Water Resources (10-12-06)

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Over the past two years, the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 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.

Recent Action

The House and the Senate are out of time to reconcile their differences on two bills which would re-authorize the Water Resources Act. The Senate version, S.728 costs $15 billion, while the House version, H.R. 2864 costs $12 billion. Besides the differences in costs, enactment of the Water Resources Development Act has been complicated by proposed changes to Army Corps of Engineers practices and policies. H.R. 2864 is seen by some as a first step toward increasing environmental considerations in program planning and stricter mitigation requirements. While S. 728 includes some similar provisions, it also takes steps in the opposite direction by supporting changes in program planning that are aimed at shortening length, increasing predictability and avoiding cost increases. Congressional experts also hinted that lawmakers were uneasy about passing a pork-laden bill before the mid-term elections. Both bills await further discussion during the lame-duck session in November. (10/12/06)

Previous Action

On July 14, 2005, the House voted 406-14 in favor of the $10 billion Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to authorize over 600 Army Corps of Engineers' navigation, flood control and environmental restoration projects. After the vote was announced, the White House issued a statement voicing "strong concerns that in its current form H.R. 2864 does not include much-needed policy and program reforms and has a significant overall cost." The administration specifically wanted to address three problems in need of reform, including the Corp's backlog of unfinished construction projects, outdated federal guidelines for water resource projects, and an over allocation of resources that results from the federal government contributing additional funds to new or existing projects.

Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) sponsored an amendment to require evaluation of the $1.8 billion Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers lock construction project. The amendment would terminate the project if barge traffic failed to reach a threshold projected by the Army Corps of Engineers. Controversy over this project first erupted in 2000 when whistleblower reports suggested that the Corps had manipulated budget predictions. Supporters of the project believe the new locks are necessary for global competition in shipping and farming. The amendment failed by a vote of 105-315.

Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) offered an amendment to require annual reports on the progress of the Upper Mississippi River projects. This amendment passed by a voice vote.

Overall, the House bill (H.R. 2864) is similar to a 2003 version except that this year's bill includes additional authorizations for the Upper Mississippi lock construction project and $1.6 billion for ecosystem restoration projects in the Florida everglades and along coastal Louisiana. The Bush administration has expressed support for both projects.

The Senate has yet to schedule floor debate for their $17 billion version of WRDA. (7/15/05)

On June 16, 2005 the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment unanimously passed H.R. 2864, a $10 billion Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The bipartisan bill authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct hundreds of navigation improvements, severe weather mitigation projects, and flood protection and environmental restoration throughout the country. The bill is similar to the WRDA that was introduced and then stalled in the 108th Congress. For the fourth consecutive year, controversy over how to reform Corps operations and effectively mitigate environmental damage threatens to stall the newest bill in the House and the Senate.

Although nearly identical to the WRDA passed by the House in 2003, the current legislation is different from past versions because it would authorize new funds for 30 projects, including the following additions:

  • $2 billion to restore coastal wetlands in Louisiana over the next decade
  • $5 billion in funding for the authorization of lock expansions and ecosystem restoration on the Upper Mississippi River
  • $1.2 billion for the Indian River Lagoon-South project for wetlands and estuarine restoration, a part of the larger more than 30-year Florida Everglades restoration effort

In addition to authorizing funds for these projects, the bill would also include provisions for improving the planning and project development process of the Corps and an independent peer review for large and controversial studies.

At the subcommittee mark-up, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) stated that, "this bill addresses what the Congress failed to do for the past five years. As in the past, projects included in this bill were included not on the basis of whether they were Democratic or Republican projects, but on their individual merit and benefits to public safety." But Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) revealed doubts about the bill's language on corps reform and the lock expansion planned for the Upper Mississippi River. Blumenauer might introduce an amendment on the floor of the House that would eliminate the lock expansion project from the bill.

The Senate version of this bill, S. 728, would provide $2.48 billion in funding for 7 new locks on the Mississippi River and $1.58 billion for ecosystem restoration. Major amendments to both bills are expected during floor debates later this summer. (6/21/05)

A subcommittee of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has publicly released its report on "Science and Technology to Support Fresh Water Availability in the United States". The report attempts to answer the question, "Does the United States have enough water?" According to subcommittee chair and USGS Assistant Director for Water Bob Hirsch, the short answer is "We don't know." Hirsch describes the report as an examination of "what is known about our nation's fresh water supply, what we don't know about it, and the ramifications of our current state of knowledge. It also describes high-priority science and technology efforts needed to provide adequate information for decision makers and water managers." White House Science Advisor John H. Marburger III said the report "provides a clear statement of need for coordinated science and technology efforts to understand the supply, human demand, and environmental requirements for fresh water in the United States."

At the request of OSTP, as a follow-up to the White House report, the CENR Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality is now developing a 10 year strategic plan for Federal science and technology research and development to support freshwater availability and quality. The committee will be holding town hall type meetings across the country. To stay informed of opportunities to comment, please email gpatter@usgs.gov with the subject, "add to swaq review list". (6/3/05)

On April 13, members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Water Resources Development Act of 2005 (S. 728), introduced by Kit Bond (R-MO). The bill, which was last renewed in 2000, would authorize $7 billion "for the Secretary of the Army to construct various projects for improvements to rivers and harbors of the United States."

Senators Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), and Barack Obama (D-IL), all withdrew their amendments with the intention of reintroducing them in later debate on the Senate floor. At the mark-up, the committee voted down an amendment by James Jeffords (I-VT) and Max Baucus (D-MT), who proposed a mandatory peer review process within the Army Corps of Engineers for proposed projects. Jeffords told Bond, "a WRDA bill is long overdue and I hope we can get it enacted this year; however, I am disappointed that we were unable to reach agreement on three corps reform provisions," which he said Bond had unfairly put "off-limits," according to a story in Environment and Energy Daily. Representative John Duncan (R-TN), Chairman of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, is currently drafting a House version of the bill. (4/14/05)


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 a 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.

In January 2003, Rep. John Linder (R-GA) reintroduced the Twenty-First Century Water Commission Act, H.R. 135. The bill, modeled after the 1968 National Water Commission Act, would have instituted 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. The bill received favorable attention in subsequent hearings and was passed in the House. It was sent to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works where it has stayed ever since.

In May 2003, the Department of the Interior released "Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West", which 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." More information on Water 2025 can be found on http://www.doi.gov/water2025/.

In May 2004, the National Water Quality Assessment Program presented findings of several regional water quality assessments carried out between 1991 and 2001. 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.

For additional information on water policy issues in the 109th Congress, see AGI's Clean Water Issues, Wetlands and Coastal Resources Policy, and Great Lakes and Other Watersheds pages.

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 Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, David R. Millar 2004 AGI/AAPG Fall Semester Intern, Katie Ackerly 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern, Amanda Schneck 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, Anne Smart 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern and Rachel Bleshman 2006 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.

Information for the background taken from AGI's Water Resources Page for the 108th Congress.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on October 12, 2006.