have been writing this report for two decades. It is such an honor for

me to represent food producers. Our team at Family Farm Alliance never

runs out of challenges. Dan Keppen’s daily email list is a good indicator

of the volume of issues we deal with daily.

Something is different now. We are seeing increasing criticism of food


Every poll measuring respect for different groups of Americans puts

farmers at the top. What is troubling to me is the constant media attack

on those of us who grow the food and fiber for Americans and for export.

A recent shot is the demonization of alfalfa orchestrated by urban interests intent on acquiring more water.

It is clear that this effort was not confined to random comments. It is a coordinated campaign. Dan’s work

was heroic, testifying at the World Alfalfa Forum and by writing excellent analysis for multiple outlets.

Recently, in an attempt to create a pithy message, I have said that the future will be about conflict between

explosive urban growth and the needs of food production and wildlife. Our farms and ranches incubate so

many human values from every level of the food supply to the landscapes that we hold together. We cannot

sacrifice that baseline for an unsustainable urban future.

The FFA’s annual meeting this year will include its usual diversity. We will discuss irrigated agriculture

through many lenses, but our discussions will be based on our cumulative love for the land.

As we watch rural communities, tribal communities—the lands our families have taken care of for generations

we know what we are fighting for. Farmers are criticized for their utilization of water to grow food and fiber.

Thank God, water is husbanded by farmers because they care about those lands and their uses.

Thank you for joining us. Let us continue to work together for our mutual benefit.


Patrick F. O’Toole, President

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

President’s Message .............................................................................................................................................................................6

The The Organization - Board - Board of Directors of .........................................................................................................................................8

The The Organization - Advisory - Committee and and Organizations ...........................................................................................12

The The Organization - Contractor - Profiles........................................................................................................................................14

Message From From the the Executive Director .........................................................................................................................................16

Core Core Programs .........................................................................................................................................................................................18

Supreme Court Court WOTUS Decision ................................................................................................................................................18

Endangered Species Act Act .................................................................................................................................................................22

Columbia River River Issues Issues and and Snake Snake River River Dams Dams .....................................................................................................................25

High High (and (and Low) Low) Lights Lights of 118th of 118th Congress ..............................................................................................................................27

Atmospheric Rivers Rivers Hammer the the West West ....................................................................................................................................29

California Deluge Spurs Spurs Infrastructure ...................................................................................................................................30

Klamath Project Woes Woes ......................................................................................................................................................................31

2023 2023 in Review in - Overview - ................................................................................................................................................................32

2023 2023 Family Family Farm Farm Alliance Initiatives .......................................................................................................................................... 34 34

Family Family Farm Farm Alliance Partners .........................................................................................................................................................58

Washington State State Tour Tour ........................................................................................................................................................................59

2023 2023 Family Family Farm Farm Alliance Annual Meeting and and Conference...........................................................................................60

2023 2023 Farmer Lobbyist Trip Trip .................................................................................................................................................................62

Social Social Media Media .............................................................................................................................................................................................62

Outreach and and Communications ......................................................................................................................................................63

Membership Application and and Dues Dues Structure .........................................................................................................................66




Nadine Nadine Bailey Bailey (Hayfork, (Hayfork, California) California) and her and husband her husband Walter Walter have have two children two children and one and grandchild one grandchild have and have lived lived

for most for most of their of lives their near lives Hayfork, near Hayfork, California, California, just west just of west Redding. of Redding. An outspoken An outspoken advocate advocate for rural for rural communities

and workers, and workers, she is she credited is credited with putting with putting a face a on face the on job the loss job associated loss associated with the with northern northern spotted spotted owl-driven owl-driven

shutdown shutdown of the of Pacific the Pacific Northwest Northwest timber timber industry. industry. She received She received national national recognition recognition as the as 1993 the 1993 American American

Pulpwood Pulpwood Activist Activist of the of Year. the Year. Governor Governor Wilson Wilson appointed appointed her to her serve to serve on the on Resource the Resource Advisory Advisory Council Council (RAC) (RAC)

during during the the implementation of the of Northwest the Northwest Forest Forest Plan. Plan. Ms. Bailey Ms. Bailey served served as the as President the President of California of California Women Women in in

Timber, Timber, and as and the as Chair the Chair of the of Forest the Forest Industry Industry Association Association Council. Council. She has She served has served as the as Chief the Chief Operations Operations Officer Officer

for Family for Family Water Water Alliance Alliance (FWA) (FWA) since since 2014. 2014. During During her years her years at FWA, at FWA, Ms. Bailey Ms. Bailey has led has efforts led efforts to implement to implement fish fish

screens screens throughout throughout the Central the Central Valley. Valley. Prior to Prior joining to joining FWA, FWA, she served she served for 6 years for 6 years as an as Executive an Executive for the for Timber the Timber

Producers Producers of Michigan of Michigan and Wisconsin and Wisconsin and thirteen and thirteen years years as legislative as legislative staff for staff three for three California California state state legislators. legislators. She She

has a has bachelor’s a bachelor’s degree degree in in organizational leadership leadership from from Simpson Simpson University. University.

Steve Steve Benson Benson (Brawley, (Brawley, California) California) raises raises irrigated irrigated forage forage and vegetable and vegetable crops crops as the as managing the managing partner partner of Benson of Benson

Farms, Farms, LLC. His LLC. His third-generation family family farm was farm established was established in 1932 in 1932 near Brawley, near Brawley, California. California. He is He President is President of of

Planters Planters Hay, Inc. Hay, and Inc. was and a was former a former board board member/President of the of Imperial the Imperial Irrigation Irrigation District. District. He currently He currently serves serves

on the on boards the boards of the of Imperial the Imperial Valley Valley Economic Economic Development Corporation, Corporation, Imperial Imperial Valley Valley Water Water (IVH20), (IVH20), and the and the

Imperial Imperial Valley Valley Vegetable Vegetable Growers Growers Association. Association. He is He an Advisor an Advisor to the to Imperial the Imperial County County Farm Farm Bureau Bureau and former and former

board board member/President of the of Imperial the Imperial Valley Valley Boys and Boys Girls and Clubs. Girls Clubs. Mr. Benson Mr. Benson has a has Civil a Engineering Civil Engineering degree degree

from from Bucknell Bucknell University University and his and MBA his MBA from from the Marshall the Marshall School School of Business of Business at the at University the University of Southern of Southern California. California.

He is He married is married and the and father father of four of children. four children.

William William Bourdeau Bourdeau (Coalinga, (Coalinga, California) California) comes comes from from a fourth a fourth generation generation California California Central Central Valley Valley family family - was - was

born born and raised and raised in Coalinga Coalinga where where served he served as a local as a city local council city council member. member. Currently Currently he is the is Executive the Executive Vice Vice

President President of Harris of Harris Farms Farms Inc., one Inc., of one the of largest the largest integrated integrated farming farming operations operations in the in Central the Central San Joaquin San Joaquin Valley. Valley.

Prior to Prior Harris to Harris Farms, Farms, Mr. Bourdeau Mr. Bourdeau had a had rich a career rich career in finance finance and also and served also served as an as economics an economics professor professor at West at West

Hills College. Hills College. William William also served also served honorably honorably in the in United the United States States Marine Marine Corps Corps from from 1993 1993 to 2001. to 2001. William William has has

served served on the on boards the boards and committees and committees of numerous of numerous community community organizations. Amongst Amongst many many other other leadership leadership

positions, positions, he currently he currently serves serves as the as Chair the Chair for the for California the California Water Water Alliance, Alliance, the Vice the Chair Vice Chair for the for San the Luis San & Luis Delta- & Delta-

Mendota Mendota Water Water Authority Authority and is and on the is on board the board of directors of directors for the for Westlands the Westlands Water Water District. District. Mr. Bourdeau Mr. Bourdeau earned earned his his

bachelor’s bachelor’s degree degree in accounting accounting from from Fresno Fresno State State and his and MBA his MBA from from University University of of Nevada-Reno. He is He also is a also CPA a CPA

and Chartered and Chartered Global Global Management Accountant. Accountant.

Nate Nate Eckloff Eckloff (Kearney (Kearney County, County, Nebraska) Nebraska) owns owns a farm a in farm Nebraska in Nebraska and is and also is a also managing a managing director director in the in public the public

finance finance investment investment banking banking group group in the in Denver the Denver office office Piper of Piper Sandler Sandler Companies. Companies. Mr. Eckloff Mr. Eckloff has assisted has assisted

with the with issuance the issuance of over of $25 over billion $25 billion in municipal in municipal bonds bonds since since entering entering the public the public finance finance industry industry 1982. in 1982. His His

experience experience covers covers a wide a wide range range of tax-exempt of tax-exempt and taxable and taxable municipal municipal finance, finance, with his with public his public finance finance practice practice

focused focused primarily primarily in Colorado, in Colorado, Nebraska, Nebraska, Wyoming Wyoming and Florida. and Florida. A large A large part of part his of practice his practice is financing is financing water water

and wastewater and wastewater related related projects. projects. Prior to Prior joining to joining Piper Piper Sandler, Sandler, Mr. Eckloff Mr. Eckloff worked worked for 30 for years 30 years combined combined with with

the Denver the Denver offices offices RBC of Capital RBC Capital Markets Markets and Hanifen and Hanifen Imhoff/Stifel. Imhoff/Stifel. Mr. Eckloff Mr. Eckloff has served has served numerous numerous state state and and

local government local government entities entities throughout throughout his career. his career. Mr. Eckloff Mr. Eckloff is currently is currently the president the president of the of Colorado the Colorado Municipal Municipal

Bond Bond Dealers Dealers Association Association and a and member a member of the of Board the Board of Trustees of Trustees for the for University the University of Nebraska of Nebraska Foundation. Foundation. He He

is also is a also past a chairman past chairman of the of board the board for both for both the Colorado the Colorado Sports Sports Hall of Hall Fame of Fame and the and University the University of Nebraska- of Nebraska-

2-24 Activities 2-24 Activities and and Accomplishments

Lincoln Alumni Association. Mr. Eckloff received his J.D. degree and his MBA degree from the University of Denver and his

bachelor’s degree in agricultural honors from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nate is a member of the Colorado Bar

Association. He is the proud owner of the family farm in Nebraska, some of which has been in the family since the 1870s.

Mark Hansen (Ellensburg, Washington) raises irrigated forage crops (primarily timothy hay and alfalfa) and cattle in the

Kittitas Valley near Ellensburg, Washington. He grew up in Patterson, California, and helped on the family apricot and

walnut farm. After graduating from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in Crop Science, Mr. Hansen worked for more

than 15 years as a crop consultant on the west side of Fresno County for a vertically integrated family farm. In 1995 he

bought the Ellensburg hay ranch and the family moved to Washington. He is currently a board member of the Kittitas

Reclamation District and the Kittitas Farm Bureau and a past board member of the Kittitas Valley Hay Growers Association

and Kittitas School District. Mr. Hansen and his wife Melissa have two children.

Charles Lyall (Grandview, Washington) is a third-generation farmer in the lower Yakima Valley and Columbia Basin. In

1978, he joined his family farm, Lyall and Sons. They continue to grow cherries, apples, concord grapes for Welch’s Juice

Corporation and a small amount of produce for farmer’s markets in Washington State. He has served as a Director on the

Board of South Columbia Irrigation District, since 2000. He is an alternate on the Board of Columbia Basin Hydropower. A

past board member of the Columbia Basin Development League. A graduate from the Washington Agforestry Leadership

Program, class of XXl. He has been married to Thea for over 34 years and has three children.



Cannon Michael (Los Banos, California) is the President/CEO of Bowles Farming Company. He is the 6th

generation of his family to work in the family farming business. A graduate of the University of California at

Berkeley, he joined the company in 1998, and became the President and CEO in 2014. He is an advocate for

California agriculture and intelligent water policy. Environmental stewardship, ethical treatment of workers and

sustainable production are core values for Cannon and the Bowles Farming Company team.

Cannon serves as the Chairman of the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, as a director on the Water

Education Foundation Board, as a director on the San Luis Canal Company Board, as a director on the Henry

Miller Reclamation District Board, as the president of the San Luis Resource Conservation District Board, as a

director of the California Cotton Alliance and as director and past chairman of the California Cotton Growers

Association. He is married to his loving wife Heidi, and they have three sons.

Paul Orme (Mayer, Arizona) was a long-time member of the Alliance’s Advisory Committee. His law practice focuses

on representing special districts in water, electric power, and utility law matters. He serves as Counsel to five special

districts in Pinal County, Arizona. Mr. Orme also lives on and serves as President of his family’s 4th Generation cattle

ranch in central Arizona. In this capacity he also serves on the board of directors of the Arizona Farm and Ranch

Group and is a member of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and the Arizona Agribusiness and Water Council.

Pat O’Toole (Savery, Wyoming) - a member of the Alliance’s Board of Directors since 1998 and a former member

of Wyoming’s House of Representatives - was named as the organization’s fifth President in March 2005. He is a

cattle and sheep rancher and hay grower with strong backgrounds in irrigated agriculture and Wyoming politics.

Mr. O’Toole and his wife, Sharon, live on a ranch that has been in her family since 1881. Pat O’Toole’s interest in

water intersected with the Alliance while he was serving on the Clinton administration’s Western Water Policy

Review Advisory Commission. Mr. O’Toole was the only commissioner representing Western irrigated agriculture

and, in the end, refused to sign the report, opting instead to prepare a dissenting alternative report. The O’Toole

family and Ladder Ranch were the recipients of the distinguished 2014 Wyoming Leopold Environmental

Stewardship Award. Pat and Sharon met while students at Colorado State University, where Pat graduated with a

philosophy degree. They have three children and six grandchildren.

Clinton Pline (Nampa, Idaho) was raised near Nampa, Idaho on a family operated dairy and irrigated farmland in

the 1960s and 70s. After college, Mr. Pline came back to the family farm and they expanded their land operation

to include various seed crops and sugar beets. Since his early days in 4-H until present Mr. Pline has served in

numerous leadership roles. Those include; Student Senate at College of Southern Idaho, County Farm Bureau, Farm

supply Co-op Director and County P&Z Commissioner. Mr. Pline is currently serving his 6th term as Director for

Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District and is also serving as chairman of Treasure Valley Water Users Association and

Water District 63 (Boise River Basin). Clinton Pline has been a Board Director of Family Farm Alliance since 2019.

Don Schwindt (Cortez, Colorado) and his wife Jody started farming in their home community in Southwest

Colorado in 1975 producing irrigated hay. As they explored initiating their desire to make their living farming,

Don was told it was close to an impossible dream. He is now proud to tell people that he is a first-generation

agricultural producer. He graduated from Stanford University in 1971 with a degree in anthropology. Don has

been active in the water business since 1980, serving locally on the boards of both Montezuma Valley Irrigation

Company and the Dolores Water Conservancy District. He is still on the DWCD board. He has been a Colorado

board member of the Family Farm Alliance since 1993. He served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board

from 1999 through 2008. He has served on both the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Southwestern

Water Conservation District board. He is currently on the board of Colorado Water Congress. The water board

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

business business gives gives a focus a focus to to Don’s to Don’s passion passion for for understanding for understanding his his community’s his community’s history. history. Don Don and and Jody Jody enjoy enjoy spending spending

time time with with friends friends and and extended extended family. family.

Davy Davy Stix Stix (Fernley, (Fernley, Nevada) Nevada) owns owns and and operates operates Dave Dave Stix Stix Livestock, Livestock, a livestock a livestock feeding feeding operation, operation, feeding feeding its its own its own

locally locally raised raised cattle cattle as as well as well as as cattle as cattle purchased purchased throughout throughout central central and and northern northern Nevada. Nevada. Mr. Mr. Stix Mr. is Stix is a co-owner is a co-owner

of of S&L of S&L Trailers, Trailers, a proud a proud member member of of the the of Nevada the Nevada Cattlemen’s Cattlemen’s Association, Association, and and is is the the is official the official trailer trailer dealership dealership of of the the of the

organization. organization. He He has has He served has served as as the the as mayor the mayor of of Fernley, of Fernley, the the president the president of of the the of Nevada the Nevada Cattlemen’s Cattlemen’s Association Association and and a a

board board member member for for the the for Truckee the Truckee Carson Carson Irrigation Irrigation District. District.

Marc Marc Thalacker Thalacker (Sisters, (Sisters, Oregon) Oregon) has has been has been the the Manager the Manager of of Three of Three Sisters Sisters Irrigation Irrigation District District (TSID) (TSID) since since 1997. 1997. He He He

has has farmed has farmed and and ranched ranched in in Central in Central Oregon Oregon since since 1988. 1988. Over Over the the last last the 20 20 last years 20 years Mr. Mr. Thalacker Mr. Thalacker has has completed has completed over over

30 30 projects 30 projects that that have have converted converted open open canals canals to to pipes to pipes in in TSID. in TSID. TSID TSID recently recently finished finished building building a 700kW a 700kW hydro hydro plant plant

located located the the at end the end of of 4 of miles 4 miles of of 54” 54” of HDPE 54” HDPE pipe pipe serving serving as as its its as penstock its penstock and and a 200kW a 200kW Micro-Hydro Micro-Hydro Demonstration


Project Project that that went went live live in in live 2018. in 2018. TSID TSID recently recently piped piped the the last last the phase last phase of of the the of District’s the District’s Main Main Canal Canal system system to to serve to serve as as a as a

penstock penstock a to third a third small small conduit conduit 300kW 300kW hydro, hydro, which which also also went went live live in in live 2018. in 2018. Mr. Mr. Thalacker Mr. Thalacker has has been has been recognized recognized for for for

his his work his work in in conservation in conservation by by various by various agencies agencies and and lauded lauded by by TSID by TSID patrons patrons for for his his for work his work in in improving in improving irrigation irrigation water water

distribution. distribution. His His ultimate His ultimate goal goal is is to to is make to make TSID TSID carbon carbon neutral. neutral. Marc Marc serves serves on on several on several boards boards including including Oregon Oregon

Water Water Resources Resources Congress Congress and and is is actively is actively involved involved irrigation in irrigation and and water water rights rights legislation. legislation.

Jim Jim Yahn Yahn (Sterling, (Sterling, Colorado) Colorado) is is the the is manager the manager of of the the of North the North Sterling Sterling and and Prewitt Prewitt Reservoirs, Reservoirs, a position a position that that he he has has he has

held held for for over for over 31 31 years. 31 years. He He is is He responsible is responsible for for overseeing for overseeing the the diversion the diversion and and distribution distribution of of water of water to to over to over 350 350 farmers. farmers.

Together Together reservoirs the reservoirs are are a are source a source of of irrigation of irrigation water water for for approximately for approximately 70,000 70,000 acres. acres. Mr. Mr. Yahn Mr. Yahn is is a registered

a registered

professional professional engineer, engineer, receiving receiving his his B.S. B.S. his in in B.S. Agricultural in Agricultural Engineering Engineering from from Colorado Colorado State State University. University. Prior Prior to to his his to his

employment employment with with North North Sterling Sterling and and Prewitt Prewitt he he worked he worked as as a as private a private consulting consulting engineer engineer Fort in Fort Collins Collins for for 5 for years. 5 years.

He He is is He a native is a native of of Colorado of Colorado growing growing up up on on up a on family a family ranch, ranch, which which used used water water from from the the North the North Sterling Sterling Reservoir Reservoir

System. System. In In June In June of of 2016, of 2016, Mr. Mr. Yahn Mr. Yahn was was appointed appointed by by the the by Governor the Governor to to the the to Colorado the Colorado Water Water Conservation Conservation Board Board to to to

serve serve as as the the as South the South Platte Platte Director Director and and served served for for 5 for years, 5 years, one one year year as as Chair. as Chair. He He has has He been has been a member a member of of the the of South the South

Platte Platte Basin Basin Roundtable Roundtable since since its its inception its inception 2005, in 2005, served served as as chair as chair from from 2009 2009 – 2012, – 2012, and and currently currently serves serves as as the the as the

roundtable’s roundtable’s representative representative to to the the to Inter-Basin the Inter-Basin Compact Compact Committee. Committee. Mr. Mr. Yahn Mr. Yahn and and his his wife his wife Tracy Tracy also also have have a cow a cow calf calf calf

ranching ranching operation operation and and are are the the are parents the parents of of two of two grown grown children, children, Hannah Hannah and and Austin. Austin.

