Aug. 25 2021 10:31 AM

The bill, having passed the Senate, moves toward a final vote scheduled for the end of September.

The proposed $1 trillion infrastructure bill has the most bipartisan support of a major bill in the U.S. Congress in nearly a decade. H.R. 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, looks to provide sweeping solutions to the country’s rural and urban infrastructure crises.

But how will it benefit the landscaping and irrigation industries?

“When we look at the bill there are a number of initiatives and projects that would ultimately support our industry,” says Coleman Garrison, government and public affairs director for the Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia. “There’s money to support municipalities and states to get through this drought and provide water to the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. The bill focuses on the front end of these problems and supports funding for water storage, programs and conservation specifically for the Western states.”

The benefit of the bill to the landscaping industry would be assisting with the future water supply to prevent long-term watering restrictions to commercial and residential landscapes, says Garrison. The bill could lead to a reduced need to continually drill deeper wells to pump groundwater as a result of additional surface water storage.

“A lake may be 300 or 500 miles away from you and not be relevant to your day-to-day world, but it does affect your water resources and usage,” he says. “This bill addresses the beginning of a long solution to store more water and begin the evaluation process of what really works. It is about building a better overall environment and better ecosystem of water delivery.”

Legislative landscape

The month of September may be the most ambitious and activity-filled month on Capitol Hill in a generation. Along with attempting to call a final vote on the infrastructure bill (which has already passed the Senate) with bipartisan support, the House of Representatives and Senate still have to deal with passing the raised debt ceiling and agree on a government funding bill so the entire government will not shut down.

“The next six to 15 weeks in Congress will be the busiest we have seen them in a while,” says Andrew Bray, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals. “We still need to see what happens if a reconciliation package will be tied to this infrastructure package. It is a very fluid situation.”

Bray says that industry members need to be prepared to voice their support either way.

“When we talk to members, we tell them to be engaged and be ready to support this bill from a grassroots level,” says Bray. “We may really need them to be active through their local campaigns and communication channels to support this bill. Everyone is puzzled on how this will all play out during the fall session of Congress.”

Like Garrison, Bray is excited for the potential of the bill to begin to address some long-term, systemic issues within the landscape and irrigation industries.

“There will be several opportunities for the industry and we need to seize them, especially for grant money for targeted programs,” says Bray. “There will be irrigation opportunities and money to fix the drought and support more wells because without it more people will be ripping out their lawns for rock displays, especially in the West. We will be paying close attention because it is pleasing to see money being budgeted to address these issues so we can operate how we want to operate.”

Bray also says that the landscape and irrigation industries should not overlook how the infrastructure bill addresses climate change, as the funding to plant more trees, increase urban landscapes and gardens and sustaining those landscapes and gardens are directly beneficial to the industry.

“We encourage these infrastructure projects and the ability to support new programs and new resources,” says Bray. “I think what is in the infrastructure bill related to our industry is safe and is not going to be thrown out or played with for the sake of political theater. Times are too serious for any of that.”

Focus on the future

Garrison believes the new commitment to these water-based and landscape-based projects can only help the industry, especially with a burgeoning drought crisis in the western half of the country.

“It is a priority of ours to start the education process with our members so they can really understand how this effects them, as well as the opportunities that may arise in their own backyard,” says Garrison. “We are already monitoring member feedback on our current and requested future level of participation if this bill passes and these projects begin to roll out.”

An Irrigation Association committee has already discussed the proposed legislation in a recent meeting and addressed the education effort that would be needed to help members identify what funding streams would be available, as well as what the bill would do for both local and state regulations and laws, he says.

“It is easy for our industry to get lost in this bill with all the discussion and media attention to the money that would be spent on roads, bridges, parks and other more visible projects,” says Garrison. “But projects like capturing more snow melt and rain water directly impact our industry and that is what everyone should be paying attention to and voicing their support when and where they can. Every voice counts.”