Freshwater species depend on adequate stream flows to help maintain dissolved oxygen levels and cool water temperatures and to find food and spawning habitat. In many areas, however, agriculture and other land-use practices have disrupted stream flows, especially in Western states. Partly as a result, freshwater species are disappearing at a rate five times faster than North America’s mammals and birds.
To help address this problem, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) added a program to the 2002 farm bill (S. 1731) that would have helped endangered fish and other freshwater species by allowing the sale, lease or transfer of water rights on 1.1 million acres of land under the 36-million-acre Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The Reid program would have given states $375 million to lease or buy water rights, and would also have given more money to CRP farmers who opt to lease their water rights to the state. Opponents of the new program claimed that they interfered with the authority of individual states. However, the program would have specifically guaranteed both state water law protections and state approval of all water purchases and leases.
During floor consideration of S. 1731, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced an amendment to strike the Reid water conservation provisions from the bill. Senator Reid then moved to table (kill) Crapo’s amendment. On February 12, 2002, the Senate voted to table the Crapo amendment (Senate roll call vote 24).
The farm bill that emerged from House-Senate conference did not include Reid’s original language but did allocate $300 million over the next five years to water conservation, to be administered under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This money, however, was not specifically earmarked for enhancing stream flows. The House-Senate conference report on the farm bill was passed by the Senate on May 8, 2002, and signed into law by President Bush on May 13, 2002.