As we watch rural communities, tribal

As we watch rural communities, tribal

communities—the communities—the lands lands our our families families

have have taken taken care care of for of generations—we

for generations—we

know know what what we are we are fighting fighting for. for. Farmers Farmers are are

criticized criticized for their for their utilization utilization of water of water to to

grow grow food food and and fiber. fiber. Thank Thank God, God, water water is is is

husbanded husbanded by farmers by farmers because because they they care care

about about those those lands lands and and their their uses. uses.

—Patrick —Patrick F. F. O’Toole, F. O’Toole, President President






Dave Anderson Dave - Garrison Anderson Diversion - Garrison Conservancy Diversion Conservancy District, ND District, ND

Paul Arrington Paul - Idaho Arrington Water - Users Idaho Association, Water Users Boise Association, Boise

Ara Azhderian Ara – Azhderian Monterey County – Monterey Water County Resources Water Agency, Resources Salinas, Agency, CA Salinas, CA

Donald Barksdale Donald – Nampa Barksdale and – Meridian Nampa and Irrigation Meridian District, Irrigation ID District, ID

Samantha Barncastle Samantha Salopek– Barncastle Elephant Salopek– Butte Elephant Irrigation Butte District, Irrigation Las Cruces, District, NMLas Cruces, NM

Alexandra Biering Alexandra - California Biering Farm - California Bureau, Farm Sacramento Bureau, Sacramento

Mike Britton Mike – North Britton Unit Irrigation – North Unit District, Irrigation Madras, District, OR Madras, OR

James Broderick James - Southeastern Broderick - Southeastern Colorado Water Colorado Conservancy Water Conservancy District, Pueblo, District, CO Pueblo, CO

Devin Brundage Devin – Central Brundage Nebraska – Central Public Nebraska Power Public & Irrigation Power District, & Irrigation Holdrege District, Holdrege

Robert Cogan Robert – Salt Cogan River Project, – Salt River Phoenix, Project, AZ Phoenix, AZ

Ken Curtis – Ken Dolores Curtis Water – Dolores Conservancy Water Conservancy District, Cortez, District, CO Cortez, CO

Aaron Dalling Aaron – Fremont- Dalling Madison – Fremont- Irrigation Madison District, Irrigation ID District, ID

Tom Davis – Tom Yuma Davis County – Yuma Water County Users Association, Water Users Yuma, Association, AZ Yuma, AZ

Gina Dockstader Gina – Dockstader Imperial Irrigation – Imperial District, Irrigation Imperial, District, CA Imperial, CA

Mark Deutschman Mark Deutschman – Maple Grove, – Maple MN Grove, MN

Brian Duyck Brian – Wyoming Duyck Association – Wyoming of Association Irrigation Districts of Irrigation Districts

Urban Eberhart, Urban Chairman Eberhart, - Kittitas Chairman Reclamation - Kittitas District, Reclamation WA District, WA

Gary Esslinger Gary – Elephant Esslinger Butte – Elephant Irrigation Butte District, Irrigation Las Cruces, District, NMLas Cruces, NM

Pete Gile - Kansas-Bostwick Pete Gile - Kansas-Bostwick Irrigation District, Irrigation Courtland, District, KSCourtland, KS

Mauricio Guardado Mauricio – United Guardado Water – United Conservation Water Conservation District, Oxnard, District, CA Oxnard, CA

ShanRae Hawkins ShanRae – StingRay Hawkins Communications, – StingRay Communications, Joseph, OR Joseph, OR

Dr. Larry Hicks Dr. - Larry Little Snake Hicks - River Little Conservation Snake River Conservation District, Baggs, District, WY Baggs, WY

Craig Horrell Craig – Central Horrell Oregon – Central Irrigation Oregon District, Irrigation Redmond, District, ORRedmond, OR

Sheldon Jones Sheldon – North Jones Carolina – North Carolina

Cary Keaten Cary – Solano Keaten Irrigation – Solano District, Irrigation Vacaville, District, CA Vacaville, CA

Zane Kessler Zane – Colorado Kessler River – Colorado District, River Glenwood District, Springs, Glenwood CO Springs, CO

Tom Knutson Tom – Water Knutson Management – Water Management Solutions, St. Paul, Solutions, NE St. Paul, NE

Mike LaPlant Mike – Ephrata, LaPlant WA– Ephrata, WA

Matt Lukasiewicz Matt Lukasiewicz – Loup Basin – Reclamation Loup Basin District, Reclamation Farwell, District, NE Farwell, NE

David Mansfield David – Arizona Mansfield – Arizona

Fergus Morrissey Fergus – Orange Morrissey Cove – Orange Irrigation Cove District, Irrigation Orange District, Cove, Orange CA Cove, CA

Andy Mueller Andy – Colorado Mueller River – Colorado District, River Glenwood District, Springs, Glenwood CO Springs, CO

Wade Noble Wade – Law Noble Office of – Law Wade Office Noble, of Yuma, Wade Noble, AZ Yuma, AZ

2-24 Activities and 2-24 Accomplishments

Activities and Accomplishments

John O’Callaghan – South Columbia Basin Irrigation District, Pasco, WA

Scott Petersen, Vice-Chairman – San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, Los Banos, CA

Jason Phillips – Friant Water Authority, Lindsay, CA

Bill Plummer – Scottsdale, AZ

Rick Preston – Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District, Lyman, NE

Pat Riley – Helena, MT

Adam Robin – Yuba Water Agency, Marysville, CA

Ben Shawcroft – Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, Fallon, NV

Tina Shields – Imperial Irrigation District, Imperial, CA

Patrick Sigl – Salt River Project, Phoenix, AZ

April Snell – Oregon Water Resources Congress, Salem, OR

Roger Sonnichsen – Quincy Columbia Basin Irrigation District, Quincy, WA

John Stuhlmiller – Washington State Water Resources Association, Olympia, WA

Jeff Sutton – Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, Willows, CA

Scott Turpin – Burley Irrigation District, Burley, ID

Chris Udall – Agribusiness & Water Council of Arizona, Mesa, AZ

Chris Voigt – Washington State Potato Commission, Moses Lake, WA

Bruce Whitehead – Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District, Durango, CO

Brad Wind – Northern Water, Berthoud, CO

Eric Whyte – Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Towaoc, CO

Steve Wolff – Southwestern Water Conservation District, Durango, CO



Amanda Coffman (Laton ,California) is the Financial Administrator for the Family Farm Alliance. She is the

daughter of a third-generation farmer and was raised on the family farm in Laton. She has worked for Errotabere

Ranches for over 16 years as a bookkeeper. She also helps with the bookkeeping on her family’s farm where she

lives with her daughter and helps her father and brother in the fields. Prior to joining Errotabere Ranches, she

worked at the Laton Cooperative Cotton Gin for three years.

Dan Keppen (Klamath Falls, Oregon) has served as Executive Director for the Family Farm Alliance since 2005.

He has 35 years of experience in Western water resources engineering and policy matters. Since 1997, he has

worked primarily in advocacy positions with the Northern California Water Association, and as executive director

of the Klamath Water Users Association. He served one year as special assistant to the Director of the Bureau of

Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region. Prior to that time, Keppen was a water resources engineer for Tehama County,

California and a water resources engineering consultant in Portland, Oregon. He is a registered civil engineer in

California. Keppen received his M.S. in Water Resources Engineering from Oregon State University and his B.S. in

Petroleum Engineering from the University of Wyoming. He lives with his wife, Dena, and has two grown children,

Anna and Jackson.

Mark Limbaugh (Washington, D.C.) is President of The Ferguson Group (TFG) in Washington, D.C. He provides

strategic federal policy and legislative guidance to clients on water, irrigation, production agriculture, and

other natural resource management and policy issues. Prior to joining TFG in July 2007, Mark was appointed by

President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2005 as Assistant Secretary for Water and Science

at the Department of the Interior. Mark also served more than three years as Deputy Commissioner - External

and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Bureau of Reclamation in Washington, D.C. Prior to his federal service, Mark

accumulated over 22 years of on-the-ground experience in production agriculture, water, and natural resource

management, and has been actively involved in various state and federal water organizations throughout his

career. Other key positions Mark has held include President of the Family Farm Alliance, Watermaster of Idaho’s

Payette River Basin, and Executive Director of the Payette River Water Users Association. Mark grew up on his

family’s farm in Fruitland, Idaho, earned his B.S. in Accounting cum laude from the University of Idaho, and has

worked as a Certified Public Accountant.

Josh Rolph (Rocklin, California) assists the Alliance with website, social media and communications. After two

decades working in politics and policy for elected officials in Washington, and then representing California

farmers before the federal government, he founded the YEAH YEAH Agency. His full-service marketing firm helps

nonprofits and small businesses compete effectively in an increasingly noisy communications environment.

Previously, Josh served 11 years in the Federal Policy shop for the California Farm Bureau Federation, 5 of which

he served as its Director. His issue specialties included tax, food safety, the Farm Bill, and international trade.

He worked in Washington, DC in various roles, including Associate Director at USDA’s Office of Congressional

Relations overseeing legislative affairs for 9 agencies, as well as Legislative Director and aide to two members of

the U.S. House of Representatives. He lives in Auburn, California.

Norm Semanko (Boise/Coeur d'Alene, Idaho) serves as general counsel for the Family Farm Alliance. He is a Water

Law Practice Group leader at Parsons Behle & Latimer. He has represented clients in state and federal courts and

has extensive experience with water resources, environmental, natural resources, public lands and regulatory

issues, as well as governmental affairs. He represents numerous irrigation districts, canal companies and other

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

water providers in Washington State and Idaho. Mr. Semanko previously served as

Executive Director & General Counsel for the Idaho Water Users Association and as

the President of the National Water Resources Association. He was also a member

of the Western States Water Council, having served in that position under three

different Governors. He is currently a member of the Legal Advisory Council for the

Mountain States Legal Foundation. Prior to his law career, Mr. Semanko served as

a Legislative Assistant handling water issues in both the U.S. House and Senate in

Washington, D.C. He earned his law degree from Georgetown University and is also

a graduate of the University of Idaho.

Jane Townsend (Lake County, California) has been an Associate Director of AAMSI

(Ag Association Management Services, Sacramento, CA) for over 30 years. The

company currently manages over 50 agricultural trade associations in California

and the Pacific Northwest. Among other duties, Ms. Townsend serves as the

Executive Director of the California Agricultural Irrigation Association, California

Bean Shippers Association, U.S. Committee on Irrigation & Drainage, California

Women for Agriculture, and conference coordinator for the Mid-Pacific Water

Users Conference, and the Family Farm Alliance Annual Conference. Jane is also

the Family Farm Alliance Fundraising Coordinator. She studied journalism at

Southwest Texas State University and received a paralegal certification from MTI

College of Procedural Law. She and her husband Craig have three grown children

and three granddaughters. They live in Clearlake Oaks, California and enjoy the

great outdoors.

Todd Ungerecht (Boise, Idaho) provides policy and communications consulting

services for the Family Farm Alliance. He is a Westerner who served 25 years

working with Congress and the executive branch. Mr. Ungerecht was born and

raised in Pasco (WASHINGTON) and received his B.A. and J.D. degrees from

Gonzaga University. He and his family relocated to Idaho in 2018 from the

Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, following a combined 25 years’ experience

in the federal legislative and executive branches. Mr. Ungerecht formed his own

consulting and small private practice in Boise in 2021. Prior to that, he served in a

number of key legislative roles on Capitol Hill, including Deputy Staff Director of

the Committee on Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives under

former Chairman Rob Bishop, and Senior Counsel to Chairman Doc Hastings,

Committee on Natural Resources. While on the Committee, he supervised and

helped organize more than 100 congressional hearings and wrote or edited

hundreds of press statements on a variety of natural resources subjects, including

the Endangered Species Act (ESA), water, power, and energy, as well as oversight

issues. He co-coordinated the ESA Congressional Working Group in 2013. He also

worked as the Legislative Director for former Idaho Governor Butch Otter when he

was a Member of Congress and was a legislative assistant to former U.S. Senator

Slade Gorton (WASHINGTON).



There’s a passage in John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” that does a good job describing California’s –

and much of the West’s – hydrology

“The water came in a 30-year cycle. There would be five to six wet and wonderful years….then

would come six or seven pretty good years….and then the dry years would come ... During the

dry years, the people forgot about the rich years, and when the wet years returned, they lost all

memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”

And it’s still that way today.

In the fall of 2022, California’s reservoirs had dropped to dangerously low levels and the state was headed for a fourth

year of drought. And then – just in time for the holidays - we were blessed with a series of “atmospheric rivers”. California’s

statewide snowpack reports six months later were twice of normal, setting new records in some places.

After several critically dry years requiring severe cutbacks, many people are asking the obvious question, “does this mean

the California drought is over?”

The answer, of course, is “no.”

California’s water management system was designed specifically to manage this volatile hydrology to store wet year

water to be used in dry years. But currently, even our amazing system of dams and canals can’t meet the state’s water

needs. Decades after they were built, the government will no longer allow existing water infrastructure to operate the

way it was intended. Increasingly, “multiple uses” of our water resources are ignored in favor of just a few.

Starting in the 1990’s, as a result of state and federal laws, regulations, lawsuits, and agency decisions, reservoirs in

California and the Klamath Basin are not allowed to convey the water stored for their intended purposes. Instead, a large

percentage of water must now be sent to the ocean. Each year this problem is getting worse. Unelected government

officials are allowed to divert more and more water away from homes, communities, wildlife refuges and farms. We

have yet to see them demonstrate accountable results showing the promised benefit to endangered fish. While most

pronounced in California, Central Oregon and the Klamath Basin, similar experiences are happening across the West.

For those who live in those rural communities, it’s almost impossible to understand. Farmers and ranchers feel like our

government is about to throw away the world’s best food production system, at a time when our country and the planet

will need that food more than ever.

Adding insult to injury, Western farmers and ranchers have been targeted and attacked in the media. Legions of

reporters, documentarians, and bloggers choose to advance narratives that demonize American producers who toil to

make a living growing food for the Nation.

This Nation needs our farmers and ranchers to produce food and fiber. Laws and regulations need to be updated to mandate

accountable and transparent results from diverting water away from Western farms and creating man-made droughts.

There’s never been a more important time to maintain our country’s food productivity.

The unprecedented drought that we recently experience has helped spark public and political awareness of the

importance of Western water infrastructure and contributed to the inclusion of $8.3 billion funding for Bureau of

Reclamation infrastructure and another $4 billion to address the Western drought. This level of federal investment –

which the Alliance helped drive - is something we’ll likely never see again.

The Alliance is seen by many water resource stakeholders and policy makers across the West and in Washington, D.C.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

as a key player in the context of Western water resource management and how this important function is impacted by

implementation of federal laws and regulations. We have a proven track record of successful engagement with federal

policymakers that includes 98 invitations to appear before Congress since 2005.

We are successful because of the dedicated volunteer efforts of our leadership: the board of directors, led by President

Pat O’Toole and Treasurer Marc Thalacker; our talented Advisory Committee, headed up by chairman Urban Eberhart and

vice-chair Scott Peterson, and our top-notch team of consultants, including Mark Limbaugh and Lane Dickson (federal

advocates), Norm Semanko (general counsel), Jane Townsend (conference coordinator and fundraising coordinator),

Josh Rolph (communications advisor) and Amanda Coffman (financial administration). We’ve been ably assisted by the

incredible work of our newest contractor, Todd Ungerecht – a known commodity to the Western water world – who has

provided invaluable policy and communications counsel.

This year, we say farewell and thank Chris Hurd, one of the longest-serving directors to sit on the Alliance board. Chris has

passed his 1,500-acre family farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley to his son, who will continue to help feed the world with

almonds, pistachios and row crops. Chris -a graduate of California Ag Leadership Class 17 – has been a fiery leader in the

San Joaquin and Western U.S. water world for decades. We wish him well as he finally gets to spend more time enjoying the

beaches of south-central California.

We also welcomed three new directors to the Alliance board in the last year, including Nate Eckloff (who replaces Tom

Schwarz as Nebraska’s rep) and Nadine Bailey, who replaces Sandy Denn as our Sacramento Valley representative. We also

have a new director from Colorado – Jim Yahn, from the Platte River drainage. All of our directors and advisory committee

members serve on a voluntary basis, often times paying for Alliance-related travel expenses out of their own pockets.

They are some of the best minds in Western water.

Thank you in advance for your loyal support as the Alliance continues its work to protect water for Western irrigated

agriculture. I hope you enjoy this year’s conference.


Dan Keppen

Executive Director

Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.




The Alliance has defined itself by developing several targeted core programs. Each of these programs has been

developed with the same goal in mind – to increase its visibility and effectiveness at the Federal level. In addition to

working the hot issues of the day, the Alliance is continuing its core programs:

Farmer Lobby trips to Washington, D.C.;

Congressional Outreach;

Continue publications – Monthly Briefing, Water Review, Issue Alerts;

Educate members and supporters through the Annual Meeting.

You can rest assured knowing that your contribution goes directly to the Alliance's programs-not to unproductive

overhead costs. The Alliance is unique in that it is a "virtual organization"- staff are all highly competent independent

contractors. This gives the organization powerful representation with a flexibility that allows us to focus resources

quickly on emerging issues.




The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a landmark ruling in May 2023 in Sackett v. EPA which

significantly narrowed much of the federal government's protections for wetlands, tributaries and streams as

“waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Litigious environmental organizations expressed

immediate dismay following the Sackett ruling. The decision was greeted with elation by agricultural water users

and their political supporters across the West. It was a game changer and a monumental victory for irrigated

agriculture. No longer will farmers be required to hire an army of consultants just to figure out whether a wet

spot on their property is regulated under the CWA. The Alliance has been tracking the WOTUS “ping pong” game

for the past 15-plus years, as CWA implementation changes with every new occupant in the White House.

The Ruling in a Nutshell

At issue is the reliance on the “significant nexus” test

from the muddled SCOTUS Rapanos decision in the

Biden WOTUS rule published in late 2022. The Sackett

decision has eliminated the “significant nexus” test for

a “relatively permanent” test. The Court ruled that in

order to assert jurisdiction over an adjacent wetland

under the CWA, a party must establish “first, that the

adjacent [body of water constitutes] . . . ‘water[s] of the

United States’ (i.e., a relatively permanent body of water

connected to traditional interstate navigable waters);

and second, that the wetland has a continuous surface

Photo by Phung Touch

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

connection with that water, making it difficult to determine where the ‘water’ ends and the ‘wetland’ begins.”

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the 5-4 majority decision, while Justice Brett Kavanaugh split from the rest of the

Republican-appointed judges on the court to argue that the majority’s definition of wetlands covered by the law

was too narrow. The court’s three liberal justices—Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson—

joined Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence, who said the court’s new rule would change the way federal agencies

have interpreted the law for nearly half a century.

Biden Administration Post-Sackett Actions

The Biden Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S.

Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) announced they would quickly and surgically

amend their final WOTUS Rule to incorporate the SCOTUS decision in Sackett

v. EPA by September. The current rule had already been stayed by the courts in

approximately half of the country, and the agencies said they were interpreting

WOTUS consistent with the Sackett decision even in those states where it was not

stayed. On September 8, the Corps and EPA published a new Revised Definition of

WOTUS to conform with the SCOTUS ruling in Sackett. Republicans on Capitol Hill

issued statements of condemnation about the new rule, reiterating prior concerns

that the Biden Administration should have waited on Sackett before issuing its proposed rule.

Congressional Action and Reaction

Republicans in both chambers had the Biden Administration’s WOTUS rule in their sights throughout the new

117th Congress and continued their focus in the new Congress, calling on the Biden Administration to withdraw

its first proposed WOTUS rule, issued on New Year’s Eve, 2022. In February 2023, Transportation and Infrastructure

(T&I) Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) and Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman

David Rouzer (R-NC) introduced a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act on the

Biden Administration’s WOTUS rule. The House of Representatives weeks later approved the Graves-Rouzer

resolution. On March 29, the Senate also passed the resolution of disapproval in bipartisan fashion, which

President Biden one week later vetoed.

Post-Sackett Engagement on Capitol Hill

Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have strong

feelings on the decision. The controversial court ruling had Senate

Democrats fuming over what they perceive as backsliding on clean

water protections, while Republicans celebrated the ruling as a

reining in federal overregulation of the nation’s water and land


More than 100 House Democrats last year unveiled the "Clean

Water Act of 2023" to restore what CWA protections they believe

were lost in the SCOTUS decision in Sackett v. EPA. Under the new legislation, Congress would clarify the scope

of "protected water resources" under the original CWA with the intent of mitigating Sackett's impact. Litigious

environmental groups were also, for the most part, supportive of the legislation, although some believe it

doesn’t go far enough. The bill is unlikely to get any traction in the current Congress.


