Sen. Kelly Secures Major Arizona Priorities in Army Corps Water Resources Bill

Includes new drought eligibility for Army Corps projects, cuts red tape, and more

Senator Kelly continued his record of delivering for Arizona’s water priorities with the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (WRDA), a bill passed every two years by Congress to authorize water resource development projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Kelly, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, advocated for new and improved water resources policies that will open the door to more Army Corps assistance for drought mitigation projects in Arizona, speed up and free up more federal funding for existing flood control and infrastructure projects, clean up old uranium mines on tribal land, and more. 

Kelly discusses Arizona’s water priorities in the EPW hearing. Click here to watch his full remarks. 

“We’re taking a step forward with today’s bill that ensures the Army Corps of Engineers can play a more significant role in responding to drought conditions and support several Arizona projects,” said Kelly in his hearing remarks. “For the first time in their history, our bill gives the Army Corps the authority to address drought risk management and water supply conservation needs when planning, constructing, and operating water resources development projects and programs. This is a big deal for Arizona. While the Army Corps already operates dams, reservoirs, and flood control structures in Arizona – the Corps does not have a permanent authority to plan or construct projects for the purpose of reducing drought risk.”

In the Senate, Kelly has maintained a focus on combating western drought and water issues. In October, Kelly requested and chaired a hearing on western drought after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued new water level projections for Lake Mead and Lake Powell that triggered the first-ever drought restrictions on the Colorado River. Kelly was one of the 22 members of the Senate bipartisan group that negotiated and shaped the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which became law in November. Kelly played a leadership role in drafting the western water and drinking water portions of the legislation.   

Recently, Kelly also announced major funding he secured in the final omnibus budget bill for Arizona water projects such as the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project and the Cities of Glendale and Peoria Water Supply Inter-Connect Project, which he highlighted in a March visit. 

For a breakdown of the provisions Kelly secured in the 2022 WRDA, see below:  

  • Drought as New Eligibility for Water Projects: Army Corps authorities were historically limited to a narrow scope for projects, and drought was not included. Kelly successfully advocated to have the bill change the authorities so that the Corps can also carry out projects to support watershed conservation efforts or otherwise respond to drought conditions. 
  • Extended Tribal Partnership Program (TPP) until 2033: This program, which tribes use for a variety of water quality projects, including drought and water conservation projects, was set to expire this year. Kelly advocated for and secured an extension until 2033. 
  • Cuts Red-Tape to Complete Stalled Arizona Water Projects: Two projects in Arizona, the Rio de Flag project (Flagstaff) and the Tres Rios project have both hit their federally imposed cost-increase threshold that prevents them from completing the work. Kelly secured a 3-year waiver for these projects to allow them to proceed. 
  • Western Water Program: Kelly secured $200 million within the Army Corps’ Rural Western Water program exclusively for water infrastructure projects in Arizona. This ensures Arizona receives much needed investments in local water infrastructure projects, including water supply agreements for agricultural and municipal stakeholders in Arizona slated to lose Colorado River water. 
  • Flood Risk Protections for Luke Air Force Base and the West Valley: In the 1950s, the Army Corps constructed McMicken Dam, a 9.5 mile earthen dam to prevent stormwater floods from inundating Luke Air Force Base or areas west of Phoenix. Today, the dam protects 130,000 residents, Phoenix Goodyear Airport, I-10, and the Air Force Base from flooding. However, the dam is suffering from land subsidence and risks failure. Kelly secured language authorizing the Army Corps to work with the Flood Control District of Maricopa County to repair the aging dam. 
  • Ensuring Army Corps Doesn’t Short-Change Arizona’s Water Conservation Projects: For too long, the Corps has under-valued the benefits of water conservation and drought relief projects, which meant fewer funding opportunities. Thanks to Kelly’s advocacy, the committee will require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study evaluating how the Corps accounts for a project’s ability to prepare for, contain, or respond to drought conditions when calculating the overall benefits of a project.  
  • 100% Federal Cost-share for Cleaning Abandoned Uranium Mines: The federal government funded the construction of hundreds of uranium and other hard-rock mining sites on tribal lands in the 1940s through 1970s, and these abandoned sites continue to pose serious health-risks to tribal communities. Too often, federal funding programs are inaccessible for tribal communities, and the 50/50 cost-share places too significant of a burden on tribal communities to mitigate the risks of these mines. Kelly amended the existing law to specify that, just like abandoned non-coal mine sites on federal land, the cost-share for abandoned non-coal mine sites on tribal land should be 100 percent. This will enable tribes to cleanup abandoned uranium mines with a 100 percent federal cost-share. 

  • Pilot Study on Western Infrastructure: The Army Corps has never done a specific study focused on how to improve water conservation and improve drought resilience at dams and reservoirs in the western United States. Kelly requested a study to focus on Corps-owned or operated facilities in the western United States, including potential demonstration projects. The Corps must complete the study within three years of enactment and transmit the findings of the study in a report to Congress. 

Kelly also secured expedited completions for the following Arizona projects: 

The bill directs the Corps to expedite the completion the following Arizona projects:  

^ indicates the project also received Kelly-requested federal funding in this year’s omnibus bill