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Summary of Hearings on Water Resources

(9-28-08)

  • September 18, 2008: House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing on "Emerging Contaminants in US Waters"
  • July 24, 2008: House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials Hearing "Carbon Sequestration: Risks, Opportunities, and Protection of Groundwater"
  • July 23, 2008: House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment hearing on "A National Water Initiative: Coordinating and Improving Federal Research on Water."
  • July 8, 2008: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power hearing on “Aging Water Infrastructure and Maintenance Act, S. 2842” and other pending legislation.
  • June 24, 2008: House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, Hearing on Comprehensive Watershed Management and Planning.
  • April 9, 2008: Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works hearing on S. 1870, the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007
  • December 13, 2007: Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works hearing on "The Clean Water Act following the recent Supreme Court decisions in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County and Rapanos-Carabell"
  • December 11, 2007: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing "To receive testimony on S. 2156 (SECURE Water Act)"
  • July 19, 2007: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the "Status of the Nation's Waters, including Wetlands, Under the Jurisdiction of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act"

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing on “Emerging Contaminants in US Waters”
September 18, 2008

Witnesses
Panel I
The Honorable Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY)

Panel II
David Littell, State of Maine Department of Environmental Protection
Keith Linn, Environmental Specialist, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, Cleveland, Ohio on behalf of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA)
Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator of Waters, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Matthew Larson, Assistant Director for Water, United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Herb Buxton, Program Coordinator, Toxics Program, USGS
Dr. T. Guidotti, Chair, Department of Environmental and Occupation Health, George Washington University
Dr. Peter deFur, Associate Professor from Center of Environmental Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University

Committee Members Present
Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR)
Gene Taylor (D-MS)
Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
John Hall (D-NY)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
Grace Napolitano (D-CA)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Henry Brown (R-SC)
Candice Miller (R-MI)

The purpose of this hearing was to discuss so-called “emergent contaminants” in United States waters. These contaminants have likely been present in surface waters for some time and it is only recently that concentrations of these contaminants have been measured. Sources of the contaminants, also referred to as micropollutants because they often occur at very low concentration, include toxic chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and nanomaterials. Studies have shown that endrocrine disrupting chemicals have caused fish to develop cancerous, under-sized, and/or intersex reproductive organs. The potential effects of long-term exposure to low concentrations of such chemicals on humans are not well understood.

In her opening statement, Chairwoman Eddie Johnson (D-TX) reported that 80,000 chemicals are currently in use in the United States. Of these, at least 8,000 are known to be carcinogenic but less than 300 are regulated by permitted limits of the 1972 Clean Water Act or other legislation. Although the 1996 Food Quality Protection and Safe Drinking Water Acts mandated that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develop a screening program to determine whether certain chemicals and compounds disrupt hormones in humans, not one has been tested to date. Johnson is deeply concerned about emergent contaminants’ “grave potential to harm humans.”

Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) explained that many emergent contaminants survive wastewater treatment because treatment plants are not designed to deal with these pollutants. Emergent contaminants have been found in the untreated drinking waters of several U.S. cities. Although they occur at very low concentrations – “a drop of pollution in an Olympic-sized swimming pool” – chronic exposure to even such low concentrations may have adverse health effects. And concentrations may rise in the future. Boozman noted that “proper use of pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals have enriched the quality of our lives and our nation’s economy.” He noted “these are benefits that we certainly want to preserve,” and cautioned against deciding on any course of regulatory action without more information.

In her testimony, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) cited an Associated Press report which reports that the drinking water of at least 46 million Americans has been found to be contaminated with pharmaceuticals. “In addition to antibiotics and steroids, EPA has identified over 100 pharmaceuticals and personal care products in environmental samples and in drinking water.” These chemicals may be entering the water supply as medications not fully absorbed by the body and passed through human waste, as unused pills flushed down the toilet, or as runoff into groundwater supplies. McCarthy explained that she and some of her colleagues introduced the Water Study Act (H.R.6820) this year as a way to get more information on emergent contaminants and applauded the subcommittee for taking up this critical public health issue.

David Littell, from Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, described the mail-in rebate program than Maine has for unused prescription drugs as an example of the product stewardship initiatives developed by some states. It is expected that this program will prevent 3,000 pounds of pharmaceuticals from entering Maine’s water. Designing the program was a challenge, Littell reported, but they “successfully ironed out the details” and believe that Maine’s experience “can be replicated and expanded nationally.” This type of product stewardship initiative is probably more effective than relying on the traditional water quality criteria of the Clean Water Act. Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator of Waters at the EPA, later reiterated the importance of stewardship programs and getting the public to understand that “the toilet should not be treated as a trash can.”

There was agreement among the panelists of the need for a comprehensive, national evaluation of effluents. Keith Linn, an Environmental Specialist at the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District of Cleveland, Ohio who testified on behalf of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), added that “substantially greater funding for the appropriate research is needed.” Grumbles reported that they are conducting several national and regional surveys of water quality.

Another common theme was the need to improve public understanding and risk communication. Grumbles reported that the EPA has established a website for utilities, health professionals, and the general public to get more information about the emergent contaminant issue. Linn cautioned against the creation of regulation in reaction to public fear and misunderstanding that would unduly hurt utilities without a better understanding of the effects of these potential contaminants on humans.