Republicans believed believed the modified the modified Biden Biden WOTUS WOTUS rule was rule still was too still broad too broad and vow and vow to challenge to challenge it again it again under under the


Congressional Review Review Act (CRA) Act (CRA) as they as they did earlier did earlier in the in year. the year. In the In Senate, the Senate, the the Environment and Public and Public Works


(EPW) (EPW) Committee held held a hearing a hearing on October on October 18 on 18 Sackett's on Sackett's impact impact on CWA on CWA enforcement. Senate Senate Republicans

are expecting are expecting further further SCOTUS SCOTUS litigation litigation over over the definition the definition of WOTUS of WOTUS as a result as a result of what of what they they charge charge is the is Biden

the Biden

administration’s failure failure to to adequately align align its its rulemakings with with the court’s the court’s direction direction in Sackett in Sackett v. EPA.

v. EPA.

WOTUS WOTUS Litigation


Before Before the Sackett the Sackett decision decision was was issued, issued, three three lawsuits lawsuits were were filed filed by multiple by multiple states states to challenge to challenge the Biden

the Biden

Administration's initial initial WOTUS WOTUS rule. rule. WOTUS WOTUS is currently is currently interpreted consistent consistent with with the pre-2015 the pre-2015 definition definition of


the term the term and and with with the Sackett the Sackett decision decision in the in 27 the states 27 states that that are party are party to the to lawsuits, the lawsuits, as litigation as litigation is ongoing.

is ongoing.

Depending on how on how things things go with go with the litigation, the litigation, the WOTUS the WOTUS definition definition has the has potential the potential to change to change again.


Additionally, there there are state are state and and federal federal laws laws that that regulate regulate wetlands wetlands that that will probably will probably receive receive greater greater attention


in the in aftermath the aftermath of Sackett. of Sackett. While While things things may may likely likely slow slow down, down, there there could could potentially potentially be more be more changes changes ahead,


due due to the to ongoing the ongoing litigation.


Alliance Alliance Actions


The Alliance The Alliance has made has made engagement on WOTUS on WOTUS – which – which now now spans spans three three presidential administrations- a top a priority.

top priority.

The continued The continued use in use the in December the December 2022 2022 WOTUS WOTUS rule of rule the of the “significant nexus” nexus” test from test from the SCOTUS the SCOTUS Rapanos


decision decision in determining WOTUS WOTUS was a was concern a concern to the to Alliance. the Alliance. The Alliance The Alliance was also was also part part of an of an “agriculture” amicus


brief brief in support in support of the of Sacketts the Sacketts that that was submitted was submitted to SCOTUS to SCOTUS last year. last year. The Alliance The Alliance was quoted was quoted in a “What in a “What They


Are Saying” Are Saying” press press piece piece issued issued by the by the Congressional Western Western Caucus Caucus that that summarizes what what various various industry industry reps


were were saying saying about about the SCOTUS the SCOTUS decision decision WOTUS.


While While much much could could be said be said about about the the new new draft draft guidance, the


Alliance Alliance legal legal team team decided decided to focus to focus on what on what matters matters most most to


irrigated agriculture. The The Alliance Alliance letter letter urged urged EPA EPA to provide

to provide

additional clarity clarity to the to the draft draft guidance emphasizing that


existing existing exemptions from from the the NPDES NPDES permit permit requirement are


not not negated or or otherwise impacted by the by the Maui Maui decision. This


approach was was consistent with with how how the the Alliance Alliance addressed the


Trump Trump guidance and and was was similar similar to the to the message delivered to


EPA EPA at a at public a public forum forum on this on this matter matter in June in June 2021. 2021. The The final


Alliance Alliance letter letter to EPA to EPA in in December also also reflects reflects this this philosophy.

2-24 Activities 2-24




and and




Maui Guidance

In another CWA matter, the Alliance in December 2023 submitted brief,

focused comments on draft guidance released last year by EPA that some fear

could place an unprecedented burden on regulated entities that may have a

groundwater discharge to surface waters. These new challenges would include

“new expectations of technical due diligence for National Pollutant Discharge

Elimination System (NPDES) permit applications, greater scrutiny of these

newly needed and costly technical evaluations, and aggressive compliance

and enforcement efforts by EPA,” according to a recent article published in the

National Law Review. EPA’s draft guidance essentially toughens a Trump-era

measure implementing the SCOTUS 2020 decision requiring CWA permits for

some groundwater releases. The guidance implements the SCOTUS ruling in

County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund on Oct. 30. Once final, the new guidance

could help shape what factors EPA and state permitting authorities must consider when deciding whether

discharges into groundwater that will make their way into navigable waters require NPDES permits.

While much could be said about the new draft guidance, the Alliance legal team decided to focus on what

matters most to irrigated agriculture. The Alliance letter urged EPA to provide additional clarity to the draft

guidance emphasizing that existing exemptions from the NPDES permit requirement are not negated or

otherwise impacted by the Maui decision. This approach was consistent with how the Alliance addressed the

Trump guidance and was similar to the message delivered to EPA at

a public forum on this matter in June 2021. The final Alliance letter

to EPA in December also reflects this philosophy.

Nutrient Funding Discussion Group

EPA in 2022 released a new strategy that promotes a voluntary

approach to remove nutrients polluting the nation’s waterways.

Radhika Fox, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water (pictured above)

released a nine-page memo that laid out steps the agency plans

to take to combat nutrient loading to rivers and streams. Importantly, the memorandum strives to “deepen

collaborative partnerships with agriculture” by collaborating with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) leadership

and expand engagements with agricultural stakeholders and highlight their successes. EPA in the guidance

document makes clear it plans to lean more on the CWA to serve as an “incentive and backstop" for collaboration

with states, utilizing TMDLs in reducing nutrients entering water quality-stressed water bodies.

The Alliance has been working with The Freshwater Trust (TFT) and others from the private and government sectors

to engage EPA, where the Alliance is part of an agency/stakeholder workgroup that puts action behind EPA’s

recently released Nutrient Memo. The “Nutrient Funding Discussion Group” (NFDG) that has been collaborating on

the development of a Nonpoint Source (NPS) focused nutrient funding action plan. NFDG participants included

a cross section of EPA expertise and representatives from industry leaders - Blue Forest Conservation, the Electric

Power Research Institute, NACWA, the Freshwater Trust and others. The NFDG focused its efforts on converting the

watershed-, market-, outcomes-, and nonpoint source (NPS)-based elements from EPA’s 2022 Nutrient Memo into

a replicable funding and implementation model that helps concentrate fragmented NPS funding to high-impact,

cost-effective NPS projects at the scale needed to achieve watershed goals. Based on this work, EPA may now have

a pathway to test, pilot, and fund Watershed Financing Partnership efforts using its discretionary operating funds.

Members of the NFDG were represented on a panel at last year’s annual conference in Reno.



With the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) turning 50 years old in December 2023, there was a renewed debate among

elected officials over the law and how it’s implemented. Democrats point to the ESA’s success in recovering species like

the bald eagle, and a high rate of success in stopping endangered species from going extinct. Republicans counter with

their argument that, over the history of the ESA, approximately

1,700 species have been listed but only three percent have ever

been considered recovered. The last time Congress significantly

amended the ESA was in 1988.

The very significant federal presence in the West presents unique

challenges that producers may not face in other parts of the

United States, particularly with respect to the reach of the ESA.

Implementation of the ESA certainly impacts the management

of land and water throughout the West. For example, federal

water supplies that were originally developed by the Bureau of

Reclamation (Reclamation) primarily to support new irrigation

projects have, in recent years, been redirected to ESA uses. The

result is that these once-certain water supplies – one of the few

certainties once enjoyed in Western irrigated agriculture – have now

been added to the long list of existing uncertainties. A prime factor concerning Western irrigators is the employment of

the ESA by federal agencies as a means of protecting a single endangered or threatened aquatic species under the law by

focusing on one narrow stressor to fish: water diversions.

Given the nature of water storage and delivery, Alliance members are often directly impacted by the implementation

of the ESA and other federal laws. A constant frustration Alliance members experience is the lack of accountability for

success or failure for the implementation of these federal laws. The ESA has at times been interpreted to empower federal

agencies to take action intended to protect listed species without consideration of the societal costs of such action, even

when it is not clear that the action taken will actually yield benefits for the particular species.

The Biden Administration and Republicans in Congress used the golden anniversary of ESA to advance a variety of

their own respective – and very different – ESA initiatives. Several ESA reforms were first announced by the Biden

Administration nearly two years ago. When finalized, the revised rules will also reverse ESA rulemakings completed

in the Trump Administration. Republicans – especially Westerners in the House of Representatives – fought back with

legislation intended to protect many of the Trump ESA regulations.

Brief History of Recent Alliance Engagement on ESA Matters

Image courtesy National Oceanic

and Atmospheric Administration

The Alliance has consistently and strongly supported efforts to reform the ESA and its implementing regulations –

like the effort initiated by the Trump Administration - to provide clearer direction to the agencies in applying and

enforcing the law. The Trump ESA actions – in the Alliance’s standpoint - corrected early ESA regulations promulgated

by the Obama Administration that created additional risk and uncertainty to Western producers. However, the Biden

administration, beginning shortly after the president’s inauguration, began efforts to pull the plug on the Trump

administration’s work. The Alliance in November 2021 developed a detailed comment letter to the Services that

reaffirmed the support the organization placed behind the substance and process used to finalize the 2020 Trump ESA

rules that were rescinded by the current administration.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

Biden Administration ESA Actions

POTUS Issues ESA Proclamation

President Biden proclaimed December 28, 2023 as the 50th Anniversary of the ESA and called upon Americans to

“honor all the progress we have made toward protecting endangered species and to work together to conserve

our Nation’s incredible biodiversity.” In his proclamation, the president said that the ESA has prevented 99% of

all fish, wildlife, and plants under its protection from going extinct. President Biden also noted his decision to

establish the country’s “first-ever National Conservation Goal” to conserve at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters

by 2030, calling the goal “the heart of my ‘America the Beautiful initiative,’” and cited his initiative related to

nature-based solutions.

Proposed ESA Rule Revisions…and Other Federal Rulemaking Efforts

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS, or collectively, “the

Services”) in early 2023 published three proposed rules related to implementation of the ESA. This was the first

of other Biden Administration rulemaking efforts important to Western water users that were to come in the year

ahead. The proposed revisions were made in response to

President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, which directed the

Services to review and revise certain agency actions taken by

January 2021. The three proposed rules would:

• Revise regulations regarding interagency consultation, including

broadening the scope of the Services’ conditioning authority;

• Reinstate a blanket protection for threatened species managed

by USFWS; and

• Clarify "any misconceptions" created by the Trump administration

when it removed language in 2019 referencing economic

impacts within the context of the classification process. This rule

would also change the Services’ critical habitat designation rule

regarding not-prudent determinations and unoccupied areas.

The Biden Administration agreed to rewrite the three ESA rules in

response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra

Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other litigious environmental organizations. All three proposed rules

essentially roll back rules from the previous administration that the Alliance strongly supported. The Alliance last August

submitted detailed comments on the three proposed ESA rulemaking proposals.

Western Pond Turtle Listing

USFWS last year proposed to list the northwestern pond turtle, a species from Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and northern

and central California, and the southwestern pond turtle, a species from central and southern California and Baja California,

Mexico, as threatened species under the ESA. The western pond turtle is now recognized by USFWS as two separate

species (northwestern pond turtle and southwestern pond turtle). If USFWS finalizes this rule as proposed, it would add

the northwestern pond turtle and southwestern pond turtle to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and extend

ESA protections to the two species. USFWS also concluded that the designation of critical habitat for the northwestern

pond turtle and southwestern pond turtle was not determinable at the time. Importantly, irrigation ditches are included


in the turtles’ aquatic habitat, in addition to naturally occurring water bodies. Habitat loss due to a lack of connectivity or

fragmentation is a theme with urbanization and agriculture named as the impetus for land use changes. USFWS accepted

comments received by December 4, 2023.

The Alliance worked with California Farm Bureau, Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) and others to put together a

coalition comment letter. Among other things, the letter emphasized that the 4(d) rule is important, and the proposed

rule provides a section 9 exemption for routine maintenance of stock ponds. However, the letter also points out that

there is nothing in the proposed rule that covers operation and maintenance of irrigation delivery and drainage systems.

KWUA took the lead crafting a letter; the Alliance coordinated some of the coalition-building behind this matter. Thirteen

organizations from four states ended up signing on to the final letter, including three state Farm Bureaus.

House ESA Reform Efforts

Republicans in the House of Representatives were busy in 2023 working to

promote policies to modernize the ESA, with the intent of empowering local,

state, and tribal partners to collaborate on comprehensive recovery and

conservation efforts. Rep. Bruce Westerman (Chair, House Natural Resources

Committee, pictured, right) in July announced the creation of a joint ESA

Working Group with the Congressional Western Caucus to examine how the

ESA is being implemented by federal agencies, ESA’s practical impacts on

the American people, how litigation is driving ESA decision making and how

success is defined under the ESA. The work of the House Natural Resources

WWF Subcommittee and the working group in 2023 was intended to inform legislation in the Natural Resources Committee

to modernize and reauthorize the ESA. Dozens of individual ESA bills were introduced last year towards that end.

The WWF Subcommittee held an oversight hearing last July with the focus on the enormous costs and regulatory burdens

created by the implementation of the ESA. The WWF Subcommittee later held a legislative hearing on several bills that

proposed reforms to the ESA, including H.R. 5504, introduced by U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WASHINGTON), which would

require the withdrawal of these three Biden administration ESA rulemakings

discussed above. Also, a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution (H.J. Res.

46) was introduced last year by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WYOMING) and Rep.

Cliff Bentz (R-OREGON) that would undo the Biden Administration rule that

rescinded the Trump-era definition of the words “critical habitat” that are

both integral yet ambiguous in the ESA.

The House WWF Subcommittee later held a hearing on a number of GOP-led

CRA resolutions disapproving the Biden Administration’s implementation

of the ESA. Family Farm Alliance General Counsel Norm Semanko (pictured

here) testified at this hearing in support of H.J. Res. 46. Critical habitat

designations can carry with them significant economic and regulatory

burdens that must be shouldered by agricultural water managers and rural

communities, which the Alliance’s written testimony outlines. The House

Committee on Natural Resources later in the year favorably reported H.J. Res. 46 and eight other bills out of committee.

Yurok Tribe v. Klamath Water Users Association

The Alliance last year signed on to a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief in support of Klamath Basin farmers’ legal arguments

to have their water rights recognized in the continuing tension over Reclamation’s release of water for ESA compliance for its

operations of the Klamath Project, which straddles the California-Oregon state line. The Alliance board of directors in August

authorized joining an amicus brief in Yurok Tribe, et al. v. Klamath Water User Association, et al., in support of KWUA. The case

is currently on appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

Broadly, KWUA’s principal arguments to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals are twofold: 1) KWUA argues that Reclamation

lacks Broadly, discretion KWUA’s to principal curtail Project arguments deliveries to the in Ninth order Circuit to benefit Court ESA-listed of Appeals species; are twofold: 2) The 1) organization KWUA argues also that posits Reclamation that the ESA

does lacks not discretion preempt to curtail the application Project deliveries of state water in order law to to benefit Reclamation. ESA-listed The species; amicus 2) brief The signed organization on to by also the posits Alliance that backs the ESA this

assertion, does not preempt and notes the that, application while neither of state courts water nor law federal to Reclamation. agencies can The create amicus more brief water, signed they on can to by ensure the Alliance the predictable

backs this

and assertion, equitable and allocation notes that, of while existing neither water courts resources nor federal by applying agencies the can law create consistently. more water, This includes they can rigorously ensure the interpreting


Reclamation’s and equitable federal allocation statutory of existing authorities water resources to enforce by the applying agency’s the congressional law consistently. mandate This includes to follow rigorously state water interpreting law and

interpreting Reclamation’s Reclamation’s federal statutory contracts authorities to hold to the enforce federal the government agency’s congressional to its contractual mandate commitments. to follow state The water Alliance law joined and the

brief interpreting prepared Reclamation’s by the Oregon contracts Water Resources to hold the Congress federal government that also includes to its contractual National Water commitments. Resources Association The Alliance (NWRA),

joined the

and brief ag prepared and water by the groups Oregon from Water three Resources other Western Congress states.

that also includes National Water Resources Association (NWRA),

and ag and water groups from three other Western states.









Environmentalists concerned about salmon spawning have advocated to undam the Snake River for decades, focusing

their Environmentalists efforts four concerned dams the about lower salmon part of spawning the Snake, have just advocated above its confluence to undam the with Snake the Columbia River for decades, River. The focusing Upper

Columbia their efforts River on four Basin dams historically on the supported lower part of abundant the Snake, wild just salmon, above steelhead, its confluence and with native the resident Columbia fish, River. which The supported


Tribal Columbia cultures River and Basin communities. historically supported A coalition abundant of environmental wild salmon, and fishing steelhead, groups and in native 2020 sued resident the fish, Corps, which Reclamation supported and

Bonneville Tribal cultures Power and Administration communities. A over coalition their operation of environmental plan for and the four fishing lower groups Snake in River 2020 dams. sued the The Corps, White Reclamation House Council and on

Environmental Bonneville Power Quality Administration (CEQ) and over Federal their Mediation operation and plan Conciliation for the four Service lower Snake throughout River dams. 2023 continued The White mediation House Council during


a Environmental stay of the federal Quality litigation.

(CEQ) and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service throughout 2023 continued mediation during

a stay of the federal litigation.

Biden Administration Announcement

The Biden Biden Administration administration Announcement

on December 15, 2023 announced a deal with four tribes in the region and the states of Oregon

and The Biden Washington administration that seeks on to December restore salmon 15, 2023 and announced other fish runs a deal while with also four looking tribes in at the eventually region and breaching the states four of of Oregon the

dams. and Washington The settlement that seeks agreement to restore calls salmon for a 10-year and other détente fish in runs the while litigation also looking that began at eventually nearly 30 years breaching ago and four promises

of the

hundreds dams. The of settlement millions of agreement dollars in federal calls for funds a 10-year and other détente money in the for litigation wild fish that restoration began nearly in the 30 Columbia years ago River and Basin promises over

the hundreds next decade, of millions along of with dollars support in federal for clean funds energy and other production money for by wild the tribes. fish restoration The U.S. will in the conduct Columbia and fund River studies

Basin over

on the replacing next decade, the transportation, along with support irrigation, for clean and energy recreation production benefits by of the tribes. dams. The Altogether, U.S. will the conduct agreement and fund commits


$1B on replacing federal the dollars transportation, over the next irrigation, decade and on habitat recreation restoration, benefits hatchery of the dams. improvements, Altogether, and the agreement funding to commits the states of

Washington $1B federal and dollars Oregon, over and the the next Tribes.

decade on habitat restoration, hatchery improvements, and funding to the states of

Environmental Washington and groups Oregon, like and the litigious the Tribes. Earthjustice (originally Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) believe this settlement is a

huge Environmental victory. Some groups regional like the political litigious leaders Earthjustice are not (originally so optimistic. Sierra U.S. Club Senator Legal Jim Defense Risch Fund) (R-IDAHO) believe doubled this settlement down in his


opposition huge victory. Some dam breaching regional political and reiterated leaders that are not it is solely optimistic. Congress U.S. that Senator could Jim remove Risch the (R-IDAHO) federal doubled dams in the down Columbia-

in his

Snake opposition River to System.

dam breaching and reiterated that it is solely Congress that could remove the federal dams in the Columbia-

Snake River System.

Congressional Action

Congresswoman Congressional Action Cathy McMorris Rodgers and her colleague Rep. Dan Newhouse, both Republicans from Washington,

introduced Congresswoman legislation Cathy in McMorris April to protect Rodgers the and four her lower colleague Snake Rep. River Dan dams. Newhouse, The move both came Republicans just a few days from after Washington, President

Biden introduced said at legislation the White in House April to Conservation protect the Summit four lower that Snake he was River committed dams. The to move working came with just Rep. a few Mike days Simpson after President (R-IDAHO)

and Biden Washington said at the senators White House Patty Conservation Murray and Maria Summit Cantwell, that he both was committed Democrats, to working save Columbia with Rep. and Mike Snake Simpson river salmon.


