Summary of Hearings on Water Resources (8-18-03)
Panel II - Title I of H.R. 2828 (Desalination, Water Recycling
and Other Water Technologies)
Panel III - Title II of H.R.2828 and H.R. 2641 (CALFED Implementation)
On July 24, 2003, the House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing to examine water supply technologies and the implementation of CALFED, the joint initiative between California and the federal government to manage and regulate the waters of the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary. Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) opened the hearing by describing how the bill he is sponsoring (H.R. 2828) addresses the growing water supply needs of California and the rest of the nation through "a national performance-based, competitive financing program" initiated "to help communities implement water desalination, water recycling, and brackish/impaired water treatment projects for reducing water supply vulnerabilities." According to Calvert, the Federal Reauthorization of CALFED will also play a key role in developing new water yield and storage capacities.
Senator Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) testimony explained how California's population growth and agricultural capacity have created significant water resource problems and CALFED is the best way to address these problems. Feinstein touted the version of the CALFED implementation bill (S. 1097) which she sponsers as the most balanced approach that stays faithful to the Record of Decision (ROD), the 2000 "roadmap" for CALFED which grew out of the 1994 Bay-Delta Accords. According to Feinstein, the bill would ensure balanced implementation by requiring that the Secretary of the Interior annually certify that different project goals are being executed "in a balanced manner."
The second panel's testimony was generally supportive of Title I of H.R. 2828, which would establish a competitive grant program in support of advanced desalinization and water reuse technologies. Panelists from several states described their ongoing efforts to meet water supply needs through recycling, desalinization, ground water and surface water storage, wastewater reclamation, and conservation. When questioned, they suggested that the most helpful federal measures would be stronger leadership through federal policy and assistance developing infrastructure.
The third panel was mixed in its evaluations of H.R.
2641, the Calfed Bay-Delta Authorization Act, and Title II of
H.R. 2828, which coordinates CALFED implementation activities. However,
panelists provided specific, constructive recommendations for the
program's next steps. Brent Walthall identified improving water conveyance,
streamlining environmental regulations, and enhancing below-ground
and above-ground storage as the "critical elements" that
would improve yield and strengthen California's water supply if combined
with recycling, desalination, and streamlined water transfers. Edward
Osann was supportive of the integrative approach of CALFED to California's
complex water resource issues, but stated the Natural Resources Defense
Council's opposition to implementing the program through H.R. 2828
in its current form. Osann described a number of concerns with the
bill, most notably the ambiguous authorization "that will fail
to correct serious problems in the Administration's current approach
to CALFED." According to Osann, decisions by the Bush Administration
to "undermine, ignore, and defund" the program demonstrate
a "lack of commitment to the implementation of CALFED pursuant
to the ROD." Osann emphasized that an authorizing bill must remain
consistent with requirements of the "carefully-crafted"
On June 4, 2003, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water and Resources and Environment held the second of a two- part series of hearings entitled, "Water: Is it the "Oil" of the 21st Century?" The hearings' purpose, background, and written testimony are available online at the committee's website. The second hearing examined various responses to water scarcity. The committee heard testimony from a local administrator, a regional water commissioner, a commodity speculator, and research scientists. Each of the witnesses gave their testimony on how to deal with the water shortage problem. The solutions varied from interbasin transfer, regional resource coordination and planning, commercial selling of water, and increased amounts of conservation and water-use efficiency.
One of the key concerns of the members present was to determine the best solution to water scarcity. William Mullican said that there is no cookie cutter solution to the problem. Every community has different needs. He continued by saying that we need all the tools in the tool box. Peter Gleick said that conservation and efficiency have produced giant decreases in the amount of water used, and it is the cheapest and easiest method currently available to address the scarcity problem. Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry F. Costello (D-IL) said that conservation was tied to pricing -- modifications in the pricing of water would be needed for increased conservation. He added that most people pay more for cable than they do for water.
The members present were also concerned about the consequences
of diverting water out of watersheds away from natural habitats and
down-stream communities. The panelists said that preliminary studies
are done before water is diverted to determine flow rates that do
not cause adverse effects on the environment or the surrounding communities.
On May 22, 2003, the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee held the first of a two- part series of hearings entitled, "Water: Is it the "Oil" of the 21st Century?" The hearing's purpose, background, and written testimony are available online at the committee's website. This first hearing was a review of water scarcity and demand within the US. The witnesses covered the effects of water shortages on municipalities, commercial water sales, agriculture, and industry. The second hearing, which will be held on June 4, will cover various responses to water supply problems.