Many of the panelists urged the committee to take action. Dr. Peter deFur, Associate Professor from Center of Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, made the argument most directly: “If we wait five years until all of our studies are done,” there will just be “another group of chemicals about which we know nothing.” “We have to do something to develop pollution control measures at the top of the pipe” because “pollution prevention is not only more effective, it’s cheaper.” Dr. T. Guidotti, Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupation Health at George Washington University, pointed out that the problem of pharmaceuticals is only going to worsen since the United State’s aging population means that more people will be taking medications. Congressman John Hall (D-NY) echoed these sentiments when he said “there will be a greater degree of risk if we take no action.”

Boozman asked the panel to identify the major challenges for removing these contaminants from the water. Linn highlighted the difficulty of removing contaminants because every chemical is different and no single technology can be used to treat all of them. Boozman also asked the panel to identify which chemicals are of the greatest concern. Herb Buxton, Program Coordinator of the Toxics Program at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) pointed to the endocrine-disrupting chemicals and the combined amount and effect of multiple estrogen-like chemicals. Guidotti added that silver nanoparticles are a big concern because, in addition to potential health effects, they can also prevent sewage treatment plants from working correctly. DeFur noted that attention also needs to be paid to the effects of mixtures of chemicals.

Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) challenged the panelists to identify some specific problems and concrete solutions. The consensus was that one step that could and should be taken immediately is to develop a program for disposal of unused pharmaceuticals.

Congresswoman Eleanor Norton (D-DC) closed the hearing with a question: “How much do we have to know to act?” This does indeed seem to be the first question that needs to be answered before the committee can move forward.

A link to witness testimony can be found here.

-MAR

House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment and Hazardous Materials Hearing "Carbon Sequestration: Risks, Opportunities, and Protection of Groundwater"
July 24, 2008

Committee Members Present
Chairman Gene Green (D-TX)
Full Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI)
Janice Schakowsky (D-IL)
Hilda Solice (D-CA)
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
G.K. Butterfield (D-NC)
John Barrow (D-GA)
Baron Hill (D-IN)
Doris Matsui (D-CA)
Ranking Member John Shadegg (R-AZ)
Full Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX)
George Radanovich (R-CA)
Lee Terry (R-NE)
Timothy Murphy (R-PA)

Witnesses
Panel I
Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Dr. Robert C. Burruss, Research Geologist, Energy Resources Team U.S. Geological Survey
Scott M. Klara, Director, Strategic Center for Coal, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
National Energy Technology Laboratory

Panel II
Lawrence E. Bengal, Director, Oil and Gas Commission
Don Broussard, Water Operations Manager, Lafayette Utilities Services
Ian Duncan, Ph.D., Associate Director, Earth & Environmental Systems, Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin
Scott Anderson, Senior Policy Advisor, Climate and Air Program, Environmental Defense Fund
Ben Yamagata, Executive Director, Coal Utilization Research Council

In his opening statement, Chairman Gene Green (D-TX) said “a lot of attention has been on [carbon] capture. Our hearing is on the geologic opportunities and risks associated with [carbon dioxide] injection underground.” Green referred to carbon capture and storage (CCS) as “one of the most important solutions to climate change,” and noted that, according to analyses conducted for the drafting of the Lieberman-Warner bill (S. 2191, also known as the Climate Security Act), the use of CCS could account for 30% of carbon dioxide emissions reductions by 2015. Green mentioned, too, that the Permian Basin in Texas is “home to most of the carbon dioxide injection in the world,” but those injections are to augment oil recovery. As for the implementation of commercial-scale CCS, “long term storage must ensure the carbon dioxide does not come back up,” Green said. He finished by saying there is a substantial amount of work and research to be done before the technology can be implemented noting that  “we know less about deep saline aquifers, which have the greatest potential.”

Ranking Member John Shadegg (R-AZ) said “almost half of our electricity is generated by coal. If we are going to continue to use coal, we need CCS.” Though Shadegg referred to the technology as necessary, he expressed hesitancy to deploy it immediately. He suspects that sequestration could induce unwanted environmental consequences, saying “we don’t want to trade one environmental problem—greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—for another environmental problem. We need to move forward with the technology, but we need to learn about its environmental impacts.”

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) talked about a carbon capture pilot project at a Wisconsin coal plant, noting that the plant operates on a catch-and-release basis at the moment. In her opening remarks, she also voiced questions about who will assume legal accountability when CCS systems are implemented. “What are the liabilities?” she asked, “Who will be held responsible if the groundwater supply is harmed?” Full Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX) was also concerned about liability issues, as well as the need “to better understand underground geologic formations.” In addition, Barton talked excitedly about carbon conversion research being done in his home state of Texas where carbon dioxide is used to make baking soda.
 
Timothy Murphy (R-PA) called the energy challenge the greatest challenge of our time, saying American demand for energy will double by 2050 along with the number of coal plants needed to supply that energy. Speaking about carbon dioxide emissions, Murphy said, “there are two options to eliminate [carbon] emissions: close the plants or use CCS.” Closing the plants is not a viable option, however, because it would “stall the economy.” Murphy was enthusiastic about CCS and, like Barton, enthusiastic about carbon conversion technologies, which he called “intriguing.”

Doris Matsui (D-CA) said CCS “has been getting a lot of attention recently.” Despite the attention it has been garnering, she is concerned that CCS be used carefully. “My first concern is public safety,” she said, adding CCS should not adversely affect human health.