President and Washington Biden did senators not say Patty he supports Murray and dam Maria breaching Cantwell, and both of the Democrats, politicians to he save mentioned, Columbia only and Rep. Snake Simpson river salmon. has publicly

backed President the Biden idea.

did not say he supports dam breaching and of the politicians he mentioned, only Rep. Simpson has publicly

backed the idea.

Western Republicans in Congress and the Wall Street Journal last June pushed back, and publicly highlighted the

Western Republicans in Congress and the Wall Street Journal last June pushed back, and publicly highlighted the



importance of dams in the Pacific Northwest and their impacts on river

commerce, agriculture and energy production. In a one-week period,

Republicans from the House of Representatives hosted a Capitol Hill forum

on the importance of hydropower and conducted a field tour and hearing

in Eastern Washington focusing on plans to breach the dams. The Western

Republicans’ hydropower forums took place just days after the Wall Street

Journal published an editorial explaining how removal of the four lower Snake River dams would make electricity far

costlier and harm local residents, with the salmon seeing little benefit.

The House Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries (WFF) Chaired by Congressman Cliff Bentz (R-OREGON) in

December 2023 conducted an oversight hearing to scrutinize a leaked draft settlement agreement from the Biden

Administration concerning the fate of the four dams. The hearing was scheduled just three days before the Biden

Administration announced its settlement deal. In a joint statement, the executive directors of Northwest RiverPartners,

the Public Power Council, and the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association also expressed extreme concern about

the transparency of this process and the federal government’s commitments’ impacts on millions of Northwesterners.

Impacts to Agriculture and Transportation

Environmentalist plaintiffs claim that removing the dams is the only way to save endangered salmon runs. They brush

aside arguments about the value of the electricity generated by the dams and the economic benefits of the shipping

the dams facilitate. Idaho’s Port of Lewiston, 465 miles from the Pacific Ocean, is the West Coast’s most inland port.

The Lower Snake River dams play a critical role in reducing emissions, by barging between 50 and 60 million tons of

cargo through the river system annually. In 2019, it would have taken over 150,000 semi-trucks, or over 39,000 rail

cars to move the cargo that was barged on the Snake River. In 2016, the Bonneville Power Administration estimated

replacing the dams would increase power costs by $274 million to $372 million annually. A 2023 study from the Pacific

Northwest Waterways Association examined the economic, environmental and social justice impacts associated

with breaching the dams. Twelve counties — six in Washington, five in Idaho and one in Oregon — would be directly

impacted by removal of the dams, according to the report, issued Aug. 13. Over 7,600 farms in the affected area

generate approximately $2 billion in annual sales, according to the report.

Alliance Actions

On March 31, CEQ conducted a “listening” session to garner public input on proposals to remove Lower Snake River dams.

Agricultural water users throughout the Pacific Northwest region have a strong interest in these discussions. Unfortunately,

their voices have not been fully included in these processes. The Alliance’s request to speak at the March 31 listening

session hosted by CEQ on the Lower Snake River dams to hear public perspectives on the projects was not granted. Still,

Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River, Washington, USA, © davidrh / Adobe Stock

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

some Alliance members participated in the listening sessions, which were advertised as opportunities for “non-parties”

to the litigation to provide input. Instead, the vast majority of the comments generated at the sessions came from the

plaintiff groups involved in the litigation, and their affiliates. Agricultural interests “listened” in dismayed silence as pro-dam

breaching advocates dominated the discussion with their talking points.

The Alliance was asked by some of its Idaho members to send a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack to engage in this process to

provide a new perspective. A final letter was transmitted in April that highlighted concerns and explained that dam removal

would certainly impact irrigated agriculture's ability to export food. The Alliance letter was never responded to, although

a USDA spokesperson told the Capital Press that the agreement will help provide near-term stability for communities that

depend on the Columbia River for agriculture and transportation. The Alliance became more engaged on the Lower Snake

River Dam front as the year progressed. Western Farmer-Stockman ran a guest editorial authored by Alliance Executive

Director Dan Keppen, explaining why Pacific Northwest ag interests should be better integrated into the river talks. Agri-

Pulse interviewed Mr. Keppen and quoted him in an article later in the year. A panel discussion on the Lower Snake River

dams – featuring water, farming, transportation, and navigation experts from the Pacific Northwest – is on the agenda of

this year’s Alliance annual conference. Doc Hastings (R-WASHINGTON), former Chairman of the House Natural Resources

Committee has confirmed his participation on the panel.


Dysfunction in the House of Representatives

The 118th Congress convened in January 2023 and the Republican-led House of Representatives immediately showed

fractures of division. Kevin McCarthy (R-CALIFORNIA) was the Republican nominee for speaker of the House in January 2023,

but did not win the speakership on the first attempt. He only

secured the office after days of successive votes and negotiations

within his own party as well as a historic 15 different ballots.

Speaker McCarthy dealt with a standoff between the House

Republican conference and Biden administration that led to the

2023 debt-ceiling crisis and what would have been a first-ever

national default. To resolve the crisis, the parties negotiated the

Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, which passed with bipartisan

support in Congress before President Biden signed it into law.

In late September, conservative hardliner Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-

FL) and a handful of supporters moved to oust Rep. McCarthy

as Speaker of the House. They were upset that Rep. McCarthy

had worked with Democrats to avert a government shutdown,

after a group of far–right Republicans led by Rep. Gaetz tanked

Speaker McCarthy’s efforts to pass legislation that would prevent

a government shutdown one day earlier. As a result, Rep.

Gaetz filed a motion to vacate against Speaker McCarthy. Following a largely unprecedented House floor debate between

members of the majority party, McCarthy was voted out as Speaker on October 3, 2023. Following the removal of Speaker

McCarthy, Rep. Patrick McHenry was selected as Speaker pro tempore until a new Speaker was elected – over three weeks

later. House Republicans – after multiple rounds of voting for a plethora of potential leadership candidates – finally elected

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA, pictured here) to serve as the 56th Speaker of the House.


Implications of Drawn-Out Speaker Election

With the Speaker of the House seat vacant for over three weeks, the House of Representatives could not pass any legislation.

Congress was forced to pass another Continuing Resolution (CR) on November 15 to avert a government shutdown. Both

chambers of Congress on January 18 of this year passed a third CR passed amid broad disagreements over a permanent

funding deal for 2024. Leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives three days later unveiled the CR ion that will

authorize the federal government to operate until March 1 for some departments and March 8 for the remainder.

Iconic Senator Dianne Feinstein Dies – Gov. Newsom Announces Replacement

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CALIFORNIA), a champion of Western water issues, died September 28, 2023 at the age of 90. Her

death, after a period of declining health, left an open seat in the narrowly divided Senate. California Democratic Gov. Gavin

Newsom appointed Emily's List President Laphonza Butler to fill the late

Senator’s seat. Dianne Feinstein was seen as a valuable ally and leader

by Western agricultural interests in California and beyond, and she left an

extraordinary legacy in Western water. During her 30-year tenure in the

Senate, she led legislative efforts on CALFED Bay-Delta funding, pushed

through settlement legislation on the San Joaquin River, and helped pass

the WIIN Act, a measure that included the Water Resources Development

Act of 2016, which authorized new storage projects and injected muchneeded

balance into Bay-Delta water management operations.

The Family Farm Alliance had a wonderful working relationship with

Senator Feinstein and her office. The Alliance issued a public statement

on the day of her death, which included quotes from Alliance director

Cannon Michael and Executive Director Dan Keppen. Mr. Michael and

Alliance director William Bourdeau were quoted in POLITICO and E&E

Daily, and Mr. Keppen was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, some of

the many articles that covered Sen. Feinstein’s passing.

Padilla, Sinema Fill Important Committee Slots Left with Loss of Senator Feinstein

Following the late California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s death, Senate Democrats announced that Sen. Alex Padilla

(D-CALIFORNIA) would join the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, Sen. Krysten Sinema (I-ARIZONA) would

join Senate Appropriations and Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-CALIFORNIA) would join Senate Judiciary. Sen. Feinstein was

Chair of the Energy and Water (E&W) Development Appropriations Subcommittee funding the Department of Energy, the

Corps, and Reclamation, among other things. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WASHINGTON), who is currently Chair of the Senate

Appropriations Committee, took over the gavel of E&W for the remainder of this Congress.

Senators Murray and Sinema have been very responsive to the needs of their agricultural constituents on water issues. It’s

encouraging to have Western representation like this on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Alliance also ramped

up efforts to work closely with Senator Padilla in his new role on the ENR Committee, which is one of the most important

committees to the Alliance, since it has jurisdiction over Reclamation, Western water matters, and forestry, the issues that

are most important to the organization. The Alliance asked for a quote from Senator Padilla to include in its November 2023

“Monthly Briefing” that also expressed the Alliance’s interest in working closer with Senator Padilla in his new committee

assignment. The Senator’s comment in response was so extensive that it required its own inset box in the newsletter!

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments



A relentless series of immense “atmospheric river” storm events in late 2022/early 2023 generated near-record snowpack

in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and saturated millions of acres of lowland areas, which equated to improved

water supplies for millions of Californians. And, further inland, severe winter storms created “once in a lifetime” blizzard

conditions that wreaked havoc on ranching operations in the Rockies and Great Plains. Snow water equivalent in the

Carson River Basin of California/Nevada was at 294% of median in early April 2023, prompting local emergency efforts to

implement proactive measures to help mitigate flooding last spring.

Snowpack levels in Central Oregon soared well above normal in early April 2023 following a series of late-season

storms that slammed the Pacific Northwest. Snowpack in the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River Basin was nearly

160% of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The 2023 spring snowpack was also

considerably better compared to the previous year, when snowpack was just 54% of normal at the end of March.

In the Northern Plains, blizzard-like conditions brought heavy snowfall to eastern Wyoming, northwestern Nebraska,

and the Dakotas. Widespread improvements were made on the U.S. Drought Monitor map including areas of California,

Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico in response to excellent snowpack conditions across

many of the drainage basins in the region. In Nevada and Utah, snow-water equivalent percentages were well over 200%

of median for several basins. In Arizona and New Mexico, snowpack levels were above normal, especially in the ranges of

northern and central Arizona. In Arizona, the total reservoir system for the Salt and Verde River system was 100% full as

compared to 72% full at the same time in 2022, according to the Salt River Project.

Agricultural operations in Idaho, the Dakotas and Wyoming were also significantly impacted by snowstorms.

Over 26 inches of snow fell on April 3rd in Casper (WYOMING), an all-time daily snowfall record for any day of the

year, dating back to 1937. Family Farm Alliance President Patrick O’Toole, whose family operates a large sheep

and cattle ranch straddling the Colorado-Wyoming border, spent much of last spring struggling to reach his

animals, literally in a search for greener pastures, as the snow increased reliance on dwindling hay and forage

supplies. Working with Rocky Mountain state governors, the O’Toole family led efforts to secure federal technical

and financial assistance so farmers and livestock producers could recover from adverse weather events.

Photo by Lucas Pezeta




California in late 2022 was one of the most extremely drought-stricken states in the West. In 2023, the Golden State

struggled with a deluge of precipitation driven by nine atmospheric rivers, 95% of which flowed to the ocean instead of

to storage reservoirs, something state officials sought

to change. California appeared to be heading into a

fourth year of devastating drought before back-to-back

atmospheric rivers dumped huge amounts of rain and

snow between late December 2022 and March 2023,

burying the Sierra in snow and raising the threat of

flooding. At one point last spring, the water content of the

statewide snowpack was 263 percent of average to date

and a staggering 341 percent in the southern Sierra. State

and federal water contractors served by the State Water

Project and Central Valley Project, respectively, received

100% water allocations.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours”,

and in this case, the damage caused by the storms

threatened California’s vast agricultural production,

which produces more than one-third of the nation's

vegetables and three-quarters of the country's fruits and

nuts. California's agriculture industry isn't just crucial

for the country but also for the world's food supply. The

state is the country's largest agricultural exporter and the

nation's sole exporter of many commodities such as almonds, artichokes, dates, garlic and much more. Many California

communities were hit with destructive flooding and damage to agricultural land that was costly to address and delayed

farming operations.

Governor Gavin Newsom introduced a series of proposals to speed up the construction process while also streamlining

permitting and court review. An executive order was also signed by the governor, establishing a strike team to accelerate

clean energy projects. Infrastructure projects that could be streamlined through the package include the Delta Conveyance

Project as well as water storage projects funded through California State Proposition 1.

Sites Reservoir

Earlier in 2023, the Sites Reservoir Project was certified by Governor Newsom as being an eligible project under legislation

that seeks to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation delays related to the California Environmental Quality Act. Located

about 80 miles northwest of Sacramento, Sites Reservoir would store water diverted from the Sacramento River, after all

other water rights and regulatory requirements are met. Water would be released to beneficiaries throughout the state

primarily during drier periods when it is needed. The proposed project includes an off-stream reservoir located north of

the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta where the majority of California’s rainfall occurs. If ultimately approved, the project

would establish an additional 1.5 million acre-feet of water storage capacity. However, within weeks of the Governor’s

announcement, a coalition of litigious conservation and environmental justice groups filed a legal challenge to the Sites

Project. The Alliance has been on record for over a decade in support of Sites.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

B.F. Sisk Dam and Reservoir Expansion Project

Reclamation in 2023 advanced another major water storage project in California, issuing a final record of decision (ROD) to

expand the B.F. Sisk Dam and Reservoir (pictured below). This marked the first approval of a major water storage project in

California since 2011. The project will add 130,000 acre-feet (AF) of capacity to the San Luis Reservoir. The facility currently

holds 2 million AF. The project builds on existing dam safety modifications that had called for raising the 382-foot-tall

earthen dam by 10 feet, for a total of a 22-foot increase in the structure. The Biden Administration has used $35 million

in taxpayer funds for the project to date, in addition to $60 million previously allocated through the Water Infrastructure

Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act. The project also received $100 million in Reclamation dam safety funds.

Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation


Despite massive mountain snowpack over 180 percent of average, Klamath Project irrigators received less than a 60%

water allocation, Reclamation announced last April at the KWUA annual meeting in Klamath Falls (OREGON). Reclamation’s

Klamath Project allocation was intended to accommodate biological criteria for Klamath Basin fish species listed under the

ESA. In 2023, crop damage caused by an infestation of grasshoppers on private land in Klamath County was severe, with

economic impacts in at least the several tens of millions of dollars. The primary cause of the infestation is believed to be the

dewatering of nearby Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, due to federal water management priorities that sent most

of the stored Klamath Project water downstream, to meet the perceived needs of salmon listed under the ESA. In retrospect,

those challenges were eclipsed by the massive media coverage afforded to the developments downstream on the Klamath

River, where one of the largest dam removal projects in the world began in late 2023. While no outcome is certain at this

point in the water year, dam removal without question presents unique water management considerations that will never

occur again. Mr. Keppen participated in a March 2023 meeting with DOI Secretary Deb Haaland, Senator Jeff Merkley

(D-OREGON), staff from the Oregon Congressional delegation, and other high-level Biden Administration DOI officials in

Klamath Falls. The Secretary was on an Oregon visit, and infrastructure was the focus.



Every year at its annual meeting and conference, the Alliance board of directors,

with input provided by the Advisory Committee, establishes priority issues to

engage in for the upcoming year. After two full days of internal discussions in

Reno last February, the key initiatives established by Alliance leadership for 2023

were discussed. The board and Advisory Committee agreed that the priorities for

2023 would be driven around a “Six Point Plan”, once finalized and approved by

the board, coupled with continued advocacy centered around food security.

A “Six Point Plan” to Tackle Western Water Challenges

The Alliance’s Top 6 Priorities for Federal Engagement in 2023

The Western drought, rising inflation and the Ukraine crisis all have a direct and serious

impact on American consumers, along with global food supplies. Policy makers must

understand the relationship between all of these challenges and how they intersect to

impact national and global food security. We cannot continue to allow policy decisions that

slowly and permanently downsize Western agriculture by focusing on long-term theoretical

processes centered solely around conservation. Our irrigated system of agriculture in the

West has and can continue to provide the most stable food supply in the world - but only

if we allow it to function. These challenges are daunting, and they will require innovative

solutions. The following recommendations – three each for the Biden Administration and

Congress to consider - reflect a philosophy that the best solutions come from the ground

up and are driven locally by real people with a grasp of “on-the-ground” reality and who are

heavily invested in the success of such solutions.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

Three Priorities for the Biden Administration

1. Federal agencies must efficiently and effectively implement the billions of dollars now

available to repair aging water infrastructure, improve conservation efforts, and develop

new storage and delivery infrastructure.

2. Agricultural water users dependent upon the Colorado River must be included as

partners as Reclamation develops future long-term operating provisions on the River.

Something needs to be done, or Colorado River water users are facing “dead pool” conditions in

the country’s largest reservoir – Lake Mead – in four years, or less.

3. Restore our dead and dying federal forest lands through active forest management and

work to better quantify watershed health improvements associated with these and other

water conservation actions.

Three Priorities for Congress

1. Cut Red Tape - If we are serious about building and rebuilding infrastructure, improving forest

health, and protecting and promoting American production agriculture, then Congress must

pass real, meaningful solutions that expedite federal permitting processes.

2. Pass a Farm Bill that Addresses Western Agriculture Challenges - Projects that help

producers and water managers adapt to the water supply impacts of climate change must also

be encouraged and supported.

3. Carefully evaluate legislation that could have negative unintended impacts to Western


The Family Farm Alliance board of directors on March 20, 2023 formally adopted an

8-page policy paper that provides further details on these priorities. Please contact dan@

familyfarmalliance.org if you would like to receive a PDF version of this policy document.

Progress made in 2023 relative to these priorities was made in several areas, including in

some of the “big picture” issue arenas discussed earlier in this report. Alliance engagement

in other related matters is discussed further below.




FAMILY FARM ALLIANCE INITIATIVE: Seek to ensure efficient and effective implementation of the

IIJA and IRA by federal agencies. Work with Alliance members to develop success stories to share with

the public, identify obstacles associated with accessing the funding, and share those concerns with

Reclamation, NRCS and other federal agencies.

The Family Farm Alliance helped lead nation-wide coalitions in support of Congressional action to advance the

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA). The IIJA includes

$8.3 billion for Reclamation, as part of a proposal advanced by over 230 water, ag and urban organizations.

That coalition was led by a steering

committee that included the Alliance,

Association of California Water

Agencies, California Farm Bureau

Federation, NWRA and Western

Growers. The IIJA investment will repair

aging water delivery systems, secure

dams, complete rural water projects,

and protect aquatic ecosystems.

President Biden on August 16, 2022

signed the $459 billion IRA – a

massive health care, climate and tax

bill – into law. One month earlier, a

coalition of Western agriculture and

water organizations – including the

Alliance- sent a letter to Senate leaders,

expressing “surprise and concern”

about how legislation aimed at climate

change failed to include meaningful

provisions to address water security and emergency drought response. However, the coalition letter urged that if a

reconciliation package were to be considered, Congress must also include provisions to provide immediate drought

relief to the West. The coalition felt this legislation could be a vehicle to get some big-time dollars to help address

the drought throughout the West, including short-term funding that is critical to generate water savings in the

next few years on the Colorado River. The Alliance was in communication with several of the Colorado River Basin

Democrat Senators as the letter was being developed and in the days after. Senator Sinema - who had opposed

past reconciliation moves (e.g., President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan) – was the last Senate Democrat to publicly

support the bill, and she held out until she had fully studied the legislation. Ultimately, she signed on after securing

a handful of changes, including $4 billion for drought resilience, which would be directed to Reclamation.

Reclamation’s Implementation of the IIJA and IRA

Biden Administration Cabinet members and the White House were busy in 2023, announcing boat loads of new

infrastructure projects, funded courtesy of the IIJA and the IRA. Reclamation, beginning in late 2021 started to

implement new programs funded and/or authorized by the IIJA and expand existing work to deliver results. So

far, more than 402 projects have been funded by the IIJA (per Reclamation’s 12/7/23 webinar). Awards have been

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

made in all 17 Western states and Puerto Rico, and more than $2.9 billion in IIJA funds have been allocated at

project level. Of the 238 WaterSMART projects funded so far by IIJA, 82 of those went to small-scale projects (less

than $100,000). IIJA also funded 129 aging infrastructure / extraordinary maintenance (XM) projects.

Family Farm Alliance members across the West had projects that benefitted from the IIJA funding. A small

smattering of these projects includes 1) B.F. Sisk Dam/San Luis Reservoir, California; 2) Cle Elum Pool Raise

adjacent fish passage work, Yakima Project, Washington state; and 3) Truckee Canal Public Safety Improvement

Project in Nevada.

