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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

$500,000 in federal funds awarded to NGO for coastal wetland restoration

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón

By The Star Staff

The U.S. Department of the Interior has awarded a $36.1 million investment, including $26.7 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds, to safeguard local water supplies in the wake of a record drought across the western United States and in Puerto Rico.

The organization Protectors of Water Reserves (Protectores de Cuencas) became the first entity in Puerto Rico to receive WaterSMART funds, in the sum of $509,694. The organization is among 27 projects in 12 states and Puerto Rico to be awarded funding to advance quantifiable and sustained water savings by protecting watersheds impacted by wildland fire, restoring aquatic habitats and stream beds, and advancing other environmental restoration projects to mitigate drought-related impacts.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón spearheaded legislation making the island eligible to request participation in the federal program, the resident commissioner said Wednesday.

“To mitigate the problems of conservation and efficiency in water management, which often results in the island experiencing long periods of drought, I sought solutions and federal resources to address them and strengthen our water infrastructure,” the resident commissioner said in a written statement. “As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am pleased to see that our work is paying off in gaining access to new funds that allow local entities such as these, which play a vital role in helping to strengthen more particular areas in communities, to continue providing services with these resources to which they now have access. I again congratulate the Protectores de Cuencas organization for requesting and acquiring these funds, which will help restore coastal wetlands.”

During the last Congress, the resident commissioner filed House Resolution 6050, the Puerto Rico WaterSMART Grants Eligibility Act, which sought to provide access to additional resources to improve water management in Puerto Rico, making the island an eligible jurisdiction to apply for WaterSMART and Drought Resiliency Project grants from the Recovery Office of the Department of the Interior.

González Colón worked to include the legislation in the 2021 Omnibus, a bill that contained the budget to finance the federal government for fiscal year 2021.

The investments will be leveraged through partnerships with local communities to address regional water challenges, including projects to address damage left by the Caldor Fire in California and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The funds follow a $25.5 million investment announced last month allocated for 14 water efficiency projects across eight western states.

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is advancing locally led initiatives to address severe and historic western drought,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “Through the WaterSMART program funded under this law, we are addressing a variety of regional challenges to increase water reliability and accessibility for families, farmers and Tribes. Today’s investment will conserve water, restore riparian habitat and stream function, and improve watershed health to benefit local supplies and the surrounding environment.”

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton noted that “[a]dequate and safe water supplies are fundamental to the health, economy and security of the country.”

“By restoring ecosystems and improving the health of rivers and watersheds, we can provide more local communities with reliable access to water,” she said. “These grants invest in water management projects that will directly benefit plant and animal species, fish and wildlife habitat and ecosystems.”

Overall, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $8.3 billion to address water and drought challenges for the nation’s western water and power infrastructure by repairing aging water delivery systems, securing dams, completing rural water projects, protecting aquatic ecosystems and fulfilling Indian Water Rights settlements.

The funding announced Tuesday is part of the $160 million in WaterSMART grants provided by the Law in 2022. Local governments in states set to receive funding must complete their project within three years. Through a 25 percent cost-share, a total of $56.2 million in federal and non-federal investments will be leveraged to support selected projects.

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