Mr. Grumbles testified to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent regulatory proposal for geologic sequestration under the Safe Drinking
Water Act (SDWA). The Safe Drinking Water Act’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program regulates carbon dioxide storage, and is concerned with “protecting public health by preventing injection wells from contaminating underground sources of drinking water,” Grumbles said. Grumbles reported that carbon dioxide’s potential corrosivity when combined with water, the possibility that impurities could be present in the captured carbon dioxide, the buoyancy of the gas, and its mobility in the subsurface have been considered during the EPA guideline-making process.

Grumbles spoke about the potential of CCS, saying the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that capturing, transporting, and storing carbon dioxide through CCS, over the next century, could potentially reduce domestic carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere from 15% to 55%. Nonetheless, Grumbles, said, “geologic sequestration is not a silver bullet,” but, rather, “an ace in the hole.”

Dr. Burruss discussed the geologic principles of CCS and the hazards associated with carbon dioxide injection and effects on groundwater. For background, he said that there are three principal types of geologic formations for carbon storage: saline aquifers, depleted oil and gas reserves, and coal seams. For physical trapping of carbon dioxide into saline aquifers, Burruss explained, carbon dioxide is injected at depths greater than 3,000 feet, displacing the fluids originally occupying the pore space. More buoyant than the saline water it is injected into, the carbon dioxide will rise until it encounters an impermeable layer of rock, or a seal. The seal is typically shale or anhydride, Burruss said.

Solubility trapping occurs when carbon dioxide dissolves in the subsurface formation’s water. Carbon dioxide could also react with water to form carbonic acid, react with minerals, and form new minerals via a process known as mineral trapping. Acidified water is capable of dissolving coatings on minerals, Burruss also said, which could release trace metals into the saline water. Were the saline water to come in contact with drinking water, the drinking water could be contaminated. If the U.S. stored 500 million tons of carbon dioxide per year (the equivalent of the annual emissions from 50-60 coal plants of 1000 megawatts), he stated, the injected carbon dioxide would displace about 172 billion gallons of formation water, and “such large movements of saline formation water have the potential to disturb regional groundwater flow systems, possibly displacing saline formation water…where it could contaminate shallower drinking water supplies.”

Mr. Klara talked about the work that the DOE is doing on CCS. Research and development being conducted at DOE labs, Klara said, will usher the maturation of the technology along, making it more economically viable. Klara mentioned NATCARB (National Carbon), a regional database and GIS on the DOE website that displays the locations of carbon sources and sinks, including geologic storage locations. Klara also reported that DOE identified over 3,500 billion tons of potential storage capacity for carbon dioxide in saline formations, depleted oil and gas formations, and unminable coal seams, a capacity to store about 600 years of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions at present generation rates. However, the economically viable storage capacity is much smaller.

During the first question and answer session, Representative Baron Hill (D-IN) asked Dr. Burruss whether stored carbon dioxide would be secure during an earthquake. Burruss replied that a faulting event could release carbon dioxide. However, he continued, earthquakes do not often induce the release of oil and gas from their geologic formations. “How many oilfields leak during earthquakes? Not many,” he said.

The first witness on the second panel, Mr. Bengal, talked about the present role of the states in fossil fuel production and the potential role they may play in CCS schemes. “The states are the primary regulators of oil and gas production and all involved processes,” Bengal said. “Regulating carbon dioxide is akin to regulating oil and gas.” Bengal recommended a carbon dioxide storage regulatory system in which the states and the federal government share authority.

Speaking on behalf of the American Water Works Association (AWWA), Mr. Broussard reported that the organization’s primary concern with CCS and potential groundwater contamination is the contamination of sole source aquifers, an aquifer in an area where there are no substitutes for the groundwater. Mr. Broussard urged Congress to discourage the deployment of commercial-scale CCS systems until DOE pilot projects have been studied.

Dr. Duncan avowed that CCS can be done safely, without endangering drinking water resources. Companies have experience injecting carbon dioxide into the Permian Basin, and there are numerous examples where the fluid has been stored for millions of years. CCS is certainly not a new or dangerous idea, Duncan said. He reported that the company Kinder Morgan injects, into the Permian Basin, 13.5 MMt CO2/yr and withdraws/recycles about 7 MMt CO2/yr, for a net storage of ~6.5 MMt CO2/yr. Still, Duncan maintained there is much left to learn from carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

Mr. Anderson and Mr. Yamagata agreed with Dr. Duncan in saying CCS poses no threat to groundwater if deployed properly and should be deployed as soon as possible. Anderson expressed worry that CCS technology will not be used in the absence of a carbon price signal (carbon tax or cap and trade system). Yamagata voiced concern that, with a price signal and without commercial-scale availability of CCS, power-generation facilities would make a “dash to gas,” to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, instigating a large increase in the price of electricity.

During the second round of questioning, Chairman Green asked Dr. Duncan about the safety of carbon dioxide pipelines. Duncan answered that the carbon dioxide pipelines used in EOR have a better safety record than natural gas pipelines.

Witness testimony can be found here.