The IRA appropriates $4 billion to remain available through September 30, 2026, for grants, contracts or financial

assistance agreements for activities to mitigate the impacts of droughts within Reclamation states. Public entities

and Indian tribes qualify for funding under this provision. Moreover, this section prioritizes the Colorado River

Basin and basins with similar levels of long-term drought. The funding may be used for: 1) compensation for

voluntary reduction in water consumption; 2) voluntary system conversion projects that reduce demand for

water supplies or environmentally benefit the Lower or Upper Basin of the Colorado River; and 3) restoration

projects that address the impacts of drought in a river basin.

The IRA’s drought mitigation program included two “buckets” of Reclamation funds intended to stabilize

reservoir elevations in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. “Bucket 1” was established in 2022, when elevations in both

reservoirs were projected to hit critical elevations as soon as 2023. The “System Conservation” program initiated

via “Bucket 1” saved over 1 million acre-feet of water last year. The program has been proven successful – Lake

Mead saw the lowest release in 30 years, and lake levels at the end of 2023 were 40 feet higher than what was

projected one year earlier. Reclamation is currently working through 84 Lower Basin project proposals from

37 entities for “Bucket 2” funding opportunities. Announcements will begin on a rolling basis early this year,

depending on the level of project complexity.

The IRA also provides funding for drought mitigation in other Western watersheds. Project proposals were

solicited last year through Reclamation regional offices. So far, Reclamation has received over 100 project

proposals, which are currently under review. Selections are expected this winter. As discussed further under the

Colorado River initiative section of this report, several Family Farm Alliance members have successfully applied

for IRA funds in the past year.

Big-Picture Alliance Engagement on Reclamation Financial Assistance Programs

The Alliance and other members of the steering committee that led the 2021 Western Water Infrastructure

Initiative wanted to ensure that most of these dollars would be spent on-the-ground for the intended purpose.

With President Joe Biden’s signature on the IIJA on November 15, 2021, the Alliance and others involved with

the year-long effort to secure $8.3 billion in Western water infrastructure provisions began working with the

Biden Administration to immediately clear the path for projects that will address critical Western water supply

needs. The energies of the coalition were redirected to the agencies overseeing administration of the funds;

namely – Reclamation. The Alliance throughout 2023 worked with a subset of Reclamation leadership, led by the

Commissioner’s office, to find ways to make implementation of the IIJA - particularly the WaterSMART program -

more efficient and responsive to water user concerns.

WaterSMART Program Implementation

Senior leaders from DOI’s Office of Water and Science and Reclamation were also present at the Alliance’s 2023

annual conference, to highlight the implementation of the IIJA, IRA and reinforce the importance of partnerships.




The Alliance -working with Idaho Water Users Association and Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District – met

with those leaders to discuss ongoing efforts to improve the customer experience for entities receiving financial

assistance from Reclamation. The basis for the meeting was a February 2, 2023 Alliance letter, which formalized

concerns the Alliance and some of its members had with Reclamation administration of IIJA funds, notably

those related to WaterSMART. In response, Reclamation established a small team to conduct a review to identify

opportunities for efficiency improvements in Reclamation’s WaterSMART and related financial assistance

programs. The review team was comprised of a cross-section of Reclamation leaders from across the West.

The team focused specifically on three areas for WaterSMART Program and financial assistance improvement

opportunities: 1) Communication; 2) Process; and 3) Staffing. Reclamation in December 2023 responded to the

Alliance with a formal letter outlining from a high level, the team’s major recommendations and the status of


Stakeholder Workshop

A small group of Alliance members in October participated in Reclamation’s Tribal and Stakeholder workshop

at Reclamation’s Technical Services Center near Denver. Reclamation presentations addressed 1) Aging

Infrastructure Account; 2) Implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA); 3) Water Resource Planning

Activities; 4) Climate Change Adaptation Strategy; 5) WaterSMART; and 6) Tribal Initiatives. Key topics of

concern raised by water users related to staffing capacity, the need to allow districts and water customers to be

empowered to fill the voids at Reclamation to move projects along, and the need for more regulatory discussions

and focus on food security. Many of the other comments generated by NGOs were mainly focused on climate

adaptation measures.

Reclamation Leadership Conference

Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen participated (virtually) in a panel discussion in December at the

Reclamation Leadership Conference in Austin (TEXAS). This virtual forum was chaired by Governor Stephen

Lewis (Gila River Indian Community), and the panel included Kyle Arthur (Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy

District), John Entsminger (Southern Nevada Water Authority), Leslie James (Colorado River Energy Distributors

Association), Gene Shawcroft (Colorado River Authority of Utah), and April Snell (Oregon Water Resources

Congress). There were 200 upper-level Reclamation managers there, and the panelists provided perspectives

on what is working at Reclamation and what is not. Mr. Keppen was open with his criticisms and praise for

Reclamation, based on suggestions provided by Alliance members.

PEC 05-03: Draft D&S for Funding & Extended Repayment of Extraordinary Maintenance Costs

The IIJA included provisions from earlier legislation strongly advocated by the Alliance regarding the

authorization of a new Aging Infrastructure Account. The Alliance and NWRA in 2021 worked closely with

Reclamation to address some troubling provisions contained in the original draft Directive and Standard

(D&S), Funding and Extended Repayment of Extraordinary Maintenance Costs (PEC 05-03) developed to

guide implementation of that program. In late 2023, that directive was essentially completely re-written by

Reclamation’s Denver office. Reclamation in November published the revised draft PEC 05-03 for public comment

and hosted a webinar on this matter.

The Alliance and NWRA in November co-signed and transmitted a letter to Reclamation regarding concerns

on changes Reclamation made to PEC 05-03. In response, Reclamation removed some of the provisions that

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

were causing Western water users the most heartburn (namely – the requirement to first expend local reserves

as an eligibility prerequisite). A revised version was released, and Reclamation intends to conduct a workshop

/ webinar in early 2024 to include transferred work operators, project beneficiaries, and Alliance / NWRA

representatives provide an opportunity for further in-depth overview and discussion.

USDA Implementation of BIL Funds

$1 Billion “America the Beautiful Challenge”

The Biden-Harris Administration in 2022 launched a $1 billion "America the Beautiful Challenge" to leverage

Federal conservation and restoration investments (much of which comes via the BIL) with private and

philanthropic contributions to accelerate conservation efforts across

the country. Throughout the transition and first two years of the Biden

Administration, the Alliance has worked with other Western landowner

groups and Members of Congress to monitor and seek to influence

the development of the “Conserving and Restoring America the

Beautiful” initiative, commonly referred to as the “30 x 30” initiative,

which seeks to “conserve” 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by the

year 2030. Western House Republicans remain critical of the Biden

administration's proposal, which they claim would put those lands and

waters under strict environmental regulations.

USDA Implementation of IRA Funding

The Alliance has also been working with the executive branch, advocating for flexibility as the NRCS seeks to implement

over $20 billion of “climate smart” agricultural practices granted by last year’s passage of the IRA by Congress.

Climate Smart Agricultural Practices

The Alliance, along with 19 other water user groups, Western state farm bureaus, and other ag and conservation

organizations, sent a letter to USDA in December 2022 asking that a variety of irrigation modernization and

forest fuel control measures be added to the list of “climate smart” practices

that are eligible for the $20 billion. In February 2023, one week before the 2023

Alliance annual conference, Alliance leaders met (virtually) with Robert Bonnie,

USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation (pictured here)

and other speakers who had been invited to participate in a watershed panel

discussion during the general session of the upcoming annual conference.

Alliance reps at that time reiterated the concerns made in in the December 2022

coalition letter to NRCS regarding “climate smart agriculture” practices that could

be funded with the $20 million in the IRA provided to NRCS. A few months later,

NRCS added “irrigation pipelines”, “irrigation systems”, “sprinkler systems” and

“pumping plants”, “brush management”, “prescribed burning”, “fuel breaks” to the

climate smart list. Great news!

$500 M for “Improved” RCPP Program

The Biden Administration on May 19 announced the availability of $500 million

in funding to advance partner-driven solutions to conservation on agricultural land through USDA Regional




Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This program leverages a voluntary approach to conservation that

expands the reach of conservation efforts and climate-smart agriculture through public-private partnerships.

Increased funding for fiscal year 2023 is made possible by the IRA, and this year’s funding opportunity “reflects a

concerted effort to streamline and simplify the program”. USDA

says the program improvements will enable USDA to efficiently

implement the $4.95 billion in IRA funding for the program.

Based on partner listening sessions and employee and

partner surveys, NRCS identified seven key focus areas for

improvement, including 1) Simplifying and Reducing the

Number of Agreements; 2) Reducing Lengthy RCPP Easement

Transactions; 3) Consistent Guidance and Training for Employees

and Partners; 4) Simplifying the Technical Assistance Structure;

and 5) Simplifying the Partner Reimbursement Process. These are

consistent with the concerns that the Alliance and its partners in

the WACC have raised with NRCS over the past two years.

FAMILY FARM ALLIANCE INITIATIVE: Engage with Congress to influence Western Water legislation.

The Alliance throughout the 118th Congress engaged with Senate ENR Committee staff as several regional and

West-wide bills were developed. The Senate ENR Subcommittee on Water and Power last year heard testimony on

a number of bills that address specific water issues and needs in several Western states. The Alliance engaged in

the development of several of these bills throughout the 118th Congress, and Alliance representatives testified

three times before House subcommittees between March and May 2023.

March 8, 2023 House WWF Subcommittee Hearing

The House Committee on Natural Resources, WWF

Subcommittee conducted a hearing last March on the

importance of multi-purpose water management across the

country. While conflicts over water resources have existed

long-term, federal policies and non-elected government

agency staff have exacerbated some of these conflicts and

threatened economies, the environment and ways of life. This

hearing explored those threats while focusing on solutions.

Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen (pictured here) testified

at the hearing, along with Scott Corwin (Northwest Public

Power Association), Martha Guyas (American Sportfishing

Association) and Amy Cordalis, a long-time advocate for, and

member of, the Yurok Tribe in northern California. The Alliance’s

testimony focused on: 1) the huge snowpack in California, and

the importance of managing that in a way that sends most of

it out to the ocean with minimal environmental benefits and

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

NO benefits for human uses; 2) the multi-decade failure of the flow-centric

management scheme to “protect” fish on the West coast; and 3) why now is

not the time for our government to be taking farmland out of production. It

was Rep. Cliff Bentz's (R-OREGON) first meeting as the new Chair of the WWF


March 28, 2023 House WWWF Subcommittee Hearing

Later in March, the WWF Subcommittee held an oversight hearing titled “Why

We Need to Store More Water and What’s Stopping Us”. The Subcommittee

focused on the recent “atmospheric river” storm events in California that

demonstrated the need to capture runoff from extreme weather events. The

hearing also showcased the need for managing the watersheds in our national

forests to increase water supplies and improve forest health. Additionally,

the hearing highlighted the need for increased water storage, federal

environmental regulatory accountability and forest management to advance

long-term solutions to the water issues facing the West. Witnesses included

Alliance director William Bourdeau, Tricia Hill (Klamath Water Users Association),

and Andy Mueller (Colorado River Water Conservation District and a member of

the Alliance Advisory Committee). The Alliance provided input to Ms. Hill and

Mr. Mueller as they were developing written testimony.

GOP Members Visit Fresno to Discuss Water Storage Challenges

House Committee on Natural Resources

Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), WWF

Subcommittee Chairman Bentz and U.S.

Reps. David Valadao (R-CALIFORNIA) and

John Duarte (R-CALIFORNIA) last spring

hosted Members for a field hearing

and site visits to examine California’s

continued water storage issues and

their impact on local communities.

The Members toured Friant dam and a local dairy farm site that had been

damaged from recent floods, and conducted a legislative field hearing on Rep.

Valadao’s H.R. 215 "WATER for California Act" and H.R. 872 "FISH Act" at the

World Ag Expo in Tulare. H.R. 215 was cosponsored by the entire California

GOP House delegation and would, among other things, mandate the Trumpera

biological opinion under the ESA that would allow for more water to be

made available to agriculture in the Central Valley. The Biden Administration is

currently reconsulting on that opinion. Five witnesses with ties to the Family

Farm Alliance members testified at this hearing. The House Committee on

Natural Resources later in the year favorably reported H.R. 215 and eight other

bills out of committee.

While conflicts

over water

resources have

existed long-term,

federal policies

and non-elected


agency staff have

exacerbated some

of these conflicts

and threatened

economies, the

environment and

ways of life. This

hearing explored

those threats

while focusing

on solutions."

Alliance Executive

Director Dan

Keppen testified at

the hearing.




House Republicans Reintroduce Water Bills

House Republicans early in the new Congress introduced several water bills focused on improving available

water supplies in drought conditions, including H.R. 215 (above). And, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CALIFORNIA) also

reintroduced H.R. 186, the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act, with Rep. Valadao as a co-sponsor. The bill

would streamline permits for new water storage projects by designating Reclamation as the coordinating agency

for federal environmental permits.

FISH Act (H.R. 872) Reintroduced

H.R. 872 (Calvert) streamlines and improves the federal regulatory process related to endangered fish protection.

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has drafted related legislation,

the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Act of 2023, which would pull NOAA from the Department

of Commerce and direct a study on whether NOAA’s work on marine mammal protections and ESA-listed

anadromous and catadromous fish species ought to be handled by DOI instead. President Richard Nixon created

NOAA under the Commerce Department by executive order in 1970. Since then, the agency has operated under

patchwork more than 200 legislative authorities.

During a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing last spring, three former NOAA

Administrators who all served during Republican Administrations, agreed that authorizing NOAA as a new

executive branch agency and moving the agency out of the Department of Commerce would streamline and

improve operations, bolster scientific integrity and facilitate crucial partnerships with private entities. The

Alliance has long supported earlier versions of the FISH Act, and Executive Director Dan Keppen previously

testified on a related bill in the 116th Congress.

WIFIA Legislation Introduced in the House

The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014 is a program that accelerates investment in our nation's water

infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental loans for regionally and nationally significant projects.

Rep. Garamendi (D-CALIFORNIA) and Schrier (D-WASHINGTON) reintroduced their bipartisan WIFIA Amendments, which

is similar to legislation the Alliance supported in the last Congress (Rep. Costa’s Restoring WIFIA Eligibility Act). This bill

incorporates several key provisions for Western water projects including guaranteeing eligibility for transferred works and

State-led storage projects under the 2016 WIIN Act. The Alliance’s support for this legislation was noted in Rep. Schrier’s

press release. The bill sponsors are hoping to get a markup in the House T&I Committee, and then make a play for the

2024 Water Resources Development Act, or any forthcoming Western water package.

Western Water Accelerated Revenue Repayment Act

The Western Water Accelerated Revenue Repayment Act, which allows water users to pay off their water

infrastructure debts to the federal government early to be free of burdensome regulations, passed the House

Committee on Natural Resources and will advance to the House Floor. The concept of contract prepayment was

something the Alliance started advocating for way back, starting around 2005. It was codified into law in P.L. 111-

11, and once again in the 2016 WIIN Act, where this authority expired in 2020. While many districts have already

taken advantage of this authority, there are still a few out there who could benefit from having these provisions

made permanent. Alliance director Cannon Michael (CALIFORNIA) represented the Alliance and the San Luis &

Delta-Mendota Water Authority in support of this legislation before the House Committee on Natural Resources,

Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries last summer. The office of Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-COLORADO)

contacted the Alliance and included a support support quote in a press release.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

Western Water Bills Introduced in Advance of Senate Legislative Hearing

In advance of a legislative hearing planned by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee held last

summer, Western Senators introduced a slew of bills intended primarily to address persistent drought in the West. The

Alliance actively advocated for and contributed to the development of several of the West-wide bills on the hearing

docket. Some of the bills contain provisions that work well for both producers and the NGO community. Others appear

to put the needs of fish, wildlife and ecosystems above the interests of the Alliance’s farmer-rancher membership. The

sole witness at the hearing was Reclamation Commissioner Touton. Chairman Wyden oversaw the hearing, where the

subcommittee powered through the docket in just over an hour. The Alliance reviewed all of the bills with an eye towards

preparing written testimony for the hearing. The bills the Alliance closely tracked are summarized below.

Water Legislation Introduced by Senator Feinstein

The Alliance worked with the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CALIFORNIA) on three bills she introduced last spring:

• The Support to Rehydrate the Environment, Agriculture and Municipalities Act or STREAM Act – co-sponsored

with Arizona Senators Kelley and Sinema - authorizes water infrastructure funding and provides programmatic

authorization for non-Federal Reclamation water projects.

• The Restore Aging Infrastructure Now (RAIN) Act – co-sponsored with Senator Alex Padilla (R-CALIFORNIA) - would

authorize grant funding for 15% of the cost of aging infrastructure projects out of the $3.2 billion appropriated

for these purposes in the IIJA, if the projects are modified to add public benefits including drinking water for

disadvantaged communities.

• The Canal Conveyance Capacity Restoration Act would fund 1/3 of the cost of restoring the original conveyance

capacity of three important canals in California’s Central Valley: the Friant-Kern Canal, Delta Mendota Canal,

and California Aqueduct. It provides additional authorized funding for the Restoration Goal of the San Joaquin

River settlement.

All three bills are fairly similar to legislation Senator Feinstein introduced last Congress, which the Alliance

supported. A letter was sent to Senator Feinstein expressing formal Alliance support for all three of these bills.

The Water for Conservation and Farming Act (S. 963)

Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (D-OREGON) last year reintroduced S. 963, the Water for Conservation and

Farming Act. The Alliance supports the provisions of the bill that authorize $25 million for fish passage projects

through 2029 via the Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act (FRIMA). Alliance members in California,

Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington are strong supporters and benefactors of FRIMA, which supports

voluntary fish screen and passage projects. When funded, this has been a successful program to protect native

and endangered fish and other aquatic species.

The Watershed Results Act (S. 2169)

Senator Wyden also reintroduced his Watershed Results Act (WRA) in the 118th Congress. Specifically, the WRA

directs the Secretary of DOI to work in coordination with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of

the EPA, to establish two to five watershed restoration pilot programs across the country. The Alliance has co-led

the advocacy for this legislation, along with its partners at The Freshwater Trust. If enacted, the bill would break

new ground in the way the government and stakeholders approach improving watershed health and maximizing

the use of various funding sources in doing so. The Alliance believes this work will result in more measurable

environmental outcomes using a new results-oriented approach.




The Urban Canal Modernization Act (S.2160)

Senator Jim Risch (R-IDAHO) last year introduced the Urban Canal Modernization Act to allow Reclamation aging

infrastructure funding to help address repairs for urban canals with extraordinary maintenance issues. Many

Western canals, like the New York Canal in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, have gone from being rural in nature to being

surrounded by urban infrastructure over time. Many urban canals need repairs that, if left unattended, could pose

substantial danger to the communities that have been built around them. This bill establishes access to existing

aging infrastructure funds to address these extraordinary maintenance issues. The Alliance supports this bill.

The Open Access Evapotranspiration Data Act (S. 1118)

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NEVADA) and Senator John Hickenlooper (D-COLORADO) last year

reintroduced The Open Access Evapotranspiration (OpenET) Act, legislation intended to get critical water use data

in the hands of farmers, ranchers, and decision-makers for improved water management across the Western U.S.

The bill would establish a program to use publicly available data from satellites and weather stations to provide

estimates of evapotranspiration (ET), a measure of actual water use. The Alliance shares the concerns expressed

by other agricultural producers in the West regarding this OpenET bill, which would inject major federal funding

into the OpenET program.

In May 2022, the Alliance, California Farm Bureau, American Farm Bureau and Western Growers sent a letter to

the Senate ENR Committee, expressing general concern and willingness to continue to work on more scaledback,

pilot-focused legislation that complies with existing federal privacy standards. Later in the year, the

Alliance proposed possible amendments to the bill introduced in the last Congress to make it acceptable to the

agricultural organizations. The Alliance alternative language would scale down the scope, remove the linkage

to federal conservation program compliance programs, and address privacy and data quality concerns raised by

farm groups through the use of pilot projects. In general, the concern was with the very significant leap forward

this program could take through the enactment of the legislation without interim steps to continue refining and

improving the program and its use.

