Inflation Reduction Act is Making a Difference for Water Resources, Rural Communities, Birds

Significant climate legislation one year after passage.
Great Blue Heron flies over water
A Great Blue Heron flies over water. Photo: Chris Miller/Audubon Photography Awards

This article was co-authored by Julie Hill-Gabriel and Melinda Cep.

One year ago, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the most significant  climate and clean energy legislation ever passed in the United States. The IRA includes investments and innovation in clean energy, infrastructure efficiency, electric vehicles, public transit, and grid modernization, all while prioritizing American communities and working families. This historic climate law also provides hope for birds and people in the fight against climate change. Most importantly for birds, two-thirds of which are threatened with extinction from climate change, the IRA included significant investments in natural systems, habitat protections, voluntary conservation, and wetland restoration around the country. From the Great Lakes to Florida to the Great Salt Lake, birds like the Common Loon, Roseate Spoonbill, and Wilson’s Phalarope are poised to benefit from the investments in the IRA. We all are.

The Inflation Reduction Act built on critical clean energy and climate investments led by the Biden Administration and included significant funding for water and working lands in ways that bolster bird habitats and community resiliency. Specifically, the IRA included $4 billion to address drought in the western United States and nearly $20 billion to support voluntary conservation on ranches and farms across the country. These two sources of funding are critical down payments for addressing habitat issues impacting ecosystems throughout the country.

The $4 billion for drought funding includes crucial support to enable agricultural and municipal water users to voluntarily reduce water consumption, thus leaving more water in rivers. And, it advances habitat restoration in areas impacted by drought and projects for efficiencies in water conservation.

Some of this funding was allocated to address the immediate drought crisis facing the Colorado River in the early winter of 2022, including for initial temporary payments for decreased water usage. Two additional tranches of funding are being finalized—Audubon and our partners are providing ongoing comments and feedback to the Bureau of Reclamation to urge habitat and ecosystem restoration projects and multi-benefit projects. These include agricultural upgrades and innovations, municipal and industrial projects, and water agreements.

The $20 billion in funding for voluntary conservation through the US Department of Agriculture was a huge win for birds, particularly grassland-dependent birds which are threatened by habitat loss. The first round of this funding, $850 million, was made available earlier this year. After an overwhelming expression of interest, landowners and producers applied directly for this additional funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and eligible parties applied for funding through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Eligible parties have until tomorrow to submit their proposals for this first round of Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

This transformative IRA funding is intended to help producers implement climate and habitat friendly practices on their farms and ranches. It will be spent in communities: paying small businesses for fencing infrastructure, buying grass seed, supporting forest management through a certified forester, and much more. To help maximize the IRA funding’s impact, Audubon submitted comments to USDA in support of bird habitat and natural climate solutions through the restoration and protection of working lands – including wetlands, forests, and grasslands. Audubon will continue this important work to ensure that more practices important to birds and climate mitigation are eligible for this funding as the IRA continues to be implemented.

While the Inflation Reduction Act is not a household name, the benefits it is providing—and will continue to provide over the coming years—stand as one of the most significant advances for climate action in the country’s history. Audubon stands firm in our support of this historic law and oppose any efforts to diminish its impact or redirect this funding.