-LMB

 

House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment hearing on "A National Water Initiative: Coordinating and Improving Federal Research on Water."
July 23, 2008

Witnesses:
Dr. Mark A. Shannon, Director, United States Strategic Water Initiative (USSWI)
Mr. Tod Christenson, Director, Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER)
Dr. Timothy T. Loftus, Water Resource Planner, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP)
Mr. Jerry Johnson, General Manager, DC Water and Sewer Authority
Mr. Bradley H. Spooner, Principal Engineer, Environmental Services at Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia
Dr. Upton Hatch, President-elect of the National Institutes for Water Resources; Associate Director, Water Resources Research Institute of the University of North Carolina; and Research Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, North Carolina State University

Members Present:
Nicolas V. Lampson (D-TX)
Bob Inglis (R-SC)
Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
Judy Biggert (R-IL)
Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
Gerald McNerny (D-CA)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)

Full Committee Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) proposed draft legislation to strengthen the Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality (SWAQ), operating under the National Science and Technology Council. The hearing focused on the legislation. According to a statement issued by Gordon, the draft bill “codifies” the SWAQ, “provides it explicit Congressional authorization” and “strengthens the budget function of SWAQ through participation of OMB (Office of Management and Budget) on the subcommittee.”

The goals of a strengthened SWAQ would be to allow the nation to carry out the recommendations of the Science and Technology to Support Fresh Water Availability in the United States 2007 report of the SWAQ. The recommendations include implementation of a National Water Census, improvements in water monitoring, improved technologies for reliable supply, innovations in water-use tools, collaborative tools, ecosystem services, hydrologic prediction models and public awareness.  For Gordon, the goals necessitate better coordination and his draft measure would make the SWAQ the coordinating committee for carrying out these recommendations. He stated that to manage the nation’s water resources effectively “coordination of the programs managed across 20 federal agencies is a logical place to start.”

Nicholas Lampson (D-TX), Chair of the Subcommittee, opened the hearing complimenting the initiative. He mentioned that while U.S. population has increased about 25% since the 1970s, the National Research Council (NRC) reported federal funding for water research has remained “stagnant”. Additional report findings, he continued, claimed insufficient coordination has been sacrificing the quality of water research and policy. Lampson advocated for more coordination among agencies responsible for water resources as well as a plan for information collection and sharing among the private and public sectors from the federal to the local levels. “Without the right data” Lampson warned, “it is impossible to know if we’re going in the right direction.”

Ranking member Bob Inglis (R-SC) concurred that “coordinating research is a necessary part of water policy.” He asked however that attention be paid to ensuring the draft legislation does not undermine existing bills under consideration.

Dr. Shannon called the draft bill, “the right thing at the right time” and “visionary in its approach.” But he thought it could be improved. Dismayed by the lack of authorized appropriations, Shannon proposed a clause to authorize “a federal funding level of $100 million per annum beginning in FY2010.” He additionally hoped for the establishment of a “National Water Research and Development Advisory Committee” to provide input from outside the federal agencies on the development and implementation of the plan. Shannon reminded the panel that, if no measures are taken, growth in water demand has been predicted to increase 62% by 2040, but planning could cut that number significantly. To help prepare for increased demand, Shannon discussed measures for source water protection, preventing cross contamination and understanding aquifer withdrawal rates. Moreover, “to help U.S. companies compete in the rapidly expanding worldwide markets for water technology,” he recommended “taking the basic science the U.S. is really good at, developing it and getting it diffused into practice.”

Christenson applauded the proposal’s interest in “inventorying and coordinating R&D”, “building awareness”, “streamlining” and “increasing efficiency” for water resources. He suggested three main goals for a “powerful interagency committee”: a comprehensive water resource and inventory plan with future scenario planning, the assessment of supply and treatment of infrastructure needs, and a public awareness and education campaign on water stewardship. Knowledge of available technologies, he also felt, could be best collected and disseminated by the federal government.

Loftus appreciated the quantitative elements of the bill, advising “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. He noted that current maps expose gaps in data resulting from inadequate data collection. He advocated for a “new National Water Census” and federal involvement to “address the need for comprehensive reporting” and “get people to take a long term view.” Though, Loftus reminded the committee, he works in Chicago where “water resources are generous” so the main concern is “not so much scarcity as water waste” he recognizes a great need to employ “sensible growth” and “discourage development in locations that will strain supplies.” Water planning, he suggested, should include improved conservation and efficiency measures with clear planning goals and incentives from the federal government for the states and private sector.

Johnson assured the committee that “establishing a framework which promotes consensus and identifies priorities is essential.” He asked that particular attention be given to understanding when water is safe to drink. He additionally addressed the need to evaluate the effects of climate change on water resources, to identify funding sources, and to address the recovery of wastewater. Especially important to Johnson were non-point source pollutants, which he mentioned are still unregulated. “The clean-up of water bodies will not be realized until non-point sources are addressed.”

Spooner suggested that the committee look to existing policies to model the draft bill after. To ensure high quality data measurements, he suggested the SWAQ follow the Federal Data Quality Act of 2001 which creates an objective standard of quality data for use in government agencies. Spooner also counseled that water policy is often intertwined with energy policy citing that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) methods could require a doubling of an energy plant’s consumptive water use.

Dr. Hatch claimed the condition of water resources in the U.S. has been “deteriorating” and “supply is not sufficient”. He highlighted three issues of concern for water resources: population growth, aging infrastructure and lack of coordination at the federal level. Focusing most on coordination, Hatch noted that, “policy makers, managers and stakeholders are becoming ever more removed from current scientific and technological advances.”

