Water Resources Legislation (5-24-04)
Over the past two years, the US has experienced drier than average
atmospheric conditions. According to a statement
released by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA), 48 percent of the contiguous
US experienced moderate to extreme drought conditions in August of
2002. These dry conditions have led to low municipal, industrial,
commercial, and agricultural water supplies. The administration and
Congress both recognize the importance of an adequate water supply
to the economy and public health. They are considering steps to mitigate
the current problem and to prepare for future water demands.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) held a briefing sponsored
by several Members of Congress May 21st to illustrate the effectiveness
of the Cooperative Water Programs in groundwater management. The talks
were led by Jess Weaver, USGS Regional Executive for Water in the
Southeast Region. He outlined some of the major water issues in the
nation, emphasizing that groundwater availability is becoming a more
serious concern for eastern states. He said that cooperative programs
between the USGS and local and regional authorities have increasing
reliance on non-USGS cooperators because of stagnation in the USGS
Randy Young, Executive Director of the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation
Commission, discussed the specific ways in which increased funding
for USGS cooperative projects would aid Arkansas groundwater assessments.
Past cooperative projects included a comprehensive statewide data
gathering effort. Young also demonstrated a modeling technique that
provides a three-dimensional representation of current and projected
groundwater depletion in the two major aquifers of Arkansas. Using
this technique, Arkansas officials can designate critical areas of
depletion and make policy decisions based on standardized and easily
David Word, Assistant Director of the Environmental Protection Division
of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, discussed the benefits
of cooperative projects with the USGS in solving some of Georgia's
groundwater problems. Salinization of groundwater in coastal Georgia
has occurred because of changing groundwater flows caused by high
levels of pumping. Word said that Georgia officials need to develop
models to determine what pumping levels are safe in this increasingly
populated area. He also discussed the need to more accurately monitor
irrigation in areas of Georgia where there is high agricultural stress
on groundwater supplies. He said, "We've got to have the right
science to do this right
and USGS is trusted to get the science
In a May 14th briefing sponsored by the Water Environment Federation,
USGS, and Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), national and regional coordinators
of the National Water Quality Assessment
Program presented findings of several regional water quality assessments
carried out between 1991 and 2001, and emphasized the contribution
of the findings to state Environmental Protection Agency offices and
other local operations. NAWQA recently released the final 15 of its
51 comprehensive reports, which together indicate that "the nation's
waters generally are suitable for irrigation, drinking-water supply,
and other home and recreational uses . . . [although] in areas of
significant agricultural and urban development the quality of our
nation's water resources has been degraded by contaminants."
The assessments found that contaminants and their effects are controlled
by a complex set of both human and naturally induced factors such
as land use, chemical use, urbanization, geology, and hydrology. Both
urban and agricultural areas have widespread contamination at overall
low levels, and each area is unique. The topics of nutrient enrichment,
agricultural chemicals, well water contamination, relationship of
water quality to urbanization, and bioaccumulation of mercury are
the focus of the 11 million records compiled in the reports. Only
42 of the 51 areas studied will be revisited for continuing assessments
due to budget constraints, according to Tim Miller, Chief of the USGS
Office of Water Quality (5/17/04).
On January 7, 2003, Rep. John Linder (R-GA) reintroduced the Twenty-First
Century Water Commission Act, H.R.
135, which he had proposed in the previous Congress as well. Linder
said, "The United States only reevaluates its water policies
when a crisis hits, but failure to plan for future water shortages
is a recipe for disaster" (Press
Release). The bill, which was modeled after the 1968 National
Water Commission Act, would institute a seven-member commission to
provide recommendations for a national comprehensive water strategy
for the next 50 years. The commission's recommendations would be based
on their assessments of water management plans and future water supply
and demand with the aim of protecting the environment and the economy.
The bill was referred to the House Committees on Resources
On May 7, 2003, the House Transportation
and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
held a hearing to examine H.R.
135. Most of the witnesses and subcommittee members present were
supportive of the bill. Some members, however, were concerned that
the commission would not be very effective because it does not make
any definite recommendations. Other members suggested that the commission
should widen its focus from increasing the water supply to developing
water conservation and efficient water-use methods. Additional information
from the hearings can be found at AGI's
Water Hearings site.
