WASHINGTON – The House approved H.R. 2707, legislation to preserve limited water resources by establishing new demonstration programs to eradicate salt cedar that was co-sponsored by Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas.

Salt cedar is an invasive plant that soaks up water along river and stream banks in western states, where water is generally scarce even in normal weather conditions.

Stenholm, who is a key leader on this issue, was an original cosponsor of The Salt Cedar Control and Russian Olive Demonstration Act, along with Republican Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico. The ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee, Stenholm worked hard to steer the bill through the legislative process.

"I am pleased our salt cedar bill got the attention it deserved from my colleagues in the House of Representatives," Stenholm said. "In West Texas, there is nothing of a greater daily concern than the availability of fresh water. Now we need the Senate to pass similar legislation."

Republicans Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Ben Campbell of Colorado introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate last year. S. 1516 was considered favorably by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and it awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Salt cedar is a woody plant that has spread across much of the western United States in the last two decades. Experts say that a mature salt cedar plant can consume as much as 200 gallons of water per day during the peak growing season. In addition to soaking up large amounts of water, salt cedar increases the alkalinity of the soil.

"Folks throughout the West should not have to compete with unwanted, invasive pests for an already limited supply of drinking water. I cannot begin to count the number of times salt cedar has come up in conversations over the years, and I've seen its devastating effects all over West Texas," Stenholm said.

"Our goal is to coordinate the research that already exists and conduct quality, science-based projects that lead to land managers implementing large brush-control projects."

H.R. 2707 would authorize approximately $100 million for the Interior and Agriculture Departments to assess the salt cedar infestation and the feasibility of eradication. The research will appraise the volume of water that can be saved through salt cedar control and evaluate strategies for broader implementation.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com