Hatch, an economist, referred to water supply as a “public good” issue, requiring “unbiased, long term interdisciplinary work”. But at present, he told the committee, “the water resource agenda among federal agencies is fragmented” and lacks a “broad and holistic scope.” The same fragmentation and “over-specialization” exists in universities as well. Yet he offered assurances that higher education’s “range of disciplinary expertise” would be helpful in assisting with broad, long term planning, workforce training, and information collection and dissemination.

In the question and answer period, the panel spent time discussing the science of water supply. The dearth of groundwater information and understanding was highlighted as a major concern to be addressed. Shannon described his approach to aspects of groundwater science at present as, “we just kind of guess.” Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) showed concern for the pumping of irreplaceable glacial waters in areas of the upper Midwest. Additional worries were voiced over land subsidence, retention ponds, aquifer recharge and recharge technologies, underscoring the need for more research.

Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL) asked the witnesses if they envisioned a bill to “control” water use or merely to “monitor and predict” it. The witnesses were unanimously in agreement on the latter. Spooner stated “research and information needs to precede control.” The needs for increased communication and coordination to resolve water resource concerns were expressed by all. When Lampson asked witnesses to identify the most significant deficiency currently present in the federal government’s role Loftus replied, “we have the Clean Water Act for quality but nothing for water supply.” Loftus continued, “naturally its hard to conserve something that’s nearly free or priced inexpensively.” Inglis asked how the government might go about coordinating agencies without simply adding an additional layer of bureaucracy. Christenson suggested creating a functional group with a “clear vision of how you define success” including milestones and expected outcomes. Ideally, success will avoid the expected outcome of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who warned, “the wars of the future will be fought over water, not oil.”

Additional Information on Water Resource Needs
1)    Bart Gordon’s Draft Legislation To implement a National Water Research and Development Initiative, and for other purposes
2)   Envisioning the Agenda for Water Resources Research in the Twenty-First Century” 2001, the National Academies, National Research Council (NRC) Water Science and Technology Board.
3)  Confronting the Nation's Water Problems: The Role of Research, 2004, the National Academies, National Research Council (NRC) Water Science and Technology Board.
4)  Science and Technology to Support Fresh Water Availability in the United States, 2007, National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality (SWAQ)

Link to witness testimony found here.

-JL

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power hearing on “Aging Water Infrastructure and Maintenance Act, S. 2842” and other pending legislation
July 8, 2008

Witnesses:
The Honorable Robert Johnson, Commissioner, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Mr. Dan Keppen, Executive Director, Family Farm Alliance

Subcommittee Members Present:
Tim Johnson, Chairman (D-SD)
Ken Salazar (D-CO)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
John Barrasso (R-WY)

The purpose of the hearing was to receive testimony on several pieces of pending legislation, but of particular interest to the geoscience community was S. 2842, the “Aging Water Infrastructure and Maintenance Act”.  The legislation, introduced by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and sponsored by senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Ken Salazar (D-CO), would require the Secretary of the Interior to carry out annual inspections of canals, levees, tunnels, dikes, pumping plants, dams, and reservoirs that are under the Bureau of Reclamation’s jurisdiction. The inspections “will assess each facility's condition and estimate the property value and population size that would be at risk if a facility fails, is breached, or otherwise allows flooding to occur.”  The legislation would require that within one year of passage at least 75% of all facilities must be inspected and within two years all facilities must be inspected.

Both Tester and Salazar proclaimed their support for S. 2842 and hoped for its passage.  In his opening statement, Tester stated that the country’s water infrastructure is in dire need of investment in order to better protect people and food supplies.  “Our forefathers did a good job at developing [water] infrastructure” he began, “but now it is long past time, in my opinion, that we take a real proactive stand on infrastructure.” 

Commissioner Robert Johnson shared the senators’ desire for making sure the Bureau of Reclamation project facilities are safe and reliable, but he opposes the proposed legislation.  The two biggest concerns he voiced were Reclamation’s differing priorities for the evaluations and the scope of implementation.  Johnson thinks it will be impossible to inspect all facilities in the mandated two-year time frame. Beyond the time constraints, he had other concerns with the standards and guidelines development, financing, and inspection needs listed in the bill. 

A section of the bill requires standards and guidelines for the condition and maintenance of the facilities.  “The Department believes this provision would impose new costs and duplicate processes and practices that already exist or are currently underway at Reclamation,” Johnson began.  He feels these regulations are superfluous because some facilities do not need repairs or upgrades.  For example, current dam safety projects are already adequate. Johnson further noted that “[the section] also presents a challenge to implement because the breadth of Reclamation’s facilities, their geographic locations, and specific environments, do not lend themselves to ‘one-size-fits-all’ standards and guidelines as described in the legislation.”   

According to Johnson the financing of the annual inspection is a problem, stating that the 65% federal cost-sharing level in the bill is too high.  Dan Keppen of Family Farm Alliance also had concerns regarding the financing section of the legislation, questioning the clarity of the reimbursement language in the bill.  One of his recommendations was to follow the loan guarantee implementation authorized by the “Rural Water Supply Act of 2006.”  “I don’t see why we need further legislation on loans because it was already covered.”

Despite all the difficulties, Johnson acknowledged the need to look at infrastructure, but said there should to be priorities.  “While public safety is Reclamation’s highest priority, even the most thorough inspections, on tens of thousands miles of canals and laterals, will never be able to detect every possible defect.”  Keppen reiterated Johnson’s sentiment, agreeing that water infrastructure is “approaching the end of its design life,” but he still felt the bill was too broad.  Both witnesses advocated narrowing the bill’s focus to just urban canals.

