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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.

Most Recent Action

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 budget.

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 communicable information.

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 right." (5/24/04)

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).

Previous Action

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 and Transportation and Infrastructure.

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

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 worthwhile projects."

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." (7/28/03)


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, S.507, 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.

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