Water Resources (10-8-08)

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With long-term aridity facing much of the nation, particularly the Western states, water resource issues are becoming a growing concern for Congress. Some places, such as the Colorado River basin and parts of Montana, are entering their seventh year of drought. A February 22, 2007 Associated Press article reports that the U.S. Climatic Data Center predicts that 67 percent of the western United States will be in moderate to extreme drought by the end of spring in 2007, as well as a large portion of the southern U.S. These dry conditions have led to low municipal, industrial, commercial, and agricultural water supplies. Concerns about maintaining adequate water supplies across the nation have prompted Congress to schedule a number of hearings to consider steps to mitigate the current problem and to prepare for future water demands.

Recent Action

House Passes Great Lakes Compact, President Likely to Sign
The House passed the Great Lakes Compact, S. J. Res 45, by an overwhelming vote of 310-25, on September 23rd. The compact provides a framework for the protection and management of the Great Lakes ecosystem and addresses the major impetus for the compact - the threat of water diversion - by prohibiting the diversion of water outside the basin.  Together the Great Lakes are the largest body of freshwater in the world. Although the compact will protect these resources, some are concerned over a perceived loophole in the agreement. The compact allows the diversion of water for any container less than 5.7 gallons in size, allowing the bottled water industry to continue to take water from the lakes.

While the compact does not make any binding policies or require any commitments of funding from the involved parties, by signing the compact, each party “agrees to consider” the recommended actions of a special commission. The compact also includes provisions for “improved scientific understanding” of the water body, including the study of groundwater and the “development, transfer and application of science and research related to water conservation and water use efficiency.”

The Senate approved the legislation before the August recess and the President has indicated that he will sign the compact which was sent to the White House on September 25th. (9/08)

 

Previous Action

Senate Passes Great Lakes Compact
On August 1, 2008, only three weeks after the bill was introduced, the Senate passed the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (S.J. Res 45) by unanimous consent. The resolution provides congressional consent and approval of the compact which involves the Great Lake states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and the Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The compact provides a framework for the protection and management of the Great Lakes ecosystem and addresses the major impetus for the compact --the threat of water diversion, by prohibiting most new sources of diversion. Other specific management areas addressed include lake level stabilization, navigation, pollution measures, hydroelectric power development, fish and wildlife management, and soil and bank erosion.

While the compact does not make any binding policies or require any commitments of funding from the involved parties, by signing the compact, each party “agrees to consider” the recommended actions of a special commission. The compact also includes provisions for “improved scientific understanding” of the water body, including the study of groundwater and the “development, transfer and application of science and research related to water conservation and water use efficiency.”

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact H.R. 6577, was passed by the House Judiciary Committee on July 30, but the interstate compact awaits final consent and approval by the full House in September. The legislation it is expected to move smoothly through the body.  Additionally, President Bush has already announced his support and willingness to sign the resolution.

To read the full text of S. J. Res 45 visit: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:s.j.res.00045:

To read the full text of H.R. 6577 visit: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR06577:
(08/08)

Water Measures Flow Through House Committee
Concerns about future water shortages prompted the passage of two bills from the House Science and Technology Committee. Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said, “Dwindling water supplies across the United States continue to percolate as a major disaster on our nation’s horizon. Despite tremendous spring rains in some states, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that severe drought still grips the American Southeast, California, the Rocky Mountains, Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle.”  “In an effort to protect the country from an impending water scarcity crisis, the Committee has begun to search out ways for the federal government to spur new technological innovations in water research and development,” added Gordon.

H.R. 3957, the Water Use Efficiency and Conservation Research Act, introduced by Congressman Jim Matheson (D-UT) would create a research and development program at the Environmental Protection Agency to promote water use efficiency and conservation. The program would develop technologies and processes that enable the collection, treatment, and reuse of rainwater and grey water.  The program would also examine the behavioral, social, and economic barriers to achieving greater water use efficiency.