The canal breach in Fernley, Nevada in January 2008 only emphasized “the need for Reclamation to address the challenges that growth of urbanized areas in proximity to long-existing canals poses within our project lands.”  As Keppen pointed out, canals are mostly in rural areas, but now those rural areas are being urbanized.  This is posing new safety problems that were not prevalent in the past.  Tester wanted to know if Montana, a mostly rural state, would be forgotten if the Bureau focused only on urban areas.  Johnson insisted that the state would not be left out since “the new criteria are developed in conjunction with all our operating partners.” Nonetheless, the new criteria are not aimed at improving rural infrastructure.

After hearing the opposition to the bill the senators tried to determine what the priorities for addressing Reclamation infrastructure needs should be and in particular, what should be done in the short-term.  Tester voiced his concern that assessment, which he believes needs to be done continually to keep infrastructure up to date, is not being done now.  Johnson claimed the Bureau is “taking a fresh look at our canals and procedures for doing inspections and what sort of criteria we should be using for those inspections.”  Tester expressed some disbelief to Johnson’s response, noting that he had been told that Reclamation was not conducting any assessments. 

In response to Chairman Tim Johnson’s (D-SD) question about the risk factors that should be analyzed to properly prioritize inspections and repairs, Commissioner Johnson said Reclamation is looking at loss of life, loss of property, and loss of water service.  Keppen suggested a joint effort between Reclamation and the local communities to determine the priorities and maintenance actions.  The overall opinion of the senators was that the legislation would address aging water infrastructure needs by improving assessment and standards, while the witnesses believed the bill was too broad or redundant to achieve workable goals.  Only “with changes to clarify financing and inspections of facilities [will] we support this bill,” concluded Keppen. 

-CCD

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, Hearing on Comprehensive Watershed Management and Planning.
June 24th, 2008

Witnesses:
Brian Richter, Co-Director, Global Fresh Water Team, The Nature Conservancy;
Carol Collier, P.P., AICP, Executive Director, Delaware River Basin Commission;
Paul Freedman, Vice President, Water Environment Federation.
William Mullican III, Deputy Executive Administrator, Water and Science Conservation, Texas Water Development Board;
Gerald Galloway, P.E. PhD, Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering, University of Maryland;
Larry Larson, P.E. CFM Executive Director, Association of State Floodplain Managers;
Steve Stockton, P.E. Director of Civil Works, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Committee Members Attending:           
Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR)
Tim Bishop (D-NY)
Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
John Hall (D-NY)
Grace Napolitanio (D-CA)
John J. Duncan (R-TN)
Todd R. Platts (R-PA)
Thelma D. Drake (R-VA)

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) opened the hearing by discussing the role of legislation in dealing with watershed and water supply. The purpose of the hearing was to determine how to engage more public involvement and more effective involvement of existing federal agencies, which often maintain a narrow focus, in the broad picture of watershed management. Water, it was noted, does not obey state boundaries, and as populations in urban areas increase, water supply, quality and distribution are issues of concern. As an example Johnson referenced the 2 shared river basins among Georgia, Alabama and Florida, which have led to some contentious water rights concerns during recent droughts.

In his opening comments ranking member John Boozman (R-AR) implored the audience to “face the fact that there is a limited amount of water in a watershed.” For if we don’t, he predicted, “we’ll see more conflicts.”

The committee and witnesses shared sympathy for many of the same sentiments. ‘Stove-piping’ became the word of the day as both committee members and witnesses discussed the lack of communication and coordination among projects within the same watershed. A common claim was that federal government agencies are too project-focused and do not have the authority or appropriations to think holistically. Many noted the costs of this policy in preventing problems from being solved entirely, effectively or even economically. Witnesses suggested that agencies need to think outside of their verbatim directives and work with each other as well as other stakeholders to solve the complex problems facing the management of a particular watershed.

Witnesses also believe the physical, biological, chemical and socio-economic factors of watershed management must be comprehensively considered. However, one witness, Mr. Mullican, called the task of doing so “overwhelming”. In suggestions to the committee, witnesses emphasized the government’s strength in coordination of the various stakeholders. Also noted was government access to the data necessary for well-informed, comprehensive decision-making. Conclusively, they felt the federal government ought to encourage a more watershed based, collaborative approach within their agencies.

Mr. Richter detailed watershed projects coordinating the Nature Conservancy and United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which are designing technology to “evaluate the impact and viability of potential floodplain/flood storage projects at multiple geographic scales” for use in collaborative decision-making. He believes “undertaking a national effort to analyze the operation of our infrastructure in a watershed context could help restore thousands of impaired river miles across the country while increasing the reservoirs operational flexibility and resiliency to future demands and climate changes.”

Ms. Collier who coordinates the efforts of the four states (NY, NJ, PA, & DE) within the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) noted that the states within the DRBC no longer litigate water concerns as they did in the 1950’s but now are working cooperatively to coordinate water supply and flood issues “before they reach a crisis.” However, she noted in the coordination of the water issues of the DRBC with the federal government there are numerous inefficiencies, because various federal agencies have authorities for different aspects of watershed management. She recommends that federal agencies be “encouraged to work collaboratively” to provide “support to management initiatives initiated by state or interstate organizations.” And she believes this work ought to be done soon, citing water supply tensions between Georgia, Alabama and Florida as an example, stating, “no one can plan in the heat of a crisis.”