Secretary of the Interior (DOI)
Gale Norton spoke at a conference that was held in Denver, CO, in
early June 2003. According to a DOI press
release, Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West:
"calls for concentrating existing federal financial and technical
resources in key western watersheds and in critical research and development,
such as water conservation and desalinization that will help to predict,
prevent, and alleviate water supply conflicts." The Denver meeting
was the first in a series of conferences to be held in the western
US aimed at developing communications between communities that will
share the burden of preventing water shortages. In his closing remarks,
the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner John
W. Keys III said, "Water 2025 is not new, but it does represent
a new philosophy, one that is focused on reshaping and enhancing the
tools that will work to prevent crises and conflict over water in
the West." Most citizens are concerned about water scarcity in
the west but some think Water 2025 is a hollow solution. The Colorado
River Advocacy group, Living
Rivers, said that the initiative is "little more than a repackaging
of management strategies Interior is already implementing." They
said that the "Department of Interior is selling the public band-aids
for gun-shot wounds." More information on Water 2025 can be found
On June 23, 2003, Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and John Duncan (R-TN) reintroduced
the Water Resources Development Act, H.R.2557.
The bill would authorize the US Army Corps of Engineers to complete
projects on "river and harbor navigation improvements, flood
and storm damage reduction, and environmental restoration" (Press
Release). The bill is similar to the $3.6 billion bill (H.R.
5428) that Young sponsored in the 107th Congress. The previous
bill passed the House Committee
on Transportation and Infrastructure but never reached the floor.
According to E&E News, H.R. 2257 is already running into
trouble over the issue of Corps reform.
On June 23, 2003, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced the Army Corps
of Engineers Reform Act of 2003, H.R.2566. The legislation's goal
is to "ensure that the Nation's water resources investments are
economically justified and enhance the environment." H.R.
2566 tries to address accusations from the past few years that
the Corps has been "manipulating studies to justify large, expensive,
and environmentally damaging projects" (E&E News).
The bill would require the Corps to have an independent review of
the feasibility of their studies. Also it would ensure mitigation
projects are successful and cost-effective. According to E&E
News, "Corps reform advocates say the changes are necessary
to improve the agency's public image and ensure money is focused on
On July 24, 2003, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2003 (H.R.
2557). H.R. 2557 is an authorization bill for the US Army Corps
of Engineers. The bill included an amendment that addresses the issue
of Corps reform. The amendment would require an independent panel
to examine large or controversial projects proposed by the Corps to
ensure that they would be economically and environmentally beneficial.
The Committee Chair and the bill's introducer, Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
said, "I congratulate everyone involved in creating this bill
on their outstanding job of working together on a bipartisan basis."
Since 1974, the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) has been a
project authorization bill for the Army Corps of Engineers. The bill
authorizes funds but does not appropriate them. The Corps authorized
projects include water navigation, flood control, shoreline protection,
hydropower, dam safety, water supply, recreation, environmental restoration
and protection, and disaster response and recovery. The two most recent
WRDA bills were passed during the 106th Congress: the WRDA of 1999,
authorized funds near $6.1 billion and the WRDA of 2000, S.2796,
authorized funds near $5 billion. During the 107th Congress, no WRDA
bills were passed due to the accusations that the Corps has been manipulating
cost-benefit studies to justify projects (E&E News).
In December of 2001, Rep. John Linder (R-GA) introduced the Twenty-First
Century Water Policy Commission Establishment Act, H.R.3561.
The bill would establish a commission that would develop a comprehensive
water policy for the next fifty years. On May 22, 2002, the House
Committee on Resources Subcommittee
on Water and Power held a hearing on H.R. 3561. The hearing's
complete written testimonies can be found on the committee's
website. During his testimony, Linder asked the committee to take
action and not wait for the national water scarcity crisis to occur.
He said, "Our water resources will be utilized to their fullest
capacity in the coming decades, and current water supplies will prove
inadequate." Some witnesses were skeptical of the bill because
the proposed panel would be composed of members from governmental
agencies. Others were worried that the commission's recommendations
would not add any new information to the current pool of knowledge
on water resources. After the hearing the bill had no further action.
Sources: THOMAS, US House of Representatives, US Senate, US Army
Corps of Engineers, E&E News, National Library for the Environment,
Congressional Research Service Report, USGS Circular 1265.
Contributed by Deric Learman, AGI/AIPG 2003 Summer Intern and Bridget
Martin, AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on May 24, 2004.