SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Utah Senators Mitt Romney (R) and Mike Lee (R) joined 14 senators in a bipartisan letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) emphasizing the drought seizing the western half of the country.
Romney and Lee were the only Republicans to sign onto the letter co-led by Romney and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO).
“Utah and the American West is facing an historic drought, and our state’s farmers and ranchers are taking immediate action to be more water-conscious while still maintaining their livelihood,” said Romney. “It’s imperative that USDA programs – including funding – accurately recognize the important role of Utah’s farmers and ranchers in tackling the drought crisis.”
In the letter, the senators called for the USDA’s support saying “The American West is in crisis.”
“Across the major basins of the American West – including the Colorado River Basin, The Rio Grande Basin, the Great Basin, the Scramento-San Joaquin River Basin, the Columbia River Basin, and the Arkansas-White-Red Basin – farm and ranch families hang in the balance as they grapple with a 22-year mega-drought,” the senators wrote.
The letter continued by saying the shortage of water is a threat to productive farmland across western states which are “both a pillar of our rural economies and drivers of America’s food production.”
In order to help combat the drought, the two Republican and 14 Democratic senators urged the USDA to support Western farmers and ranchers with existing programs, new funding, and tailored solutions to conserve water. This included improving water infrastructure and efficiency, providing technical assistance, and providing additional resources as “many existing programs do not translate well to the needs of Western agriculture.”
The senators also called on USDA to address staffing shortages at field offices across the west. According to the senators, the lack of experts and engineers at the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency has delayed many projects regarding Western water conservation.
The letter urged the USDA to equally allocate funds from the $20 billion provided by Congress in the Inflation Reduction Act across the country to “reflect the contribution of every region, including the West.”
Joining Romney, Lee, and Bennet on the letter are Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).