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Improvement of Rez Flooding Tied to Passage of Water Development Resources Act

Part of the DRIFT Act allows for rehabilitation of existing BIA dams that could help stop flooding in potential areas.

A U.S. Senate bill to improve reservation flooding issues was incorporated into the Senate’s latest version of the Water Development Resources Act (WDRA). Referred to as the “DRIFT Act” (Dam Repair and Improvement for Tribes), the fate of the bill depends on if the Senate’s version of WDRA (S. 2848) is signed into law.

Authored by Wyoming Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who serves as the chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, there are many key portions of this bill. According to a SCIA press release, this includes the establishment of a “High-Hazard Indian Dam Safety Deferred Maintenance Fund,” with $22 million allocated each year from fiscal years 2017-2037, as well as $10 million each year for a low-hazard maintenance for the same fiscal years. Also included is the reform of the Army Corps of Engineers Tribal Partnership program, where the Corps would pay the first $100,000 of any feasibility study “for a water resources development project or project for the preservation of cultural and natural resources,” the release also stated.

An example of a high-hazard dam stated in the release was Washakie Dam on the Wind River Reservation, which is part of Barrasso’s home state of Wyoming. This past summer, Wind River received over six inches of rain in a 24-hour period according to Mitch Cottenoir, the tribal water engineer for Wind River Reservation’s two tribes, the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho. 2011 and 2012 also saw significant flood damage.

“Part of the DRIFT Act allows for rehabilitation of existing BIA dams,” said Cottenoir, “in some cases, to take care of flooding potential in an area.”

Washakie Dam is one of 137 high-hazard dams for which the Bureau of Indian Affairs are responsible, in addition to over 700 low-hazard dams. Cottenoir said that one of the ways that additional funding could help Washakie Dam is to enlarge it “to help alleviate flooding potential.”

At press time, S.2848 is on the House of Representatives side waiting to pass. However, the House has their own version of a Water Development Resources Act, H.R. 5303, which is likewise on the Senate side. If S.2848 passes through the House, then DRIFT will find its way to the White House, pending being signed into law.