About 2.3 billion gallons of water is produced each day in conjunction with natural resource extraction, but currently the water is not clean enough for reuse. The second bill, the Produced Water Utilization Act of 2007 (H.R. 2339), introduced by Ralph Hall (R-TX), would establish a program within the Department of Energy to improve technologies to allow for the reuse of water produced during oil and gas extraction for agriculture, irrigation, municipal or industrial purposes. Similar legislation has not been introduced in the Senate for either bill.

The full text of H.R. 3957 is available from Thomas at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.03957:
The full text of H.R. 2339 is available from Thomas at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.02339:(07/08)

Report Calls for Attention to Groundwater Issues
The Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) released a report to the Congressional Water Caucus on July 9 concerning the importance of establishing comprehensive groundwater policy. The report entitled Groundwater Report to the Nation: A Call to Action, examines nine groundwater policy areas suggesting action items for Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and State governments.  The areas covered include: use and availability, resource characterization and monitoring, source water protection, land use planning and development, storm water management, underground storage tanks, onsite wastewater treatment systems, underground injection control, and abandoned mines.

The report notes that although groundwater makes up about 90% of available freshwater and is the drinking water source for half the population, it is often “an overlooked and undervalued resource.” In 1996, the report recounts, “most USEPA regional offices experienced moderate to major reorganizations that resulted in the fragmentation or disinvestment in groundwater protection staff resources.” Groundwater has increased susceptibility to rates of depletion, saltwater intrusion, contamination, and stresses associated with land use changes. Population growth, climate change and energy demands can further compound the groundwater problems.

Among its specific suggestions, the report asks that groundwater be clearly defined as covered in the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts.  The Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007 (H.R. 2421, S. 1870) could answer this call. The bill would replace the phrase “navigable waters” in the Clean Water Act of 1972 with the phrase “waters of the United States.” The latter phrase includes a much broader scope of federal jurisdiction and would encompass groundwater, marshes, and wetlands as well as surface waters.

Draft legislation for a National Water Research and Development Initiative, proposed by Bart Gordon (D-TN) this month could also help. The bill, discussed in a hearing on July 23, recommends an interagency committee designed to “coordinate all federal activities pertaining to water.”  It includes the implementation of a National Water Census to “create a comprehensive water database that includes information about the availability and quality of groundwater and surface water resources.” Those at the hearing unanimously attested to the need for better and more consistent monitoring and modeling. They also noted the federal government would serve best at collecting and disseminating information on successful technology and programs that could be widely applied.

Groundwater is too often used without being understood the GWPC report concluded and “unless we employ more effective ways to manage the way we use ground water, current practices of withdrawing ground water at unsustainable rates will ultimately have significant social, economic, and ecological costs.”

The GWPC report can be accessed at: http://www.gwpc.org/calltoaction/

An AGI summary of the hearing is available at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis110/water_resources_hearings.html

The full text of the National Water Research and Development Initiative can be accessed at: http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/File/Commdocs/hearings/2008/Energy/23july/Draft_Legislation.pdf (07/08)

House Committees Focus on Water

On May 16, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed legislation that would increase public awareness of raw sewage discharges into rivers and streams. According to the text of the Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act (H.R. 2452), between 1.8 and 3.5 million Americans become ill each year from swimming in waters contaminated by sewage overflows.  H.R. 2452 would require sewage treatment facilities to monitor and report potentially hazardous levels of sewage discharge to the public within 24 hours.  The White House has expressed support for the legislation despite opposition from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the use of funds from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to finance the monitoring and alert systems.  The Clean Water State Revolving Fund is typically used to provide low interest loans for water quality protection projects for wastewater treatment and non-point source pollution control.  A similar bill (S. 2080) has been introduced, but not acted upon in the Senate.

The committee also passed two measures to examine the nation’s future water needs.  The first introduced by Congressman John Linder (R-GA), H.R. 135, establishes a presidential commission of experts to study our water resources and develop recommendations to ensure an adequate future supply.  The second measure, H.R. 5770, tasks the National Academy of Sciences to study the potential effects of climate change on the nation’s water supply and quality. While the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed an identical bill (S. 2728) to H.R. 135 on May 21st, legislation similar to H.R. 5770 has not been introduced in the Senate.

