In a midterm campaign season dominated by inflation, abortion, and crime, theres another issue that’s becoming more urgent in Western states: drought.
The main topics water historically has played little to no role in campaign ads in a lot of the spot, but funding to fight drought is approaching now in door-knocking campaigns and is on the long set of talking points that advocacy groups are employing to rally voters in two states with vulnerable Democratic incumbents and looming water cuts: Nevada and Arizona.
This problem attracts the economic anxiety of our voters and our people, said Angel Lazcano, a Las Vegas-based organizer for Somos Votantes, which seeks to mobilize Latino voters across swing states.
Federal officials recently announced that Nevada and Arizona would get much less water in 2023 because the stranglehold on the Colorado River worsens due to drought, climate change, and demand. The government threatened to impose deeper, broader cuts if the seven states that be determined by the waterway cant acknowledge how exactly to use less.
Both vulnerable incumbents whose states are hit hardest by the cuts Catherine Cortez Masto, of Nevada, and Mark Kelly, of Arizona seized on the chance to get funding through the federal legislation. These were joined by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who’s seeking reelection in Colorado, and Arizonas Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. The four Western senators negotiated $4 billion in last-minute funding to greatly help address the regions growing water crisis in the Inflation Reduction Act.
In tight races in Nevada and Arizona, the Colorado River basin cuts and last-minute $4 billion in drought-relief funding will serve as a test of how influential usage of water will undoubtedly be in deciding two of the very most consequential Senate races this cycle.
Though still not allocated, the drought relief funding will generally pay farmers to leave fields unplanted and can purchase water conservation and habitat restoration projects.
Ms. Cortez Masto said in a short interview that she doesnt view it as a campaign issue, but instead an issue for the whole West.
Somos Votantes released ads in English and Spanish, thanking Ms. Cortez Masto for the funding. In Arizona, environmentally friendly Defense Fund and its own advocacy partner did exactly the same for Ms. Sinema and Mr. Kelly, who has touted the funding on social media marketing.
Kathleen Ferris, a senior water policy researcher at Arizona State University, said drought is really a politically murky subject. She doubts the relief funding could have any sway on the election, and also the Colorado River cuts haven’t risen to the amount of other hot-button issues.
Campaigns historically have trouble communicating complex water policies because you can find so many interest groups which have a stake, she said.
Its definitely not an easy task to say, Well, I’ll do this, which may hurt this group, or I’ll do that, which may hurt another group, said Ms. Ferris. So mostly, what they state is I’ll convene stakeholders and we’ll have robust discussions and we’ll find out a path. Well, thats not so sexy for the electorate.
The funding is small in the wider context of a historic megadrought. Farmers in Yuma, Arizona, already are requesting over 25 % of the funding, and projects elsewhere to convert ocean water to normal water often cost billions.
Though projects in Nevada and Arizona gets priority, 17 states meet the criteria for the funding, which is doled out through 2026.
Questions also remain about if the one-time allocation will become an annual stipend. If that’s the case, experts say, other funding requests could come under scrutiny from states not reliant on the river.
Although basin cuts won’t bring about immediate new restrictions, they signal that unpopular decisions about how exactly to lessen consumption could come soon.
Nowhere have the consequences of drought been as visible as in Lake Mead, the Colorado Rivers largest reservoir, which supplies water to nearby NEVADA. Residents have watched human remains and old artifacts reveal themselves as levels drop.
Mr. Lazcano, the city organizer at Somos Votantes, which endorsed Ms. Cortez Masto, introduces NEVADA robust water recycling infrastructure and the $4 billion in drought relief funding while door-knocking or hosting events in NEVADA Latino neighborhoods.
He pitches drought relief being an environmental and economic issue affecting jobs and opportunities close to rising gas prices, labor shortages and inflation.
Personally i think like folks have that surface-level knowledge of these things which are happening, he said. Like they hear concerning the cuts and the amount of money to arrive, but theyre not too sure with how exactly to take that in, and thats where we can be found in. To inform them about how exactly it really is, or what these investments mean.
The funding has earned mixed reactions from Republican candidates in Nevada.
As the inflation measure was universally vilified by the party, GOP lawmakers and candidates didn’t deny that drought needs urgent attention.
Adam Laxalt, who’s running against Ms. Cortez Masto, has mostly stayed from discussing drought. Within an email, he said he supports efforts to handle water problems in Nevada, noting that the crunch didnt just happen overnight.
The Inflation Reduction Act will donate to more inflation, and Ms. Cortez Masto must have secured funding without needing to support a more substantial bill, he said.
Sam Peters, a Republican candidate for Nevadas 4th Congressional District which covers a lot of rural central Nevada right down to the northern edge of the NEVADA area criticized paying farmers never to use water, saying that Democrats throw money at it with out a real solution. He suggested desalination as a longer-term solution.
U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, Nevadas lone Republican congressman, supported the overall notion of the funding and in addition pointed to desalination, the technology that removes salt from ocean water and turns it into normal water.
A $1.4 billion desalination project was proposed in California with support from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom but was rejected by way of a California coastal panel in-may due to the cost and threat to marine organisms at the bottom of the meals chain.
Days following the Inflation Reduction Act passed, Mr. Amodei delivered a post that didnt mention drought but outlined the provisions he said would deepen the countrys economic woes.
Asked concerning the drought funding later, he said it had been maybe a few of the least egregious stuff in the act.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.