As Democrats scramble to clinch a deal on their tax and climate package, a last-minute demand is coming from key vote Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona: $5 billion to help the Southwest deal with its multi-year drought.
Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, confirmed to CNN that Sinema is seeking $5 billion worth of drought resilience funding. Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat, said he’s “aware of the request.”
“I’m looking forward to details, I do welcome the additional resources for drought resilience,” Padilla told CNN.
Sinema is not the only lawmaker asking leadership to add drought funding, a source familiar with the negotiations told CNN. A coalition of several Western lawmakers who represent states in the Colorado River basin are in talks with Democratic leadership, and staff-level conversations are centered around seeking funding for programs that would be managed by the US Bureau of Reclamation – the federal agency that oversees the Colorado River.
The focus, the source said, would be to blunt the impact of the drought on farmers and cities in the West.
A senior Democratic source told CNN they believe Democratic leaders will accommodate Sinema’s concerns, as well as her request to drop a $14 billion carried interest tax provision from the bill.
Sinema’s office did not respond to CNN’s questions about the drought request.
Padilla and other senators from Western states told CNN that the years-long drought is a paramount concern.
Around 90% of Arizona was in some level of drought this week, according to the US Drought Monitor. And exceptional drought, the monitor’s most dire category, has also spread across parts of California, Nevada and Utah.
The senators’ drought request also comes as the US Bureau of Reclamation prepares its August report on the future of Lake Mead — which has continued its precipitous decline this year — and the Colorado River. CNN has reported that more water cuts are likely for the Southwest, given recent projections.
The drought, which scientists reported in February is the region’s worst in 12 centuries, has had sprawling consequences beyond water shortages, including extraordinarily dry vegetation, which has fueled intense and fast-moving wildfires.
“Things are terrible with drought in Colorado and the Colorado River Basin,” Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado told CNN. “There’s half the water in the Colorado River that we need. This is a profoundly difficult time for the people that I represent.”
Bennet said he “cannot vote for a bill unless it improves the condition of the Colorado River in Colorado and in the upper basin,” and called for lawmakers to focus on long-term and lasting fixes, though he didn’t say exactly what was needed.
“I hope we can get to a solution, but it’s going to have to be a real solution – not these short-term temporary solutions that have spent lots of money but not seen any result from the point of view of the river basin,” Bennet said.
Padilla, who represents California, said drought conditions are “very bad” there.
“There’s a sustained drought, it’s very concerning both from a water supply standpoint and of course wildfires,” Padilla said. “Drought, extreme heat, and windy conditions; it’s a dangerous recipe.”
Funding for drought resilience was also written into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Biden signed in November and Sinema played a key role in crafting. The bipartisan bill included $8.3 billion for water infrastructure programs and $1.4 billion for ecosystem restoration and resilience.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.