Concerns about future water shortages also prompted the passage of two bills within the House Science and Technology subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. The Produced Water Utilization Act of 2007 (H.R. 2339), introduced by Ralph Hall (R-TX), establishes a program within the Department of Energy to improve technologies that would allow the use of water produced during energy exploration and development for agriculture, irrigation, municipal or industrial purposes.  The second bill, H.R. 3957, the Water Use Efficiency and Conservation Research Act, authored by Congressman Jim Matheson (D-UT) creates a research and development program at EPA to promote water use efficiency and conservation. The program would develop technologies and processes that enable the collection, treatment, and reuse of rainwater and grey water.  The program would also examine the behavioral, social, and economic barriers to achieving greater water use efficiency.  Similar legislation has not been introduced in the Senate for either bill. (05/08)

The full text of H.R. 135.
The full text of H.R. 5770.
The full text of H.R. 2339.
The full text of H.R. 3957.

President Vetoes Water Resources Legislation
President Bush vetoed the $23 billion Water Resources Development Act on Friday November 2, 2007. In a written statement following the veto, the President explained his reasons: "The bill's excessive authorization for over 900 projects and programs exacerbates the massive backlog of ongoing corps construction projects, which will require an additional $38 billion in future appropriations to complete. This authorization bill makes promises to local communities that the Congress does not have a track record of keeping."

Congress has vowed to override the veto within one week and based on previous voting differentials on the legislation, they should have the two-thirds votes that they need. (11-19-07)

Congress Passes Water Resources Legislation
On September 24, 2007, the Senate voted 81 to 12 in favor of the Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 1495) and the measure now goes to the President. The legislation would authorize more than 900 Army Corps of Engineers projects for flood control, navigation, hurricane protection and coastal restoration across the nation. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost to be about $23.2 billion over the many years needed to complete all of these projects. About $2 billion in projects were added to the bill during the conference to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions. The President has threatened to veto the bill because of its cost, however, Congress has responded to the threat by suggesting they have enough votes to override a veto. Given that the House approved the measure earlier by a vote of 381 to 40, it is likely that Congress does have the two-thirds majority needed to override any veto.

Congress has not passed a WRDA bill since 2000 and many legislators believe the current price tag of the bill is in line with the lack of authorized funding over the past 7 years. E&E Daily quoted Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) who stated "If we had passed a $5 billion bill every two years, we are not out of step with where we should be". In the same news story, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who voted for the measure, reminded everyone that this bill is only for authorization, not appropriation. Inhofe stated "The argument that no one will listen to … is that authorization is not appropriation," Inhofe indicated that he would oppose appropriation for some projects and the real battles are likely to occur in the annual appropriation process over the next few years.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) opposed the final measure as he indicated he would earlier because the language regarding an independent review of Corps projects has been weakened. Feingold believes the legislation gives too much authority to the Corps in guiding the review process and will keep the process from being independent, transparent and objective.

Some of the largest authorized projects include $3.6 billion for flood control, navigation and hurricane protection in the Gulf Coast, $2 billion for locks and dams on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers, $1.7 billion for ecosystem restoration on these rivers, $1.8 billion for Everglades's projects and $1.3 billion for the Indian River Lagoon project.

The full text of the bill is available from Thomas. (10-4-07)

White House Releases Fresh Water Report
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a study on the national challenges to ensure adequate fresh water supplies. The nation is facing greater competition for water resources and must make ever more critical decisions about allocations. The three scientific and technical challenges include: 1. Measure and account for the Nation's water; 2. Develop methods that will allow expansion of fresh water supplies while using existing supplies more efficiently; and 3. Develop and improve predictive water management tools. The study then outlines a federal strategic plan for addressing these challenges and provides a guide for how federal agencies will be a part of this plan. One major element is to develop a National Water Census.

The full report, "A Strategy for Federal Science and Technology to Support Water Availability and Quality in the United States" is posted on the Office of Science and Technology Policy web page. (10-4-07)

House Passes Water Resources Development Act
The House passed the Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 1495) by a vote of 381 to 40 on August 1st and now the measure awaits a final vote in the Senate before it can be sent to the President.