Many in Western agriculture are worried about this tool being inappropriately used by bad actors in competing

water sectors and/or critics of irrigated agriculture to demonize agricultural water use and drive public opinion

or policy development that is ultimately harmful to Western producers and water managers. Those fears were

realized in December 2023, when an article was released by ProPublica that “exposed” Imperial Valley family

farms for using water to grow food. The article estimated how much Colorado River water 20 farm families were

using on their lands, comparing that amount to other competing uses, and then listing each family’s water use …

by name. The authors of the article pulled their consumptive use data using the OpenET data platform.

The Voluntary Agricultural Land Repurposing Act (S. 2166)

Senator Alex Padilla (D-CALIFORNIA) in 2023 introduced the Voluntary Agricultural Land Repurposing Act,

legislation that is intended to build drought resiliency and reduce water use by providing federal funding to

states and tribes that work to voluntarily “repurpose” certain agricultural lands. In California, it is estimated that

at least 750,000 to 1 million acres of farmland will need to come out of development due to water scarcity. Given

the current backdrop of recent severe drought conditions in the Western U.S., significantly inflated food costs,

global food supply challenges, and a looming global famine, the Alliance believes taking additional Western

American agricultural land out of production must be carefully and thoughtfully evaluated. The Alliance worked

constructively with Senator Padilla’s office to raise this issue as draft legislation was being contemplated in the

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

last Congress. The Alliance will continue to advocate for a more narrowly focused, pilot approach, administered

by USDA or funded through a state-run program, and intended to be implemented in a voluntary manner, as a

last resort. The legislation so far has not been scheduled to be marked up before the Senate ENR Committee.

Senate ENR Mark-Up Cancelled, Rescheduled – Key Bills Withdrawn

The Alliance in November 2023 spent significant time negotiating with Senate ENR Committee staff and Western

agriculture allies to get at least to a “neutral” position on a proposed amendment that would replace the current

version of S. 1118, the “OpenET” legislation. This bill was initially proposed to be included in the docket of bills

proposed to be marked up at a Committee business meeting in November. That hearing was cancelled, and the next

markup was rescheduled for December 14. S.1118 – modified to include the Alliance’s suggested revisions – was

reported by voice vote. S. 2247, introduced by Senator Hickenlooper (D-COLORADO) would reauthorize Reclamation

to provide cost-shared funding to implement the endangered and threatened fish recovery programs for the Upper

Colorado and San Juan River Basins. This bill -supported by the Alliance – was successfully reported by voice vote.

Several water measures included on the agenda (including S. 216, S. 2169 and others) were withdrawn and will not be

taken up until the next markup early this year.

Water Resources Development Act

Every two years, Congress seeks to pass the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which typically authorizes

Corps programs and projects. This biennial legislation addresses some of the nation's most pressing infrastructure

concerns, providing the Corps with new authorizations for studies and construction of locks and dams, ports,

environmental restoration, and projects bolstering climate resiliency. The Senate Environment and Public Works

Committee last year informally kicked off discussions over the next WRDA bill, citing the need to begin early to

continue to achieve the success of past WRDAs. Senate leaders do not anticipate that WRDA 2024 will be a policyheavy

bill. Of the issues discussed, some were more controversial than others, such as providing the Corps with

permitting reforms to allow projects to be constructed more swiftly than in the past. The Committee also raised

issues to be contemplated for the next WRDA bill including extraordinary drought and floods that have been

getting worse in various parts of the country.

The House T&I Committee has opened its portal to receive project and policy requests in preparation for the

2024 WRDA authorization. The Committee discussed priorities for the upcoming WRDA and the Corps during

a hearing last fall. Despite the current partisan divide in the 118th Congress, lawmakers from both parties

anticipate bipartisan support for passing a WRDA this year.

House NR Committee Approves Reclamation Drought Legislation

Lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee last year passed by voice vote a bipartisan drought

relief bill, H.R. 4385, sponsored by Colorado Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse. The legislation would reauthorize the

Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act through 2028, giving Reclamation power to assist communities

in dealing with pervasive drought. The Natural Resources Committee WWF Subcommittee also held a hearing

to consider four bills relating to water data and infrastructure, including the House version of the Urban Canal

Modernization Act (H.R. 6107). Ron Platt testified on the urban canal bill and represented the Idaho Water Users

Association at the November 14 hearing. Mr. Platt joined the Alliance on its farmer lobbyist trip last September,

where he was one of the point spokesmen on the urban canal issue. The Alliance is on record for supporting the

House bill and the Senate companion - S.2160 from Sen. Jim Risch (R-IDAHO).




FAMILY FAMILY FARM FARM ALLIANCE INITIATIVE: Advance the the 2022 2022 Alliance Alliance Colorado River River policy policy position.

The The Colorado River River is a is vital a vital water water resource resource in the in the

southwestern United United States States and and northwestern Mexico. Mexico.

It irrigates It irrigates nearly nearly 5.5 million 5.5 million acres acres of of farmland and and

sustains sustains life life and and livelihood for over for over 40 million 40 million people people

in major in major metropolitan areas areas including Albuquerque,

Cheyenne, Denver, Denver, Las Las Vegas, Vegas, Los Los Angeles, Angeles, Phoenix, Phoenix,

Salt Salt Lake Lake City, City, San San Diego Diego and and Tucson. Tucson. It is It is currently

experiencing the the longest longest and and worst worst drought drought on record, on record,

driven driven by hotter by hotter temperatures under under climate climate change. change.

Efforts Efforts continue continue across across the the Colorado River River Basin Basin to to

find find ways ways to stabilize to stabilize water water storage storage volumes volumes in Lakes in Lakes

Powell Powell and and Mead. Mead. Reclamation and and water water agencies agencies are are

working working to take to take extraordinary actions actions to protect to protect the the

River River System. System.

Despite Despite the the diversity diversity of of Colorado River River policy policy opinions opinions

within within its its membership, the the Alliance Alliance board board of directors of directors

in 2015 in 2015 and and again again 2022 in 2022 adopted adopted principles and and

recommendations intended to guide to guide state state and and

federal federal decision-makers as they as they negotiate a a long-term

operating agreement on the on the Colorado River. River. The The 2022 2022

policy policy paper paper – which – which has has also also been been adopted adopted by several by several water water agencies agencies served served by the by the Colorado River– River– has has its as its

top top principle principle the the need need to to “recognize that that Western Western irrigated irrigated agriculture is a is strategic a strategic and and irreplaceable national national


DOI DOI Announces Next Next Steps Steps for for Near-Term and and Post Post ’26 River ’26 River Operations

DOI DOI in October in October announced next next steps steps in the in the formal formal process process to develop to develop future future operating guidelines and and

strategies to protect to protect the the stability stability and and sustainability of the of the Colorado River River system. system. Reclamation published the the

Proposed Federal Federal Action Action and and a Scoping a Scoping Summary Report Report related related to to Colorado River River Basin Basin operations post- post-

2026. 2026. The The Scoping Scoping Report, Report, which which was was supported by a by 60-day a 60-day public public scoping scoping period, period, will will inform inform the the post-2026

operating guidelines. The The guidelines under under development would would be be implemented in 2027, in 2027, replacing the the 2007 2007

Colorado River River Interim Interim Guidelines for Lower for Lower Basin Basin Shortages and and the the Coordinated Operations for Lake for Lake Powell Powell

and and Lake Lake Mead, Mead, which which are are set to set expire to expire at the at the end end of 2026. of 2026. Reclamation last last October October also also released released a revised a revised draft draft

Supplemental Environmental Impact Impact Statement (SEIS), (SEIS), intended to inform to inform Reclamation’s ongoing ongoing efforts efforts to set to set

interim interim guidelines through through the the end end of 2026. of 2026.

Summary of of Long-Term, Post-2026 Process Process

The The planning process process announced by by Reclamation in October in October is separate is separate from from ongoing ongoing efforts efforts to protect to protect the the

Colorado River River Basin Basin through through the the end end of 2026. of 2026. The The post-2026 process process is a is a multi-year effort effort that that will will identify identify

a range a range of of alternatives and and ultimately determine operations for Lake for Lake Powell Powell and and Lake Lake Mead Mead and and other other water water

management actions, actions, potentially for decades for decades into into the the future. future. Reclamation will will develop develop a draft a draft environmental

impact impact statement (EIS) (EIS) that that will will analyze analyze how how future future operational guidelines and and strategies can can be be sufficiently

robust robust and and adaptive adaptive to to withstand a broad a broad range range of of hydrological conditions and and ultimately provide provide greater greater

2-24 2-24 Activities Activities and and Accomplishments

stability to water users and the public throughout the Colorado River Basin. The completed draft EIS is

anticipated by the end of 2024 and will include a public comment period. Reclamation anticipates a final EIS

will be available in late 2025, followed by a Record of Decision in early 2026. While the post-2026 process will

determine domestic operations, the Biden administration will continue collaboration with Mexico.

Short-Term Efforts to Protect Lakes Mead and Powell

Reclamation in October 2023 also made progress on efforts to set interim guidelines through the end of 2026,

with the release of its SEIS. The intent is to protect Glen Canyon and Hoover Dam operations, system integrity,

and public health and safety through 2026. An initial draft SEIS was released in April 2023. In May, the Lower

Basin states forged a consensus-based proposal with the Biden Administration that committed to measures to

conserve at least 3 million-acre-feet (maf) of system water through the end of 2026, in exchange for $1 billion

in federal funds. Imperial Irrigation District (IID), The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the

Palo Verde Irrigation District, the Coachella Valley Water District, the Fort Yuma Quechan tribe, and the Bard

Water District are assisting in meeting California’s conservation volumes and will utilize IRA funding. Arizona and

Nevada water users have committed to conserve the balance of the 3 million acre-feet of voluntary conservation,

in addition to their existing shortage reduction volumes and contributions under the 2007 Interim Guidelines

and 2019 Drought Contingency Plan.

The weather had improved markedly over the 2022-23 winter, with plentiful snow covering much of the Rockies

and water reservoirs on the rivers storage system starting to rise. And over $12 billion for the federal government

from the IIJA and the IRA - with $4 billion in IRA funding prioritized for the Colorado River - meant that it was

worth their while for those who voluntarily gave up their rights on a temporary basis. So, improved hydrology

and abundant federal funding helped grease this agreement.

The results of recent Reclamation modeling indicate that the risk of reaching critical elevations at Lake Powell and

Lake Mead has been reduced substantially. However, elevations in these reservoirs remain historically low and

conservation measures will still be necessary to ensure continued water delivery to communities and to protect the

long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System. Based on these modeling results, Reclamation will continue

the SEIS process with detailed consideration of the No Action Alternative and the Lower Division Proposal (Lower

Basin States agreement). The revised SEIS designates the “Lower Division” Proposal as the Proposed Action.




Challenges with Upper Basin System Conservation Program

Reclamation last spring in the Upper Colorado River Basin began implementation of the 2023 Drought Response

Operations Plan, which focuses on allowing upstream reservoirs to recover additional water previously sent

downstream to Lake Powell. Thanks to high snowpack last winter and high runoff last spring Lake Powell did not

need a boost from upstream reservoirs this Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) year (May 1, 2023 –

April 30, 2024). Lake Powell’s inflow Sept. 30, 2023 was just over 14 million acre-feet of water—that’s more than the

last three years combined. The DROA is part of the 2019 Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan for the Upper

Colorado River Basin and aims to protect Lake Powell from dropping below critical elevations.

Another Upper Basin program—the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) – would pay farmers and ranchers

willing to forgo their use of water. The SCPP is a water conservation program designed to protect critical

elevations in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The program is paying water users in the four upper basin states —

Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — to voluntarily cut back with $125 million from the IRA. During

the 2023 project approval process, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water

Conservation District voiced concerns about a lack of transparency. That program last year struggled, with few

people applying. Still, the Upper Colorado River Commission later in the year unanimously voted to renew the

SCPP, with significant revisions. Upper Basin producers want the security that their water is protected while they

try new things and increase their ability to get through periods of extended drought.

Family Farm Alliance Engagement

Colorado River policy engagement has been a top priority for the Alliance since 2015. The Alliance has members in

each of the 7 Colorado River Basin states, where individual perspectives clearly demonstrate the amazing diversity

in views on Colorado River policy matters. Within the Basin, all of the various water users’ perspectives are shaped

by where they are in the system. It depends on whether they are in the Upper or Lower Basin, within or outside

of the natural hydrologic basin boundaries, in which state, and the priority of their use within their state. Still, the

Alliance board of directors in 2015 and again in 2022 adopted principles and recommendations intended to guide

state and federal decision-makers as they negotiate a long-term operating agreement on the Colorado River.

Interior Department v Navajo Nation Amicus

The Supreme Court last year in Interior Department v. Navajo Nation ruled 5-4 against the Navajo Nation,

supporting the U.S. argument that the treaty at issue does not require the federal government to take the

affirmative steps that the Navajo Nation contends. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier sided with

the Navajo Nation and said DOI had a “duty to protect and preserve the Nation’s right to water.”

The Alliance was part of a Western water user amicus brief filed in support of the federal government and

Arizona in this case. The Biden Administration and backers of the Western water user amicus brief argued that

the lower court ruling would complicate ongoing efforts among seven Western states to reduce their use of

water from the drought-plagued Colorado River. In its decision, the Court specifically recognized the concerns

raised in the Western Water Users amicus brief and cited that brief. The Court also embraced the Alliance’s and

water users’ argument that water right claims should be made in water right adjudications. The Alliance believes

the decision eliminates another possible layer of uncertainty regarding Western water decision-making. From a

practical standpoint, this decision should eliminate the possibility of a new method being established for tribes

to pursue water outside of the established process of filing and pursuing claims in basin-wide adjudications,

involving all affected water users and States.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

Public Speaking and Conference Engagement

Alliance Director Steve Benson (CALIFORNIA, pictured here) was recently named as the incoming chairman

by IVH2O, an organization that represents the interests of Imperial

Valley landowners on Colorado River issues. The first event he hosted as

IVH2O Chairman on October 26 focused on the post-2026 guidelines.

The Colorado River update took place at Pioneers' Museum in Imperial.

Speakers included JB Hamby, Chairman of the Colorado River Board of

California and IID Board Vice President, Tina Shields, IID Water Manager,

and a member of the Alliance Advisory Committee, and Mark Limbaugh

(The Ferguson Group).

Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen spent nearly a week in May in

Arizona, where he spoke to the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association industry

briefing and at the CLE Colorado River Law conference in Scottsdale.

Alliance President Pat O’Toole spoke at the 43rd Annual Conference on

Natural Resources at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources,

Energy and the Environment on June 9. Mr. O'Toole participated in a

panel titled, “How Can Agriculture Thrive with Less Water?”, and his fellow

panelists were Meghan Scott (who works for Advisory Committee member Wade Noble’s law firm in Arizona),

Mark Squillace (University of Colorado Law School) and Jim Holway (Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy).

The panel discussion took place following opening remarks by former DOI Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who

continued his criticism of agricultural water use.

Alliance leaders and members made the trek to the desert Southwest in December to engage in the 2023

Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) Conference in Las Vegas (NEVADA), joining over 1,300 other

conference attendees for the three-day event. CRWUA is an organization made up of nearly 1,000 members

from the Colorado River Basin and serves as an annual forum for openly discussing important issues on the river.

Sharon O’Toole, wife of Alliance President O’Toole, shared her experiences through a series of blog posts from

the event, one posted for each day of the conference.

Print Media Coverage

The Alliance’s outreach work in 2023 generated some interest from journalists. Mr. Keppen was asked to author

a 7,500-word article on Colorado River agricultural water that was the cover story of the August 2023 The Water

Report. That publication provides monthly detailed analyses from a variety of industry experts across the West

who are trying to address challenging water issues. Alliance leaders and members were also interviewed and

quoted for these stories:

• ”Wyoming Rancher Says Stop Blaming Agriculture For Colorado River Crisis” (Cowboy State Daily);

• “Colorado River Water Cutbacks Could Hit Alfalfa Yields and Livestock Producers” (Agri-Pulse);

• “States Reach Deal to Protect Drought-Stricken Colorado River” (NACSAA News);

• “Water agreement quells the flames of Colorado river dissension” (Irrigation Today); and

• “Colorado River water users split on post-2026 framework” (Agri-Pulse).




Mr. Keppen in November submitted a guest commentary to Western Farm Progress to address a ProPublica

story which listed 20 individual family farms, and how much water they use, based on data provided through

the OpenET data platform. The Alliance’s Josh Rolph blasted out an Issue Alert on this matter, and the feedback

was very positive. The editor-in-chief of The Desert Review, a weekly community newspaper located in Imperial

County, asked for permission to reprint the column. “That article naming the families that use water to grow food

and crops is indeed frightening knowing how that can trigger people ignorant of the true value of what these

farmers produce for the good of our Valley, State, Country, and World,” she said.

Finally, the “Alfalfa 101” white paper that the Alliance co-authored with California Farm Water Coalition in 2022

continued to get some media attention last year. E&E Daily published an article that addresses one of those

reports in a fairly balanced way, with good quotes from Alliance President Pat O’Toole.

Alliance Leaders on the Big Screen

Alliance Directors Pat O’Toole and Steve Benson were interviewed throughout 2023 for a documentary film on the

Colorado River developed by the University of Colorado and the Rotary Club. The Alliance Board of Directors last

year committed to support a unique project co-sponsored by Rotary, the University of Colorado, Boulder and the

Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University. The goal is to provide information on what the Colorado River

Compact is and how, as community leaders, Rotary members can become involved in both the current emergency

allocation process and future negotiations for the 2026 revised operating guidelines on the Colorado River. Family

Farm Alliance will be listed as one of the project’s sponsors.

Another Colorado River documentary featuring interviews with President O’Toole premiered last year in Imperial,

California. “The Green Desert” documents how, in the face of unprecedented scarcity, these desert valleys are

in a race to conserve and innovate. Principal photography of “The Green Desert” began in May 2022 in the

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

Coachella Valley Valley and and was was completed in April in April 2023 2023 in Imperial in Imperial Valley. Valley. Film Film Director Director Leo Leo Zahn Zahn and and his crew his crew filmed filmed

and and interviewed Pat O’Toole Pat O’Toole in Reno in Reno (NEVADA) during during the the Alliance’s Alliance’s 2023 2023 annual annual conference. JB Hamby JB Hamby (board (board

of directors, of directors, IID), IID), Pat Mulroy Pat Mulroy (former (former general general manager manager of the of Southern Southern Nevada Nevada Water Water Authority) and and several several local local

producers are also are also featured featured in the in the film. film. Mr. O’Toole Mr. O’Toole gets gets the the final final word word in as in the as the closing closing credits credits hit the hit the screen. screen. “The “The

Green Green Desert” Desert” will will be shown be shown over over lunch lunch at this at this year’s year’s annual annual conference, on February on February 23. 23.

FAMILY FAMILY FARM FARM ALLIANCE INITIATIVE: Influence Influence the the development of the of the conservation title title of the of the 2023 2023 Farm Farm Bill. Bill.

The The farm farm bill is bill an is omnibus, an omnibus, multiyear multiyear law that law that is typically is typically renewed renewed about about every every five five years. years. The The House House leadership chaos chaos

of January of January 2023 2023 had had wide wide implications for the for farm the farm bill — bill including — including holding holding up work up work on the on bill the and bill and complicating its its

eventual eventual path path to passage. to passage. Even Even the Alliance’s the Alliance’s opportunities to advocate to advocate for the for farm the farm bill were bill were impacted impacted by the by chaos the chaos in in

the House the House last spring. last spring. The The Congressional Western Western Caucus Caucus and and GOP GOP members members of the of House the House Agriculture Committee had had

planned planned a combination a of farm of farm bill "listening bill "listening sessions", sessions", field field tours tours and and forums forums in Oregon in Oregon and and Northern Northern California California the for the

first first week week of June. of June. Alliance Alliance representatives were were scheduled to testify to testify at one at one forum forum scheduled to take to take place place in Klamath in Klamath

Falls Falls (OREGON), but the but Western the Western Caucus Caucus plans plans were were scrapped scrapped when when House House Speaker Speaker Kevin Kevin McCarthy McCarthy and and the White the White House House

reached reached an agreement an on the on debt the debt limit, limit, and and House House Members Members were were required required to travel to travel back back to Washington for floor for floor votes votes

on the on agreement. the A June A June 2 House 2 House Agriculture Committee "listening "listening session" session" in Albany in Albany (OREGON) still took still took place. place.