In his opening statement, the Subcommittee ranking Democrat Rep. Jerry F. Costello (IL) expressed his concern for a safe and reliable source of water for the Nation's future. He emphasized that the US has been blessed with an abundant supply of water that has been essential for our economy and our quality of life. He said we have taken our blessing for granted because water is a finite resource.
Michael Marschner testified about the water demands placed on smaller water utilities, specifically in Frederick County, MD. The county's water supply shortage was caused by population increase, poor planning, and the drought of recent years. To avoid municipal water shortages, Marschner recommends emplacing an infrastructure that augments the existing water supply. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) asked how to address the problems of conservation and affordability. Marschner said the more one uses, the more they pay. Relating it to gasoline prices, he pointed out the public determines the amount of gas they consume by how much they can afford to pay.
Ronald Gastelum testified on the behalf of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which is a consortium of 26 cities and water districts in parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. Gastelum told the committee about the MWD's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which relies on integrated sources (aqueducts, groundwater basins, surface water reservoirs and surface diversions to capture natural runoff), local resource development, conservation, recycling, and desalinization. Gastelum also said the IPR "offers 100 percent assurance that retail-level demands can be satisfied under all foreseeable hydrologic conditions." Pearce asked Gastelum what would happen to communities that could not afford to pay for an expensive water system. Gastelum said that he had no good answer for that, and said it was a complex public policy issue.
Bob Stallman testified on behalf of the agricultural community. Stallman stated the effects of water shortages on agriculture are very widespread. He mentioned that farming in the arid west has always had the task of dealing with water shortages but with the drought of the past few years, even the Midwest and the Northeast have felt the effects of water shortages. Stallman also mentioned that agriculture uses over fifty percent of our water resources.
Paul Dean testified on how the Dow Chemical Company
approached the water shortage problem. Dean started by commenting
on how the myth of water being a plentiful resource was really
driven home when many of Dow's plants in the south came within
a few days of stopping operations because of an inability to draw
fresh water. The water shortage motivated Dow to take an active
role in solving the water shortage problem. Internally, Dow has
already increased efficiency of its water management and emplaced
systems that would increase the amount of water it recycles. Dean
concluded by saying, "it is only by working on this issue
together that we can find solutions that assure that water will
continue to enable, rather than limit, human progress." Subcommittee
Chairman John J. Duncan (R-TN) asked what the best hope is: recycling,
conservation, or desalinization. Dean responded we need conservation
and innovation to work together to use our water resources more
On May 7, 2003, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing to examine H.R. 135, the Twenty-first Century Water Commission. H.R. 135 was introduced by Rep. John Linder (R-GA) to assess future water supply and demand, and develop recommendations for a comprehensive water strategy. Throughout the hearing, witnesses and the subcommittee emphasized that the legislation is not intended to impose on state water rights, but -- according to Subcommittee Chairman John Duncan (R-TN) -- to provide federal expertise and technical assistance to the water problem.
The witnesses' testimonies
and subcommittee comments were generally supportive of H.R. 135,
as they were at the previous hearing in the House Resources Subcommittee
on Water and Power. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) said that he supported
the bill but was unsure as to what the study would accomplish
without concrete recommendations. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) recommended
amending the legislation to allow Congress to appoint at least
half of the water commission board members instead of allowing
the President to appoint the full commission. The subcommittee
responded positively to this idea. The Interstate
Council on Water Policy suggested that the commission broaden
its focus to more than water supply acquisition and development
to include conservation, including alternative strategies such
as water reuse and reclamation, desalination, and surface and
groundwater conjunctive use.
Witnesses for H.R.135
On April 1, 2003, the House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing to receive testimony on three local water project bills and H.R. 135, a bill to establish the "Twenty-First Century Water Commission," a 7-member commission to study and develop recommendations for a comprehensive water strategy. Testimony from all the witnesses and comments from the representatives were overwhelmingly favorable for H.R. 135. Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D-CA) called the legislation "long overdue," and Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) agreed, commenting that the bill recognizes that fresh water is not just an issue in the west.
Dr. Peter Gleick, Director of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, recommended the water commission remain broad, both in its objectives and its composition. He said the water commission should include representatives from all interested disciplines (scientists, economists, policy makers, etc.) and emphasized the need to focus on water management issues (such as conservation) instead of only water supply.