The massive legislation would fund over 900 Army Corps of Engineers flood and environmental restoration projects and would cost $21 billion. This is much larger than the original House bill ($15 billion) or the original Senate bill ($14 billion) and the President has threatened to veto the legislation because of its cost. The Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Congressman John Mica (R-FL) promised to have enough votes to override the veto. Although the Senate has not set a time table for considering this bill, in an unusual meeting of the minds, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) both pledged to get enough votes in the Senate to override a possible veto too.

The full text of the bill is available from Thomas. (8/2/07)

Clean Water Amendment Gets a Hearing
Congressmen John Dingell (D-MI) and Jim Oberstar (D-MN) have introduced a measure that would erase the term "navigable" and replace that term with "waters of the United States." in the Clean Water Act. The bill (H.R. 2421) would increase the number of waterways protected by the Clean Water Act by removing the requirement that only navigable waterways are protected. The measure is in response to two recent Supreme Court decisions that focused on what Congress intended by the phrase "navigable waters of the United States". The Supreme Court cases in question are Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the joint cases of Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The legislation also includes a clause that would retain existing Clean Water Act exemptions, including those for agriculture, mining and silviculture.

The measure was introduced in May and is currently sitting in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. A hearing on the legislation took place in July and the measure currently has 169 co-sponsors.

The full text of the bill is available from Thomas. (8/1/07)

Water Bill Approved in Senate
The total cost of the Senate's Water Resources Development Act (WRDA, S.1248) was slashed in half, from $31.5 billion to $14 billion, in an attempt to protect the bill from Senators unhappy with the initial cost estimates. The slimmed-down bill easily passed on May 16, 2007, by a vote of 91 to 4.

The Committee on Environment and Public Works was able to cut out over $15 billion from the bill in part by reducing a provision that would have expedited hurricane related projects on the Gulf Coast by allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to construct projects to protect the region from a category five storm surge. Despite the cut, Louisiana in particular still stands to benefit from the bill, thanks to the authorization of almost $3.6 billion for projects in the state. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and David Vitter (R-LA) fought to keep some level of funding for Louisiana in the bill, considering the immense damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The bill also creates a National Levee Safety Program, improves flood protection for dozens of specific communities across the country, and improves dams and infrastructure over the length of the Mississippi River.

Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said the newest version is "a bill that meets everyone's needs." The House overwhelmingly passed a $13 billion WRDA bill in April (H.R. 1495); the two bills will now go to a bicameral conference. If passed, the amended WRDA would be the first change to the water resources infrastructure bill in seven years. (6/18/07)

Seven States Sign Pact on Colorado River
Seven Western U.S. states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California and Nevada) jointly filed a plan with the Department of the Interior (DOI) that would clarify use of water from the Colorado River during times of drought.

"The adversity of drought has brought the states together and forced us to rethink how we manage this precious resource," said George Caan, executive director of Nevada's Colorado River Commission. Under the proposed plan, upstream states could use more water during a drought, or if a less-than-average snow pack accumulates on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Downstream states would make up for this loss by using alternate sources of water, such as a reservoir in Southern California's Imperial Valley which will be created by the pact.

The proposal is expected to ease tensions between the states over escalating water access issues and will affect 30,000,000 people who use the river for drinking water. (6/18/07)

Senators Wade Into Water Resources Act
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the Water Resources Development Act without additional amendments and sent the measure to the full Senate, where it awaits a floor vote. The re-authorization of WRDA, which provides funds for about 200 Army Corps of Engineers projects, has been delayed for years. The bill would pay for navigation and ecosystem restoration to the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Waterway, ecosystem and restoration projects in Florida, environmental restoration of the controversial Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet in Louisiana, remediation of abandoned mines, restoration of Chesapeake Bay, an assessment of the national levee system and other projects. (04/23/07)

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)


Background

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, Erin Gleeson, 2007 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Paul Schramm, 2007 AGI/AAPG Summer 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 8, 2008.