Key Takeaways from the Omnibus Spending Package: What’s in it for rivers?

On December 20, appropriators released the highly anticipated fiscal year 2023 omnibus spending package which includes modest environmental and conservation funding increases.

By Jaime Sigaran | December 22, 2022
The Rappahannock River | Virginia
The Rappahannock River | Virginia

In the remaining days of 2022, we’re happy to share some important wins for rivers – including funding for critical clean water and river restoration programs, as well as new Wild and Scenic River designations. While there’s much to be thankful for, the bill still has a number of shortcomings. In this blog, we break down the funding and policy highlights. 

On December 20, appropriators released the highly anticipated fiscal year 2023 omnibus spending package which includes modest environmental and conservation funding increases. Overall, the bill would fund the government at $1.7 trillion for most of 2023 – $858 billion toward defense and $772.5 billion in domestic spending.  

The omnibus spending bill funds federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Interior (DOI). The EPA received a $576 million increase from current levels to support the agency’s science, environmental, and enforcement work. The bill also includes $14.7 billion for DOI programs, an increase of $574 million above fiscal year 2022. 

These funding increases support river restoration and river health goals across the country.  

Key Takeaways From The Omnibus Spending Package: 

  • General increases to EPA, DOI, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
  • Additional supplemental funding for National Park Service to restore 500 of the 3,000 staff positions that have been lost over the past decade 
  • $40 billion for disaster recovery and drought 
  • $600 million to address water issues in Jackson, Mississippi. 
  • $682 million for EPA’s geographic program including $92 million for Chesapeake Bay Program and $368 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 
  • $1.67 billion for EPA’s Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds 
  • $50 million for EPA’s Sewer Overflow & Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grant program 
  • $65 million for Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART grants 

 Key River Budget Priorities & Performance: 

AgencyProgramFY 23 Rec. from
American Rivers
Omnibus Spending bill
12/20/22
About the Program
EPAReducing Lead in Drinking Water$100M$25MReduces the concentration of lead in drinking water.
EPASewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants Program $280M$50M Manages combined sewer
overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, and stormwater flows. 
USBRDam Safety Program $200M $210.2M Ensures Reclamation dams do not present unreasonable risk
USBRKlamath Project $25M $34.8M Provides funding to improve water supplies in the Klamath River Basin. 
USBRLower CO Operations Program $45M $46.8M Implements the Drought
Contingency Plan and the
Lower Colorado Multi-species
Conservation Program. 
USBRYakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project $30M $50.3M Enhances streamflows and
fish passage for anadromous fish in the Yakima River
Basin. 
CorpsUpper MS River Restoration $55M $55M Ensures the viability and
vitality of Upper Mississippi
River fish and wildlife. 
CorpsEngineering with Nature $12.5M $20M Aligns natural & engineering processes to deliver
economic, environmental,
and social benefits 
FEMAFloodplain Mgmt. & Mapping $200M $206M Improves floodplain management, develops flood hazard zone maps, and educates on the risk of floods 
FEMANational Dam Safety Program $92M $9.65M Reduces the risks to human
life, property, and the
environment from dam
related hazards. 

Policy Wins for Wild and Scenic Rivers, Western Water 

In addition to the funding noted above, American Rivers is very pleased to share that key provisions supporting river restoration are advancing. We applaud the hard work championed by Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and many others on the Hill to make this omnibus spending bill a bipartisan effort. Though we are disheartened that we didn’t get to see the bipartisan, bicameral public lands and water package, we can celebrate two new Wild and Scenic River designations: the York River in Maine and Housatonic River in Connecticut. Together these bills would designate more than 70 river miles. Two Wild and Scenic River studies from Florida were also added. 

Upper Mississippi River, IA
Upper Mississippi River, IA

Several western water bills made it into the omnibus spending bill which will improve drought resilience, boost water supply, and support wetland conservation. For example, the Colorado River Basin Conservation Act (S. 4579/H.R. 9173) would allow DOI to continue to partner with Upper and Lower Basin states alike, to keep more water in the Colorado River and its reservoirs, by incentivizing voluntary water conservation projects at the user level.  

Shortcomings in the Omnibus Spending Bill 

The omnibus spending bill falls short of meeting bold river health goals that are grounded in advancing scientific efforts, supporting enforcement, and directing growth in river communities that could have benefited from additional funding. While we noticed gains in WaterSMART, Dam Safety Program, Yakima, and Klamath Projects under Bureau of Reclamation, American Rivers noted less than optimal funding levels for the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund in California and the Columbia and Snake River Salmon Recovery Project in the Pacific Northwest.  

Snake River | Photo by Carl Zoch
Snake River | Photo by Carl Zoch

The Army Corps of Engineers programs such as Engineering with Nature, Floodplain Management Services, Sustainable Rivers Program, and the Upper Mississippi River Restoration programs did not suffer significant cuts. Nor did NOAA programs specifically Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. However, we acknowledge small reductions in funding to the Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis Program (RiskMAP). 

Another item American Rivers noticed is large money carve outs for “Community Project Funding Items” also known as earmarks. When taken out of the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRFs) capitalization grants, it leaves the EPA programs with less than half of what these programs received in Fiscal Year 2021. The long-term viability of the SRFs is in question and American Rivers will work hard to ensure its success in future years so high-priority projects are not delayed or increase the risk to public health and the environment. 

We’re disappointed the sweeping omnibus legislation did not boost more funding to protection, restoration, and enhancement of fish and wildlife, but are hopeful that the focus in drought resilience in the Southwest, water infrastructure in Jackson, Mississippi, as well as modest increases to Corps, DOI, NOAA and EPA programs will continue to place a focus on water quality and quantity. 

With the Spending Outline, What’s Next? 

The Senate took the first step with a procedural vote on the omnibus Tuesday. The House is expected to vote on the bill on Friday, Dec. 23rd, 2022. Despite some missed opportunities, this bill has something for everyone. American Rivers encourages the House and Senate to move swiftly to secure the passage of this bill. We expect the omnibus spending bill to have enough support to get it to the President’s desk before the Friday night deadline when the Continuing Resolution expires. 

Climate Change & Rivers, Conserving Clean Water, Environmental Justice, Floods & Floodplains, Infrastructure, Protecting Rivers, River Restoration

1 response to “Key Takeaways from the Omnibus Spending Package: What’s in it for rivers?”

  • Kerry Gubits says:

    858 billion dollars for the Pentagon. They just can’t say no to guns. But when it comes to water, health, safety, and any number of human concerns, all of a sudden it’s just too expensive.
    This is such a crock of shit.

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