Mr. Freedman focused his testimony on the principal regulatory tool used in watershed management, the Clean Water Act (CWA). He explained, “using the CWA to deal with today’s water issues is like trying to use a 1972 repair manual to repair a 2008 automobile – it’s just not relevant.” Freedman highlighted the limited focus of the law and in his opinion, its failure to address important issues such as “flow management, ubiquitous non-point sources, atmospheric and legacy pollution, invasive species, habitat loss and land use changes.” Referencing agricultural runoff that contributes to the polluted environment of the Gulf of Mexico, Freedman stated, when managing our waters, we have to “focus on the land.”  

Mr. Mullican highlighted the data gap as a significant element in proper watershed management. He testified, “The dearth of data can be a potential obstacle for truly comprehensive watershed planning….Even where data exists, there has yet to be adequate modeling tools developed.” He discussed efforts in the state of Texas to develop surface and groundwater availability models and make them accessible to the public. Mullican also highlighted the work of the Consortium of Universities for Advancement of Hydrologic Science Inc., Hydrologic Information System (CUAHSI HIS) to make data available in Web based portals. Mullican expressed support for increased funding of programs such the USGS National Streamflow Information Program and the Cooperative Water Program, but while he advocated for more federal support for water resource planning programs and a discussion of the federal government’s appropriate role, in watershed management, he was careful to emphasize the “states’ unflinching stance on state primacy over water resources.”

Mr. Galloway provided a historical perspective, tracing the first federal efforts in watershed planning and integrated water resources management (IWRM) back to 1933 with efforts in the Tennessee Valley. However, he noted, things have changed and today “since projects are approved on an individual basis by Congress without the consideration of basin/watershed needs, it is almost impossible to develop broad scale watershed approaches simply because they are not given the funds nor the authorities for such activities.”

Mr. Larson, as executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, mainly focused on his expertise of flooding within states. He believes current federal actions are incentivizing poor planning for floods and land use and expressed his support for an expansion of the role of the federal government to encourage personal and public responsibility in the areas of flood insurance, scenario based planning, and comprehensive land use planning. He envisions future federal policy might include a national riparian and coastal areas policy act and a national floodplain management policy act. However, Mr. Larson also took care to remind the committee: “the focus for managing watersheds must be in the states, where the authority for land use and development and public safety are reserved by our constitution.”

Mr. Stockton, of the Army Corps of Engineers, related the changing roles of his agency over time. The Corps in earlier years, he explained, had a more watershed based, multipurpose focus, but recently has “become more focused on specific locally-based projects.” He attributes the cost sharing requirements of the Water Development Resources Act of 1986 (WDRA) to encouraging the trend. He continued, “Our sponsors have limited budgets and are often interested in minimizing their costs to achieve a solution to a specific water resources problem. Watershed studies are more difficult to manage because they involve multiple sponsors, and require compatible interests and aligned budgets.” Stockton discussed the passage of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2006 (PL 109-103), which allowed the Corps to return to integrated water management planning by fully funding watershed scale management efforts in five pilot areas, and he noted the “collaboration is working!” Stockton also expressed he is encouraged by the passage of the 2007 WDRA stating, “the Corps role in the water resources community is evolving.”

In the question and answer period the Mr. Stockton, was asked exactly how the Corps was evolving. In his reply, he referenced a regulation issued three years ago for “Planning in a Collaborative Environment” and the work being done to revise the principles and guidelines  for Corps operation. But, he noted, the solicitation of sponsors for the 25% in matching funds required for projects was the “hard part.” And he honed in on a major concern, claiming, “The Corps is still a project funded organization which doesn’t have the funding to collaborate.”

The issue of funding for collaboration was echoed throughout most of the Q & A with suggestions to incentivize appropriate planning by prioritizing budgetary spending. Mr. Mullican explained that Texas has instituted a clause allowing only those stakeholders involved with the public planning process to be considered for water permit financing. The legislation led to a large increase in involvement within a few years and the ability to request more specific conditions, such as water conservation plans from applicants.

On a federal level, witnesses responded to questions about best methods by saying flexibility remained a huge priority. There was no one-size-fits all answer to federal involvement, sometimes management might be “top down” and other times “bottom up”. But authority, appropriations and implementation phases would all play a part.

Ms. Collier re-affirmed the benefits of interagency collaboration in reference to her experience with USGS, USACE and the Weather Service. Relating how initially she could not find adequate planning for her needs, she explained that only by combining the agencies’ strengths and having them work together, could she find the “best model.” A proponent of interagency and interstate coordination, Ms. Collier reminded the committee “you cannot adequately prepare for flood control if you are only in charge of one side of the river.”

Link to Hearing can be found here.

-JL

Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works hearing on S.1870, the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007
April 9, 2008

Witnesses

Panel I
The Honorable Carol M. Browner, Principal, The Albright Group, LLC, Former EPA Administrator

Panel II
The Honorable Alexander B. Grannis, Commissioner, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Joan Card, Water Quality Division Director, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
The Honorable David P. Brand P.E., P.S., Sanitary Engineer, Madison County, State of Ohio
Randall P. Smith, Smith 6-S Livestock

Members Present
Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT)
Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE)
Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK)
Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Senator David Vitter (R-LA)
Senator Larry Craig (R-ID)
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY)

On April 9, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to examine S. 1870, the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007. The legislation, introduced by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and co-sponsored by 20 senators, would replace the phrase “navigable waters” throughout the Clean Water Act (CWA) with the term “waters of the United States.” 