Given Given the delays the delays from from the debt the debt ceiling ceiling and and appropriations negotiations, lawmakers have have yet to yet release to release the draft the draft text text

of the of Farm the Farm Bill legislation Bill in both in both chambers. Leaders Leaders in the in House the House and and Senate, Senate, Rep. Rep. G.T. Thompson G.T. (R-Penn.) (R-Penn.) and and Sen. Sen.

Debbie Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) (D-Mich.) have have mentioned their their desire desire to share to share draft draft legislation soon. soon. Ag lawmakers Ag in both in both chambers chambers

are still are hoping still hoping to advance to advance a farm a farm bill before bill before mid-summer. But some But some House House Republicans in particular in particular are privately are privately

acknowledging that that a lame a lame duck duck farm farm bill might bill might be the be only the only option. option. Key Key topics topics of debate of debate between between Democrats and and

Republicans include include SNAP SNAP (food (food stamp stamp assistance) and and funding funding levels levels for climate for climate change change and and rural rural energy energy programs.

Overview of Alliance of Alliance Farm Farm Bill Bill Priorities

The The Alliance Alliance in April in April publicly publicly rolled rolled out out its “Six its “Six Point Point Plan” Plan” intended intended to guide to guide the the organization’s advocacy advocacy efforts efforts

in Washington, D.C. D.C. Passing Passing a 2023 a 2023 Farm Farm Bill that Bill that addresses Western Western agricultural challenges was was a top a top priority. priority.

Once Once again, again, the the Alliance Alliance has has worked worked closely closely on this on this with with its partners its partners in the in the Western Western Agriculture and and Conservation

Alliance Alliance (WACC) (WACC) on the on the next next Farm Farm Bill. Bill. The The Alliance Alliance co-founded the the WACC WACC over over a decade a decade ago, ago, in an in effort an effort to to

support support the the common common interests interests of agriculture, of conservation, and and other other interests interests tied tied to resources to on behalf on behalf of a of a

viable viable and and sustainable rural rural West. West. Water Water is the is the core core resource resource concern concern that that the the WACC WACC wants wants the the government to to

address address more more effectively. The The WACC WACC strives strives for USDA for USDA prioritization of project of project proposals that that deliver deliver cross-sector

benefits benefits to farming, to farming, ranching, ranching, and and conservation. A key A key part part of WACC of WACC collaboration has has focused focused on Farm on Farm Bill Bill

conservation programs, where where the the interests interests of coalition of coalition agriculture and and conservation groups groups are very are very closely closely

linked. linked. The The WACC WACC is also is also striving striving to find to find ways ways to simplify to simplify program program delivery delivery without without harming harming environmental

interests interests or program or program integrity. integrity.

Outside Outside of WACC of WACC engagement, the the Alliance Alliance in 2023 in 2023 continued to work to work directly directly with with Congressional agriculture

committee staff staff and and Western Western Members Members of Congress of Congress the on the next next farm farm bill. bill. Alliance Alliance President President Pat O'Toole Pat O'Toole early early in in

2023 2023 met met Senator Senator John John Hickenlooper (D-COLORADO) directly directly to discuss to discuss the the 2023 2023 Farm Farm Bill. Bill. The The Alliance Alliance also also had had

key key members members of the of the House House and and Senate Senate Ag committees Ag participate in its in “DC its “DC Update” Update” panel panel last last February February at the at the

2023 2023 annual annual conference in Reno. in Reno. House House Ag Committee Ag Senior Senior Policy Policy Director Director Josh Josh Maxwell Maxwell helped helped lead lead the “Farm the “Farm

(Bill) (Bill) to Fork” to Fork” event event on February on February 24. 24.





PL-566: The Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program

The Alliance and many of its members are strong supporters of the NRCS Watershed and Flood Prevention

Operations Program (WFPO, often referred to as the “PL-566” Program). The Alliance and its allies last year

worked with the office of Senator Michael Bennet (D-COLORADO) on legislation intended to streamline PL-566.

The legislation aims to improve the PL-566 program by streamlining the program’s planning and administrative

processes and creating parity in funding allocations between southeast states and other areas of the country. Last

August , Senator Bennet, along with Senators Deb Fischer (R-NEBRASKA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OREGON) issued a

press release announcing the introduction of S.2636, the Healthy Watersheds and Healthy Communities Act. The

Alliance was quoted in Senator Bennet’s press release, and its support for the bill was noted in Greenwire.

As is the case with many issues related to the farm bill, this one is contentious, with the Senate and House ag

committees having differing perspectives on making changes to PL-566,which has long been a “go-to” funding

source for flood control projects in the Southeastern U.S. However, there does appear to be agreement that

PL-566 implementation could be streamlined, and that NRCS state conservationists should be given more

oversight authority, pulling control away from NRCS Headquarters in D.C. Rep. Ciscomani (R-ARIZONA) ultimately

introduced a companion bill in the House last fall. Rep. Ciscomani was joined on the legislation by Reps.

Caraveo (D-COLORADO), Hageman (R-WYOMING), Petterson (D-COLORADO), Flood (R-NEBRASKA) and Neguse

(D-COLORADO). H.R. 6497 was a direct result of the Alliance fly-in meeting conducted with his staff last September.

PL-566 Appropriations Amendment Passes Key Senate Vote

Senator Merkley and Senator Mike Crapo (R-IDAHO) last fall announced that their bipartisan amendment to

significantly boost investments for multi-benefit projects under PL-566, including watershed improvements and

irrigation modernization projects, passed the full Senate. Clearing this key hurdle means the amendment will be

included in the FY24 Senate agriculture spending bill, which passed the full Senate. Originally, $10 million was set

aside in the FY24 Senate Agriculture funding bill for multi-benefit projects under the PL-566 program, but Sens.

Merkley and Crapo’s amendment doubled the funding to $20 million for these efforts.

The bipartisan amendment was cosponsored by fellow Western state Senators Wyden, Jon Tester (D-MONTANA),

Steve Daines (R-MONTANA), and Michael Bennet. The Alliance’s support was noted in Senator Merkley’s press release,

which also included quotes from several Alliance members and representatives. Grassroots efforts driven by Idaho

Water Users Association and Alliance representatives collectively reached out to Senators Crapo, Daines and Tester and

helped secure support for this amendment.

Overarching Agency Capacity Concerns

Several Alliance members over the past two decades have noted diminished efficiencies associated with NRCS

delivery of conservation programs to on-the-ground applications. They have observed that the “evolutionary

process” which began to occur at that time has weakened NRCS’ ability to provide technical assistance. Alliance

members would like to see less paperwork and more applied conservation. One means of improving local input

would be to dedicate more dollars to educating farmers on available programs and opportunities. The once strong

role of watershed teams needs to be revived. There are also opportunities to leverage personnel at the local level,

where local professionals can take on some of the technical duties once provided by NRCS staff. Many producers in

the West use irrigation water delivery systems that are shared among multiple producers, such as irrigation districts,

canal companies, or mutual ditch companies. Thus, flexibility is needed to work directly with these multi-producer,

water-delivery entities to best deliver the Farm Bill’s conservation title benefits to Western producers.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

FAMILY FARM ALLIANCE INITIATIVE: Monitor and engage with the Biden Administration on

climate change initiatives, looking for and encouraging opportunities to participate in collaborative

opportunities, particularly in “climate smart” agriculture.

The Alliance continues to engage and discuss potential effects and impacts of climate change in the West,

building upon the interest created by the 2007 Alliance report on climate change and active engagement

addressing climate change on Capitol Hill and three administrations. Through involvement with Solutions from

the Land (SfL) and the Steering Committee of the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA),

the Alliance has been monitoring United Nations (U.N.) global climate talks over the past several years and

bringing the voice of North American producers and land managers to the discussion table. The U.N., mainstream

media and many Democrat leaders continue to place high priority on climate change initiatives.

Biden Administration Climate Change Actions

Actions Announced at COP28

Climate-smart agriculture and forestry took center stage late last year at the 2023 U.N. Climate Change

Conference (COP28) in Dubai. Key leaders in the Biden Administration leadership team were present, as were

American agricultural producers represented by SfL. The Alliance in past years has closely monitored U.N.

global climate talks, primarily through its involvement with SfL. Alliance President Pat O’Toole traveled to

Scotland two years ago and directly participated in

the COP26 talks.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and other high

level Biden Administration officials highlighted the

U.S. commitment to investing in innovative climate

solutions, quantifying and demonstrating results,

and sharing resources and solutions with the world.

Secretary Vilsack highlighted the fact that President

Biden’s IRA provides billions of dollars to reduce

agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, encourage

new economic activity in rural areas, and protect

the communities most vulnerable to the impacts

of climate change. This includes nearly $20 billion

in USDA investments to help producers implement

practices and projects that reduce emissions,

enhance soil carbon sequestration and provide other

climate benefits.

Photo by Aaron Kittredge

DOI Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz and other DOI leaders were also present

at COP28. Throughout the trip, the delegation met with international leaders and stakeholders to highlight and

affirm the Department’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis with collaborative, science-based solutions.

Assistant Secretary Estenoz also participated in the America the Beautiful: United States Efforts to Conserve Land

and Water panel, where she showcased the Administration’s progress towards President Biden’s goal to “conserve,

connect, and restore 30 percent of America’s lands and waters” by 2030. She also announced new steps DOI is

taking to utilize nature-based solutions in its efforts towards that end.




Increased Emphasis on “Nature-Based Solutions”

The Biden Administration’s DOI at COP28 in Dubai announced new steps to utilize “nature-based

solutions” (NbS) in its efforts to tackle the climate crisis, including the launch of a new tool to make those

strategies more accessible to the public. NbS use or mimic

natural features or processes to improve biodiversity,

strengthen resilience for disaster and hazard-risk

management, support climate adaptation, and address

carbon management to offset greenhouse gas emissions,

while also benefiting both people and nature. These can

include green infrastructure, natural infrastructure, and

natural climate solutions. DOI also announced a new

policy intended to strengthen the Department’s ability

to meet its mission in the face of a changing climate by

prioritizing NbS across bureaus and offices.

Alliance representatives in the past year have been

interviewed by the Meridian Institute about challenges and opportunities associated with implementing and

scaling NbS on public lands in the Colorado River Basin. Meridian Institute plans to host a series of virtual

engagements in early March 2024 with support from the Walton Family Foundation focusing on key topics

that emerged from conversations with parties involved in NbS implementation on public lands. The Alliance

emphasized to Meridian that the best opportunities are to, wherever possible, work with ranchers who have

permits with the Forest Service / BLM to ensure their interests are addressed. Water users will want to see

positive outcomes – better water quantity (watershed yield), water quality, flood control, aquifer recharge,

and / or biodiversity. Success should not be measured in terms of dollars spent; good ‘management’ does not

equate to land acquisition that changes the use of the land, Alliance representatives stressed.

White House Science Office Announces Resources to Combat Climate Change

President Biden is taking aggressive action to address climate challenges, one of the four pillars of his 2020

election platform. At the March 2023 White House Conservation in Action Summit, his Office of Science and

Technology Policy released a series of new resources for federal and local government agencies working

to combat climate change and adapt to its impacts. The new tools include a report to help manage flood

risk, a guide to help agencies adapt to climate change, and an “action plan” aimed at making it easier for

communities to access climate information. The announcement also included a new framework that’s

intended to bolster communities’ resilience to issues such as natural disasters and aging infrastructure. The

Administration also released its first-ever Ocean Climate Action Plan, which is intended to find ocean-based

solutions to climate change.

White House Summit Highlights Recent Climate Actions

President Biden on September 28 hosted the first-ever White House Summit on Building Climate Resilient

Communities. The Summit – which included representatives from more than 25 states, territories and

tribal nations – was touted as an opportunity for practitioners and senior Administration officials to

jointly discuss needs and opportunities for further climate resilience efforts. In conjunction with the

Summit, the Administration released its “National Climate Resilience Framework”, intended to guide and

align climate resilience investments and activities by the federal government and its partners.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

One week before the White House summit, the Administration announced plans to consider climate costs in

most government policies and decisions, including permitting decisions. While the social cost of greenhouse

gases measuring the damage to the climate from a ton of carbon dioxide or methane as it enters the atmosphere

has been used as a metric against human-caused emissions for years, the policies announced last September

would broaden its application across the federal government. According to the Administration, in the short term,

considering the social cost of climate change would save taxpayers money by reducing federal energy bills. In the

longer term, it would help stave off "the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis.” But, as reported in E&E News

PM, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called

the metrics “unproven figures” the administration used “to justify its environmental policies that drive up costs for

families, hamstring American employers and delay job-creating infrastructure projects from ever moving forward.”

Other Biden Administration Conservation Measures

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Draft Conservation Rule

BLM in March 2023 unveiled a draft rule , which among other things would designate conservation as a public

lands management priority, on par with energy development, grazing and recreation. In the ensuing months,

the proposal generated a fierce response from ranchers and other critics, particularly Western GOP congressional

leaders. The draft rule lays out a suite of proposals, including requiring that all 245 million acres of BLM-managed

lands meet land-health standards currently limited only to federal livestock grazing allotments. It would also

place a priority on local field offices identifying lands that need restoration work to meet those standards of

rangeland health. In addition, the draft rule would establish a new conservation leasing system that would allow

private companies and NGOs to purchase leases that would allow them to fund restoration work to be done on

some of BLM's most degraded landscapes. Critics of the draft rule were concerned that environmental groups

could purchase conservation leases in an effort to remove large swaths of BLM lands from other uses.

Critics Fight Back

The Public Lands Council (PLC) last spring launched a grassroots campaign to encourage individual ranchers to

weigh in with the BLM on their proposed rule. Many Western GOP Members of Congress were also concerned

about the lack of local input on the proposed rule. Senate Republicans, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WYOMING),

introduced a bill to block the rule, which would require BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning to withdraw the draft

rule and forbid BLM from taking "any action to finalize, implement, or enforce the proposed rule." The House

Committee on Natural Resources later held a hearing on companion legislation, H.R. 3397, introduced by Rep.

Curtis (R-UTAH). The hearing featured testimony from Republican Governors Kristi Noem (SOUTH DAKOTA) and

Mark Gordon (WYOMING), who both expressed strong opposition to the draft rule. Committee Democrats defended

the draft rule during the hearing. The Committee later marked up and passed the bill on a partisan vote.

Family Farm Alliance Engagement

The Family Farm Alliance in April signed on to a “partners” letter to BLM, driven by the PLC and National Cattlemen’s

Beef Association (NCBA) in calling for a reset of BLM’s proposed public lands rule. The Alliance joined PLC, NCBA,

National Association of Counties, Safari Club International, Western Energy Alliance, American Forest Resource

Council, and ten other organizations on the letter. Alliance President Pat O’Toole and others raised concerns with

BLM’s leadership on this matter. Director Stone Manning spent a day last month at Pat O’Toole’s Ladder Ranch and

the surrounding watershed in Wyoming and Colorado, showing how effective watershed management planning

can be developed and implemented using local landowners and resource managers as the drivers.




FAMILY FARM ALLIANCE INITIATIVE: Continue to advocate for active forest management in federal

Western watersheds and better quantifying watershed health improvements associated with these and

other water conservation actions.

While 2023 in America saw the smallest number of acres burned in more than two decades, wildfires and forest

health remained a top priority for policy and law makers in Washington, D.C. The numbers show a wildfire

season with more than 2.6 million acres burned as of December, according to data from the National Interagency

Fire Center. It’s the lowest number dating back to 1998, when 1.3 million acres were burned, according to a

recent U.S. News and World Report article.

In recent years, a priority initiative for the Family Farm Alliance has been to continue advocating for active forest

management in federal Western watersheds and better quantifying watershed health improvements associated

with these and other water conservation actions. Western wildfire disasters are becoming an annual occurrence

and underscore the importance of improving on-the-ground management actions that can lead to improved

forest health. The Alliance believes a responsible level of continuous fuels reduction includes a combination of

robust mechanical thinning and prescribed fire. This can be employed to significantly reduce evapotranspiration,

tree stress, disease and pest infestation, preserve healthy forest conditions, and protect species and habitats.

The “Headwaters of the Colorado River” initiative provides a template for the sort of large-scale, locally driven

forest management effort that is needed to save Western national forests and watersheds. Alliance President

Patrick O’Toole and his family are helping to lead an effort to design a comprehensive, multistakeholder, large

landscape initiative to restore two severely degraded (non-functioning) 50,000-acre watersheds; one in the

Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming and a second in the Routt National Forest in Colorado. Their vision

is to restore two forested rangelands to a resilient state that filters and stores water, produces protein, sustains

wildlife and fisheries, sinks carbon, produces renewable energy feedstocks and enables economically viable

rural communities to thrive. Their team is designing a plan to implement an integrated, multidisciplined and

multilevel watershed enhancement project that will demonstrate how collaborative and cooperative restoration

efforts can be carried out at scale and replicated in watersheds across the West.

In Washington, D.C. last year, the Biden Administration announced several new proposals to manage forest

lands, including old-growth forests, and to rapidly scale reforestation across millions of burned and degraded

acres. A portion of last year’s wildfire resilience funding from the IIJA will support the USFWS’s Partners for Fish

and Wildlife Program , a program the Alliance strongly supports, as it seeks to increase partnerships with private

landowners. Republicans in Congress criticized the old-growth proposal, while conducting multiple hearings

that focused on ways to improve forest management on both tribal and federal forests.

Attention to Forest Management in Congress

A number of forest restoration and wildfire bills have been introduced in Congress, largely in preparation for

potential inclusion in the Farm Bill. Both sides of the aisle agree about the need to increase the pace and scale

of forest restoration, but divides emerge when talking about the extent to which federal regulations and judicial

review should be tweaked to accomplish that goal.

Hearings on Capitol Hill

Wildfire was back on the congressional agenda last year with hearings on forest policy and on the climbing

economic costs of Western wildfires. The Senate Budget Committee heard from experts in prescribed fire, climate

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

change and other issues surrounding wildfire policy, while the newly formed House Agriculture Subcommittee

on Forestry held its first hearing on the five-year farm bill. The Senate

hearing — entitled "Burning Issue: the Economic Costs of Wildfires" —

shed some light on wildfires' implications for insurance and lending,

as well as on-the-ground impacts in places like New Mexico.

In recent years, a

Senate ENR Leaders Voice Concerns About State Western Forest and Tee

Up Legislation

In a July 25, 2023 letter to Forest Service Chief Randy Moore and

Agriculture Undersecretary Homer Wilkes, Senate ENR Committee

Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and ranking member John Barrasso

warned that the agency's early proposal on building climate resilience

in the 193-million-acre system could shift officials' attention from

fire — which they said should be the top priority (E&E Daily). Senators

Manchin and Barrasso as well as many researchers have said poor

management plays a role in wildfires, by encouraging denser forests

that provide fuel. That condition is in part a result of past policies

of putting out all wildfires, and in part due to heavier limitations on

logging and forest-thinning projects. This letter came out around

the same time that Alliance President Pat O’Toole was back in

Washington, advocating for “at-scale” forest health restoration and

conservation projects. In fact, Chairman Manchin was on the same

flight to Denver from D.C. that Pat and his wife Sharon were on, where

Pat was able to talk with him one-on-one on these matters.

Chair Manchin and ranking Republican Barrasso are promoting bills

that combine many priorities in reducing wildfire risks and boosting

associated with these

forests' ability to sequester carbon. One bill, the "Promoting Effective

Forest Management Act," S. 2867, would require the Forest Service

and other water

to set annual minimum targets for thinning forests through logging,

as opposed to prescribed fire. It would require annual reports on

conservation actions.

the net carbon balances on national forest lands. In addition, the bill

would push back against the Biden administration's moves to reduce

logging of old-growth and mature forests, mandating that the federal

definition of "old growth" remain unchanged unless recommended by a task force of scientists. "Mature" forests

would be defined as the point when trees are of an age and size to be cut for timber. The Alliance has been

working with Senate ENR Committee staff to provide input and suggested improvements to the bill. The bill is

virtually identical to the version introduced in the last Congress, which Alliance President Pat O’Toole testified in

support of before the ENR Committee.

Water Source Protection Program (WSPP)

priority initiative

for the Family Farm

Alliance has been to

continue advocating

for active forest

management in

federal Western

watersheds and

better quantifying

watershed health


The Alliance last year– along with a fairly select group of diverse, high-power organizations – signed a letter

in support of the reauthorization and improvement of the WSPP in the next Farm Bill. Congress authorized




the WSPP in the 2018 Farm Bill to provide the U.S. Forest Service with authority to partner with municipal,

agricultural, and community-based organizations and other end users to develop and implement water source

protection plans. The intent was to encourage public-private partnerships to invest in the restoration and

protection of forested source water infrastructure – the mosaic of forests, wet meadows, and streams – that

serves as the primary source of drinking and irrigation water supplies across much of the country. Last June,

Senator Michael Bennet and Senator Mike Crapo introduced the Headwaters Protection Act. In the House, David

G. Valadao (R-CALIFORNIA) and Congressman Jim Costa (D-CALIFORNIA) introduced the companion bill. This

bipartisan, bicameral legislation increases investment to improve the health of watersheds and ensure private

investments benefit downstream communities.

