After months of negotiations, President Joe Biden signed his $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law Nov. 15. The bipartisan backed law seeks to address provisions related to transportation methods and climate change, as well as projects tackling droughts, floods and wildfires.
Diverging across rural and urban communities, the package promises a breakdown of millions and billions of dollars to numerous programs, efforts and organizations spanning from watershed rehabilitation to broadband improvements to flood mitigation.
But when it comes to the irrigation and landscaping industries, Coleman Garrison, government and public affairs director for the Fairfax, Virginia-based Irrigation Association, says that he and other industry members have kept a close eye on Western water infrastructure components of the bill following massive droughts across the region. The law will set aside $8 billion in funding for Western water infrastructure.
This funding, Garrison says, can help several smaller projects operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Department of the Interior that provide water to agriculture, communities and cities across the West.
“We’re hopeful that this funding will really set the stage to help mitigate future droughts that may take place, keep communities from having to ration water and make sure that Western communities continue to be on stable footing when it comes to their ability to access water,” says Garrison.
Andrew Bray, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals, shares Garrison’s views on the Western water infrastructure funding. Referring to the law as “a tremendous feather in the cap of the Biden administration,” Bray stresses that by helping the West combat these water issues through education, technology and tools, the future of water sustainability will also be positively impacted.
“It helps us tell the narrative that we’re actually stewards for the environment, we’re helping protect, maintain and preserve this water, but this water plays an integral role in our ecosystem,” says Bray. “By giving funds to help further research or help with the problems, that’s collectively good for the industry.”
Garrison emphasizes that those within the irrigation and landscaping industries shouldn’t be expecting any new movement caused by the infrastructure law throughout the remainder of 2021. For example, the $8 billion designated for Western water infrastructure will go to eight to 10 different funding pools, where some are grants and some are direct projects that the federal government will undertake.
“The administration has every intention of getting this out as quickly as possible, but this is really a long-term game,” says Garrison. “If you were to begin either a dam rehabilitation or a new water storage project like creating a new lake or a new reservoir, it’s years down the road when you’ll maybe have that reservoir filled.”
Bray hypothesizes that the first aspects of the infrastructure law Americans will see will be projects related to drinking water and disadvantaged communities. It’s his belief that there will be a more detailed picture of some of the law’s moving parts by early 2022.
Because the law’s projects will be on a macro level and on a larger scale, there aren’t a lot that landscape and irrigation professionals can do to best position their businesses to get involved in the law’s projects. However, Garrison urges them to forge strong partnerships with their water providers and national organizations like the IA that engage on these issues.
“Continue to stay engaged with those partners, communicate what the industry can do and is doing to continue to promote efficient irrigation,” Garrison says. “When we do see a future drought take place, having that partnership, that trust, that communication will only help mitigate the needs for future drastic measures.”
Bray says that his go-to advice for every landscape professional is to be involved and engaged as much as possible. This can mean joining a local HOA board or school board, because despite being on a smaller scale, “They open bigger doors for your company,” Bray says. “It puts you in tune to position the industry in a stronger position.”
“There will be several opportunities by the way of redoing certain systems and investing in new infrastructure projects, building new parks, installing new trees, installing new irrigation systems,” Bray says. “All of those are going to be at the forefront of the opportunities, and they’re probably going to be in public spaces. (Irrigation and landscape professionals) should be getting involved and being ready for some of these projects to pop.”