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) mentioned his concern over
the limited size of the commission, saying that it could place
small states at a disadvantage. Rep. John Linder (R-GA), sponsor
of H.R. 135, said the water commission was changed from 17 members
to 7 members in order to improve the commission's effectiveness.
He also stated that H.R. 135 is not a federal take-over of water
policy, but rater it is a means to help coordinate efforts.
The House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on March 27, 2003 to examine water recycling (i.e., the reclamation of wastewater from sanitary systems and surface runoff) as a way to ensure water supply, and to examine the value of federal involvement in funding water projects. This hearing is the first in a series of hearings to focus on water supply and reliability issues. Testimony was heard from analysts and industry representatives with experience in water recycling projects. The entire panel agreed that water recycling is an important way to ensure water supply and an important function of the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec).
Ownership of recycled water was a reoccurring theme in the question and answer session. Mike Gritzuk, First Vice President of WateReuse Association, commented that recycled water is owned by the entity that recycled it. Richard Atwater, CEO and General Manager of Inland Utilities Agency, agreed with Gritzuk, but cautioned that ownership questions become more complicated downstream. General Eugene Habiger, President and CEO of the San Antonio Water System, said he believed recycled water should belong to the rate payer because they ultimately fund the projects. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) asked whether federal government funding of BuRec projects inplies that recycled water belong to the federal government. Betsy Cody of the Congressional Research Service replied that this was a complicated issue. She said BuRec defers to the state on water ownership issues but often applies for water rights under state laws.
Rep. Rich Renzi (R-AZ) asked Habiger how San Antonio was able to decrease its water use by 33% while experiencing an increase in population. Habiger replied that along with their water recycling program, the city implemented a water conservation program by supporting low flow toilets and showers, educating children on water conservation, quickly fixing leaking or broken pipes, and sharing ideas with other successful water reduction programs, such as those in Israel.
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) voiced concern about how global warming might affect local water supplies, especially in areas like Seattle that depend on snow pack for water storage. Atwater replied that Inslee's concerns were warranted because less snow pack would prevent water reserves from filling. He further commented that another consequence of global warming could be less predictable rainfall, which might also result in less water reserves in some areas. Atwater said possible global warming effects illustrate the importance of water recycling.
Renzi asked the panel where they saw future advancements
and breakthroughs in water recycling. Gritzuk answered that
treatment processes need to become more cost effective. Pearce
asked what was done with the brine byproduct of water recycling.
Gritzuk said this was an area that definitely requires technological
breakthroughs to allow for recycling or reuse of the brine,
but currently the brine is disposed of through dumping it into
sewers, oceans, or large evaporation ponds.
On March 6, 2003, the Senate Subcommittee on Water
and Power held a hearing to receive testimony on S.
212 that would authorize the United States Geological Survey
(USGS) to work with the High Plains States -- Colorado, Kansas,
Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming
-- to conduct hydrogeologic characterization, mapping, modeling,
and monitoring for the High Plains Aquifer. Senator Sam Brownback
that the bill will provide necessary federal assistance to study
the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer in order to assist states
in solving associated problems. He emphasized that the bill would
not federalize water issues, which are normally handled at the state
level, but would provide important resource information to the High
Plain States. William Alley, Chief of the Office of Ground Water
for the USGS, provided surprising testimony
on behalf of the administration for the non-controversial bill.
While agreeing with the need for groundwater monitoring, Alley said
the administration was concerned about the bill's cost, and that
better local and state coordination could achieve the goals of the
bill without federal legislation. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM),
a co-sponsor of the bill, responded that because the aquifer covers
multiple states, federal means should be provided to study its depletion
and extent, and to provide assistance to state geologists in dealing
with related issues. Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY) voiced the concern
of the American Farm Bureau that (despite previous testimony to
the contrary) the bill would begin the federalization of groundwater.
Thomas also stated that the legislation is unnecessary because the
USGS already studies the Ogallala aquifer. Bingaman reemphasized
that the bill provides for improved monitoring and mapping, which
hasn't been done in over 20 years, of the aquifer. Also, it would
make funding available for states to study the Ogallala aquifer
-- the USGS cannot provide funds directly to states for studies.
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Charna Meth, 2003 Spring Semester Intern, and Summer 2003 AGI/AIPG Interns Deric Learman and Brett Beaulieu.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on August 18, 2003