Protect the West Act

The Family Farm Alliance last year formally supported legislation introduced by Colorado Democrat Senators

Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper that would create a USDA-managed $60 billion Outdoor and Watershed

Restoration Fund for investments in Western forest and watershed restoration programs. Under the Protect the

West Act of 2023, a new Restoration Fund Advisory Council would allocate the money for various projects in the

West. The legislation would assign $20 billion for direct payments to state and local governments, tribal nations,

special districts and nonprofit organizations. The other $40 billion would go to state and tribal nations to address

the wildfire mitigation backlog and other projects. Senator Bennet’s office reached out to the Alliance earlier in

the year to discuss suggestions to improve the bill from the last Congress.

FAMILY FARM ALLIANCE INITIATIVE: Advocate for improving streamlining regulatory processes for

water and power projects.

The often slow and cumbersome federal regulatory

process is a major obstacle to realization of projects

and actions that could enhance Western water

supplies. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

implementation, in particular, can have a direct

bearing on the success or failure of critical water

supply enhancement projects.

NEPA Implementation

The often slow and cumbersome federal regulatory

process is a major obstacle to realization of projects

and actions that could enhance Western water

supplies. NEPA implementation, in particular, can

have a direct bearing on the success or failure of

critical water supply enhancement projects. The

average time to complete an Environmental Impact

Statement (EIS) and issue a decision for a project is 4.5 years, and 25 percent of EISs take more than six years.

For some projects, unfortunately, this process may take a decade or more. The Family Farm Alliance strongly

supported the Trump administration’s regulations for NEPA, which included many Alliance recommendations.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

Unfortunately, the Biden Administration CEQ quickly overturned those rules.

The Alliance has worked with GOP staff at the House Natural Resources Committee for the past two years on

ways to modernize implementation of NEPA. For over a decade, the Alliance has sought to find ways to clarify

ambiguous provisions, align NEPA with relevant case law, reflect modern technologies, optimize interagency

coordination, and facilitate a more efficient, effective, and timely environmental review process. The Natural

Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation last year, examining “systemic government

overreach at CEQ”, which was established as part of NEPA in the early 1970s. Housed within the Executive

Office of the President, CEQ has historically been tasked with overseeing agency compliance with NEPA. CEQ

received an unprecedented $62.5 million from the IRA and CEQ staff has almost doubled in recent years, with

environmental activists claiming that CEQ should continue to increase staff.

Despite the GOP criticism of CEQ, some Senate Democrats believe that faster permitting is one of the few things

where the House and Senate could agree upon in this Congress. For example, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NEW

MEXICO), a member of the Senate ENR Committee, has introduced legislation to establish the investment tax

credit for transmission lines, which was cut from the IRA’s expansive list of tax credits last year. Senator Heinrich

also wants more projects to fall under the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, which fast-tracks

projects by holding agencies to deadlines and providing oversight on developers.

CEQ NEPA Phase II Rule

The White House CEQ last summer released its long-awaited Phase 2 NEPA rule, called the “Bipartisan

Permitting Reform Implementation Rule,” that would codify NEPA reforms included in last year’s debtceiling

legislation as well as to ensure inclusions of Biden Administration priorities on climate change

and environmental justice (EJ). The proposed phase 2 rule aims to implement congressionally mandated

efficiencies and address the twin Biden administration priorities of climate change and EJ. Unfortunately, the

proposed new mitigation, assessment, and other mandates may drive new litigation opportunities and further

delay project approvals.

Among the newly proposed provisions are measures that toughen mitigation mandates by encouraging

agencies to select “environmentally preferable alternatives,” strengthen consideration of projects’ potential

climate change and EJ effects, require agencies to use new science, and more. Such measures seem to be

at odds with other provisions in the rule that aim to codify statutory changes that Congress and the Biden

Administration agreed to in recent debt ceiling legislation, the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), including allowing

project sponsors to prepare environmental impact statements (EISs), setting deadlines and page limits on

reviews and allowing project sponsors to sue over missed deadlines. The debt ceiling legislation also allows

agencies to create categorical exclusions (CE) from any NEPA review in planning documents rather than as a

separate action and authorizes agencies to adopt each other’s CEs.

In a nutshell, while the proposed rule does include some permit streamlining measures required by the debt

ceiling agreement, it also contains provisions – namely, EJ and climate assessments - that would further

delay project approvals. The Alliance’s final 18 page letter to CEQ – spearheaded by the Alliance’s new policy

contractor, Todd Ungerecht - was transmitted last September and formalized concerns for the record.



The Family Farm Alliance works closely with other agricultural organizations and constructive conservation Non-

Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Partnerships are an important part of how the Alliance does business.

Intermountain West Joint Venture

The Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) is a partnership of government agencies, nongovernmental

organizations, and other public and private landowners for the conservation of bird habitats in the intermountain

areas of the western United States. Alliance President Pat O’Toole sits on the IWJV Board of Directors,

and the two organizations have worked closely on IWJV’s “Water 4” initiative, which seeks to publicize the

benefits of flood irrigation on ranch lands that benefit waterfowl. Mr. Keppen has worked with IWJV staff on

public outreach, global climate events, Farm Bill conservation title programs, and Klamath Basin waterfowl


National Water Resources Association

The Alliance has worked closely with NWRA in recent years, especially in matters relating to water infrastructure.

Dale Nellor, NWRA’s new Executive Vice President, has been a lobbyist on Capitol Hill in the agriculture sector for

over 15 years. In addition, he has a unique connection to the association and many of its members—he grew up

on an irrigated family farm in Nebraska. Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen and Mr. Nellor teamed up on

several federal affairs panel presentations throughout the West in 2023.

Western Agriculture and Conservation Coalition (WACC)

The Alliance is a member of the steering committee of the WACC, a coalition of constructive agriculture and

conservation groups who have engaged in recent years on farm bill, environmental appropriations and ESA

issues. The Alliance twelve years ago helped create the WACC, which now includes nearly twenty national,

regional and state water, ag and conservation organizations. Groups like the WACC are well poised to push for

Western water solutions that can be supported by moderates in both parties.

The Family Farm Alliance 2023 annual conference closed out with a panel of WACC representatives, and the

annual WACC meeting was held in Reno on the morning after the Alliance annual conference concluded. Several

key issues were discussed, with priority placed on expanding funding for PL-566 and finding ways to make NRCS

conservation title programs more user friendly and efficient.

Western States Water Council

Over the past two years, the Alliance has been in communications with Western States Water Council (WSWC),

the advisory body on water to the Western Governors Association, about its WestDAAT, which is intended to help

better visualize and streamline the sharing of water data for western states. WSWC plans to roll this out in the

coming months. The new tool is the latest phase of the WSWC’s Water Data Exchange (WaDE) program, launched

in 2011, which encourages data sharing by creating a common data system that improves access and analysis

of public water rights and water use data in standardized and machine-readable formats. WSWC staff hosted an

early January 2023 webinar for Alliance leadership to demonstrate WestDAAT’s capabilities, suggest ways the

data could inform Alliance members, answer questions, discuss concerns and seek feedback. WSWC officials will

update the Alliance board of directors and Advisory Committee on this matter during internal meetings at the

2024 annual conference in Reno later this month.

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

Fundraising and Finances

Jane Townsend was hired in 2020 as the Family Farm Alliance Fundraising Coordinator. Under her leadership,

dues and sponsorship revenue in 2023 was the highest on record for the Alliance, breaking the record set a year

earlier. Educating members and potential members on the importance of the Alliance

and its activities and continuing and strengthening public outreach is an important part

of the Alliance’s mission to ensure the availability of reliable, affordable irrigation water

supplies to Western farmers and ranchers. Ms. Townsend works closely with Financial

Administrator Amanda Coffman (left), and Social Media Consultant Josh Rolph to ensure

the Alliance’s fundraising work is intertwined with the messages on the Alliance website

and social media. This symmetry has led to exciting results and gives the Alliance

invaluable tools to encourage member and public participation and contributions.


The Family Farm Alliance leadership

team spent several days last September

in Central Washington state,

where Alliance directors Charlie Lyall

and Mark Hansen organized a tour of

the Columbia and Yakima Basins and

a fundraising dinner that took place

at a hay barn outside of Yakima. The

community dinner was intended to

increase awareness of the Alliance in

Central Washington, and to generate

new membership. Alliance leaders

spoke at the event, which was moderated

by Alliance Advisory Committee

member Urban Eberhart. Over

180 people – including several local

and state elected officials and the

president of the Washington Farm

Bureau – showed up at the barbecue

dinner organized by directors Hansen and Lyall. The tour also featured visits to local potato processors, irrigation

districts, dairies, orchards, fruit packing plants and dams.



The 2023 Family Farm Alliance annual meeting and conference took place February 23-24 at the Silver Legacy

Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada. The 2023 annual conference theme was, “A Wake Up` Call for America -

Why Farms, Water and Food Matter”. Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-OREGON), the new chair of the House Water, Oceans &

Wildlife Subcommittee, DOI Assistant Secretary Tanya Trujillo and Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton

all made the trip to Reno, despite the complications caused by a major winter storm which resulted in over

2,500 flight cancellations from Minneapolis to Denver to Portland to Reno. USDA Under Secretary Robert

Bonnie was not able to join us due to the funeral of a close friend that conflicted with his travels.

Despite a slight tick in conference participation due to the weather, the 2023 conference still had the largest

audience ever for the Alliance annual event. One journalist remarked that the conference featured “the highest

level of intellectual discussion” she had ever experienced at a water conference. The 2023 conference featured

the other following addresses and panel discussions:

• Reclamation Roundtable –– featuring Commissioner Touton and all 5 regional directors;

• “Kiss the Ground” with Forestry and Ag Solutions;

• SCOTUS and Western Water

• A Look at D.C. from the Hill;

• Generation “NEXT”: Re-framing Western Agriculture;

• Solving Nutrients Challenges with Bushels of Nature: The Nutrient Work Group

• The PL – 566 Small Watershed Program – A Report from the Field

• A Conversation with Biden Administration Water Leaders on PL-567

• Colorado River Agricultural Water Management and Policy Changes

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

Following the end of the conference general session at noon on February 24, a “Farm (Bill) to Fork” luncheon

took place off-site at Mari Chuy’s Restaurant in mid-town Reno. Leaders of the Western Agriculture and

Conservation Coalition guided an informal discussion on the 2023 Farm Bill.

Internal meetings of the Alliance board of directors and Advisory Committee took place earlier in the week

in Reno. The Alliance board of directors held a special meeting and took several key actions, following up

on internal meetings in Reno in late February. The board agreed to proceed with hosting the 2024 annual

conference at Silver Legacy in Reno. Staff are developing a report to provide an assessment of other cities

/ hotels, including Sacramento, San Diego, Tucson, San Antonio and Austin -that could host the annual

conference starting in 2025.



The annual Farmer Lobbyist trip is one of the Alliance's "cornerstone" programs which brings family farmers and

water professionals to Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators and Administration policy leaders on critical water

issues. The Alliance philosophy has long held that the most effective voice in Washington DC is the individual family

farmer. This year’s farmer lobbyist contingent included nearly 30 representatives from Arizona, California, Colorado,

Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. In addition to meeting with Congressional Members from those seven

states, the group also met with senior officials from the Department of the Army, DOI, EPA, and staffers from key

Congressional water committees. The Western contingent visited 39 offices in the course of 2-1/2 days.

The purpose of the 2023 trip was for farmer lobbyists to discuss crucial Western water policies and issues with

members of Congress and their staff and Biden Administration agency officials. Key topics of discussion with

Congressional agriculture and water committees included current water legislation and the 2023 Farm Bill.

Meetings also took place with Assistant DOI Secretary for Water and Science Michael Brain and Reclamation Deputy

Commissioner David Palumbo, the office of the Chiefs of the Forest Service and NRCS, the office of the Assistant

Secretary for the Army, Civil Works, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox, and Sara Gonzalez-Rothi

(Director for Water Policy at CEQ). Farmer Lobbyists were able to meet directly with 17 Members of Congress from

their respective states. Meetings were also held with staffers from ten other House and Senate offices.

Earlier in the year, Alliance President Pat O’Toole travelled back to Washington, D.C. for several days to advance

Alliance positions relative to the Farm Bill, NEPA reform, and forest health.


Our approach to social media has been to primarily communicate the events, email blasts, and people of

the Alliance. We have created more than 160 posts on Facebook and Instagram in 2023. On Facebook, the

organization's page showed modest growth, with likes increasing from 758 in December 2022 to 788 in

December 2023. Throughout the year, the Alliance posted more than 80 times, generating impressions ranging

from 500 to 4,000 per month. Instagram witnessed a steady rise in followers, reaching 424 in December 2023,

2-24 Activities and Accomplishments

up from 371 in December 2022. The platform saw about 70

posts during the year. Email communication remained robust,

with over 75 blasts sent to a mailing list of nearly 3,000. The

engagement rate demonstrated a noteworthy increase, rising

from an average of 35% in 2022 to over 45% in 2023. Year over

year, Facebook likes increased by 4%, Instagram followers

grew by 14%, and email engagement rates saw a substantial

improvement of around 28%.


Josh Rolph in 2023 worked with other Alliance contractors to update and streamline the Alliance website,

something that was last addressed three years ago. Check out the new look at: www.familyfarmalliance.org.

One of the key features of the new upgrade is adding a wealth of resources and information based on the

frequent email blasts sent to the Alliance audience, and making sure the site is easily accessible to our various

audiences of members, the media, elected officials, and the general public.


The Alliance strives to facilitate the delivery of accurate and timely information to Congress, regulatory agencies

and its members on issues which impact Western irrigators, through a variety of media forums. The “Monthly

Briefing” provides up-to-date information on Alliance activities. The “Water Review” focuses on Alliance members

and the issues and actions they are involved with at the local level, as described in the December 2019 twovolume

“Water Review” of the Colorado River.

Beginning in January 2024, digital advertising opportunities are now offered to Alliance supporters in the



Monthly Monthly Briefing Briefing and Issues and Issues Updates. Updates. Opportunities are limited are limited and on and a first on a come, first come, first served first served basis. basis. Alliance Alliance

email email subscribers subscribers include include thousands thousands of Western of Western farmers farmers and ranchers, and ranchers, state state and local and local elected elected officials, officials, Members Members

of Congress, of Congress, committees committees on Capitol on Capitol Hill and Hill and Congressional staff, staff, federal federal agency agency policy policy staff, staff, lobbyists, lobbyists, water water

purveyors, purveyors, agri-business interests, interests, nonprofit nonprofit and NGO and NGO agricultural agricultural and water and water policy policy leaders, leaders, and the and press. the press. Open Open

rates rates have have been been climbing climbing over the over past the several past several years, years, ranging ranging from from 30 to 30 50%. to 50%. (compared (compared to the to industry the industry average average

which which tends tends to be to around be around 15%). 15%). The Monthly The Monthly Briefing Briefing receives receives the highest the highest open open rates rates consistently at consistently over 47%. over 47%.

Nearly Nearly 25% of 25% those of those opening opening our emails our emails click on click available on available links links when when links links are available. are available. For more For more information information

and to and reserve to reserve your your space, space, please please contact contact Jane Townsend Jane Townsend at at jane@familyfarmalliance.org.

Media Media “Training” “Training”

The Alliance The Alliance has had has initial had initial conversations with staff with from staff from the the Intermountain West West Joint Joint Venture Venture (IWJV) (IWJV) about about

journalist journalist engagement engagement on flood on flood irrigation irrigation and wildlife and wildlife values values in the in Colorado the Colorado River River Basin. Basin. The Alliance The Alliance will be will be

working working further further with IWJV with IWJV on this on initiative, this initiative, which which is very is focused, very focused, and has and proven has proven success, success, based based on the on results the results of of

a similar a similar venture venture undertaken undertaken in Utah’s in Utah’s Bear River Bear River watershed. watershed. Mr. Keppen Mr. Keppen was also was invited also invited to speak to speak last August last August at at

the “Ag the Media “Ag Media Summit” Summit” (AMS) (AMS) in Palm in Palm Springs Springs (CALIFORNIA) in a panel in a panel discussion discussion with Mike with Mike Wade Wade (California (California Farm Farm

Water Water Coalition) Coalition) and Lorraine and Lorraine Garcia Garcia (Coachella (Coachella Valley Valley Water Water District). District). Over Over 400 journalists 400 journalists and and communication

experts experts from from around around the country the country showed showed up at up the at conference. the conference. This was This the was first the time first ever time that ever the that AMS the event AMS event was was

held in held California. in California. (Mr. Wade (Mr. Wade in January in January 2023 2023 also wrote also wrote this guest this guest commentary commentary for the for California the California Farm Farm Bureau Bureau “Ag “Ag

Alert”, Alert”, discussing discussing the “Alfalfa the “Alfalfa 101” paper 101” paper that the that Alliance the Alliance and CFWC and CFWC put together put together in late in 2022.) late 2022.)

Media Media Engagement

Mr. Keppen Mr. Keppen writes writes a monthly a monthly column column on behalf on behalf of the of Alliance the Alliance that appears that appears in Western in Western Farmer-Stockman

magazine. magazine. He was He also was asked also asked by Alliance by Alliance members members in Central in Central Oregon Oregon to counter to counter some some of the of criticism the criticism from from

naysayers naysayers in the in Bend the Bend area who area have who have been been publicly publicly criticizing criticizing the good the good work work that the that Deschutes the Deschutes Basin Basin Board Board

of Control of Control districts districts are doing are doing to conserve to conserve water. water. The Bend The Bend Bulletin Bulletin and Capital and Capital Press Press both both ran individual ran individual guest guest

columns columns that he that authored he authored in December in December 2023, 2023, which which were were shared shared with Alliance with Alliance members. members.

2-24 Activities 2-24 Activities and and Accomplishments

Speaking Engagements

Alliance representatives throughout the year were also able to hit the road and speak at several Western water

and environmental conferences in the past year. Mr. Keppen had a busy year on the speaker circuit. In January,

he moderated two panels at the 2022 Mid-Pacific Water Users Conference in Reno (NEVADA). He also had several

other speaking engagements at several events across the West, including:

• Columbia Basin Development League Annual Conference (Moses Lake, WA);

• Four States Irrigation Council Annual Conference (Fort Collins, CO);

• Idaho Water Users Association Water Law & Resource Issues Seminar (Sun Valley);

• Tri States (IDAHO, OREGON, WASHINGTON) summer meeting (Spokane, WA);

• Oregon Water Resources Congress annual conference (Hood River);

• Water Sustainability Summit, hosted by United Water Conservation District (Oxnard, CA); and

• Washington State Water Resources Association Annual Conference (Spokane).

Audiences throughout the year were very supportive of Alliance efforts to educate the public and policy makers

on the importance of Western irrigated agriculture to national security.


The Family Farm Alliance is a 501(c)(6) tax exempt organization; 86% of your contribution is tax

deductible. Our support comes exclusively from those who believe our mission is important enough to

contribute. We believe the cause is important enough to ask for your support. Please join us.


Name: ________________________________________________________________________

Company: _____________________________________________________________________

Address: ______________________________________________________________________

City/State: ________________________________________ Zip: ________________________

Phone: _____________________________ Cell: ______________________________________

Email: ________________________________________________________________________

Supporter ($250 minimum for individuals)

Partner ($500 minimum for organizations/businesses)

Defender ($1000)

Advocate ($5000)

Champion ($10,000)

Suggested Contribution Levels

Irrigation District - @ $0.10 per irrigated acre

Other: ______________________________________________________

I’d like to learn more about the Alliance

Payment Type: Check payable to Family Farm Alliance Credit Card

Card Number: ____________________________________ Exp Date: ______ CVC: ________

Name on Card: _________________________ Signature: _____________________________

Please return application with payment to:

Family Farm Alliance

Jane Townsend, Fundraising Coordinator

P.O. Box 1705, Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423

www.familyfarmalliance.org email: jane@familyfarmalliance.org


February 2024 | dan@familyfarmalliance.org

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