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Opinion: The bipartisan infrastructure bill was a big win for sportsmen and women

It’s difficult to overstate how significant this bill is in these polarized times

Smallmouth bass fishing at Lake Powell, Utah.
Smallmouth bass fishing at Lake Powell, Utah. It’s been “Infrastructure Week” in Washington for about 15 years. But this week the American people and sportsmen and women finally got a win with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Ray Grass, Deseret Morning News

It’s been “Infrastructure Week” in Washington for about 15 years. But this week the American people and sportsmen and women finally got a win with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This is bipartisan infrastructure legislation that makes major investments in helping the nation address the impacts of climate change, including some of the worst effects of the rapidly warming climate on trout and salmon.

It’s difficult to overstate how significant this bill is in these polarized times. Many of the provisions of the bill represent years and decades of work and deferred priorities. Infrastructure has been a desperate need and a national priority for many years.

Thanks to critical leadership from Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, we have the single largest investment in our nation’s physical infrastructure and waterways in more than a generation. Utah anglers and hunters wish to express our gratitude to the senator for his foresight and initiative in getting this legislation across the finish line.

Trout Unlimited lauds provisions of this legislation that will deliver major benefits for cold-water fish and their habitats, including abandoned mine restoration, removal of obsolete dams, forest and watershed restoration, replacement of old culverts and fish passage barriers, and increased efficiency of water management and transport systems.

“This legislation is potentially transformational,” said Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited’s president and CEO. “It reflects the understanding — which TU has championed for years — that our natural landscapes and waterways are as much a fundamental part of the nation’s infrastructure as bridges and dams. And it directly tackles some of the biggest challenges to our infrastructure posed by climate change.”

The infrastructure bill comes with several commonsense solutions and mitigations on climate related impacts on fish and wildlife. For instance, it establishes a new hard rock Abandoned Mine Lands fund to help address the tens of thousands of abandoned hard rock mines that currently pollute Western watersheds, particularly in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Utah.

Additionally, it funds the Legacy Roads and Trails program. This program provides dedicated funding for repairing, upgrading,and sometimes removing the more than 375,000 miles of roads, 12,000 bridges and 143,000 miles of trails managed by the U.S. Forest Service. This is a high priority for Trout Unlimited due to the widespread adverse impacts of poorly maintained roads and trails on trout and salmon streams.

The agreement also recognizes the critical role of water infrastructure and watershed health in improving water security as climate change makes conditions hotter and drier. It invests $400 million in the WaterSMART program, $100 million of which is dedicated to natural infrastructure projects; $100 million for watershed management projects; $250 million for aquatic ecosystem restoration and protection projects; $300 million to implement the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan; and $1 billion for water reuse and recycling. Utah already is home to several projects funded by these grant programs, and this additional funding will secure many additional opportunities for improving watershed health, fish and wildlife habitat, and clean drinking water for Utahns for generations to come.

The provisions of the infrastructure bill help protect Utah’s water resources in the face of hotter summers and drier winters. And it will help to secure the hunting and fishing heritage of many Utah families.

Some might negatively describe this deal old-fashioned sausage making: a bit ugly and sometimes unwieldy. Yet, we can’t help but see it as effective bipartisan lawmaking.

Thanks to leadership from the White House, House and Senate Democrats, and willing Republican leaders like Utah’s own Mitt Romney, we have an actual governing win for the American people.

Andy Rasmussen is the Utah coordinator for the Angler Conservation Project at Trout Unlimited. He lives in Logan and works throughout Utah and the West on policy issues related to public lands, energy and maintaining streams and other water resources.