As indicated by the opening statements of EPW members, S.1870 will likely be a partisan issue.  Republicans voiced concerns that the replacement phrase would greatly expand the jurisdiction of the CWA and infringe on states’ rights, specifically that water quality issues would override local water allocation authority.  Ranking member James Inhofe (R-OK) stated “the federal government owes it to the American public and individual property owners, including the millions of homeowners across the country, to have a clean, concise and constitutional definition of “waters of the United States.”  The Clean Water Restoration Act does not meet any of these goals and will simply result in more lawsuits and more confusion.”

Democrats characterized the legislation as restoring the original intent of the CWA and according to Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) removes “the shadow [cast by two Supreme Court decisions] over nearly 30 years-worth of expert agency interpretations in protecting America's waters.”  Democrats claim varying court opinions create more confusion in the regulated community and the uncertainty over covered waters will increase litigation and negate the historical interpretation of waters covered by the CWA.

The Supreme Court decisions in question are Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States (SWANCC) and Rapanos and Carabell v. United States(Rapanos). The CWA act provides EPA with the authority to regulate the discharge of pollutants and maintain water quality standards for surface waters. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ involvement in these regulatory activities center around the granting of permits for the dredging of or filling in of waters.  In SWANCC the court ruled that the Corps exceeded its statutory authority under the CWA. The Corps claimed jurisdiction based on the use of the waters by migratory birds and denied a permit to fill in the ponds. The court retorted that the CWA does not extend to isolated ponds connected to navigable waters by migratory birds.  The Rapanos decision held that CWA jurisdiction over covered waters did not extend to wetlands, man-made ditches, or intermittent wet areas that were not adjacent to navigable waters.

Carol M. Browner, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, testified that she as well as her predecessors (both Republican and Democrat) interpreted the CWA to “cover all of our nation’s interconnected water resources, including watersheds, tributaries, and wetlands.”  She joined four former EPA administrators in a petition to the Supreme Court calling for the broad interpretation of “navigable waters” citing CWA enforcement concerns over tributaries and wetlands. Browner was questioned about the potential expansion of CWA jurisdiction if the legislation were adopted. She testified that in her opinion as a former EPA administrator the legislation does not expand CWA jurisdiction, but clarifies the interpretation utilized by the EPA for over thirty years.

The next two witnesses, Alexander B. Grannis and Joan Card, regulators from New York and Arizona respectively, also expressed their support for S.1870.  Card highlighted Arizona’s concern that the Rapanos decision and EPA’s guidance in response to the case would limit protection of the ephemeral streams that dominate Arizona’s landscape.

The final two witnesses, David P. Brand and Randall P. Smith, reiterated the concerns of the Republicans stating their fear that the legislation would expand the scope of waters regulated under the CWA, increase bureaucratic obstacles and increase costs.  Smith additionally emphasized that expanded CWA jurisdiction would impede private property rights and harm those who make a living off the land.

The House will examine identical legislation introduced by Congressman James L. Oberstar (D-MN), H.R. 2421 in a hearing on April 16th.  Regardless of the outcome of the legislation the scope of waters covered by the CWA and subject to regulation will most likely continue to be contested through litigation. 

A link to witness testimony can be found here.

Sources: Hearing testimony, E&E Daily, The Environmental Law Institute: Clean Water Act Jurisdictional Handbook.

-MEG

Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works hearing on "The Clean Water Act following the recent Supreme Court decisions in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County and Rapanos-Carabell"
December 13, 2007

Witnesses

The Honorable Ron Curry, Cabinet Secretary, New Mexico Environment Department
Dr. Scott Yaich, Director of Conservation Operations, Ducks Unlimited, Inc
Duane Desiderio, Legal Affairs, Staff Vice President, National Association of Home Builders
George J. Mannina Jr., Attorney At Law, O'Connor and Hannan, LLP
Dr. William W. Buzbee, Professor of Law, Director, Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program, Emory Law School, Director, Center on Federalism & Intersystemic Governance

Committee Members Present

Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Ranking Member James M. Inhofe (R-OK)
John Barrasso (R-WY)

The Clean Water Act (CWA) has been protecting U.S. waters from pollution for over 30 years. The act requires all entities that discharge pollutants into U.S. water bodies to obtain a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Recent Supreme Court rulings (Rapanos v. United States, June 2006 and Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, January 2001) have upheld the protection of "navigable" U.S. waters, as is written in the text of the legislation, but do not mandate the protections of the CWA on water bodies not considered navigable or directly connected to navigable waters.

Two pieces of legislation have been introduced to broaden the definition of waters that fall under the jurisdiction of CWA. One is the "Oberstar-Feingold Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007" (H.R. 2421), which would replace each mention of "navigable waters of the United States" with "waters of the United States." The Senate companion bill is the "Water Resources Restoration Act" (S. 1870). This hearing provides testimony from legal, environmental, and business organizations regarding the recent CWA Supreme Court Decisions.

The Honorable Ron Curry, Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, testified that CWA is the "main tool" used to keep water clean in the U.S., and its effectiveness has been lessened by the recent Supreme Court decisions. Mr. Curry believes that all water bodies are valuable and should be protected. He said "basing the decision on what water deserves to be clean by whether or not you can float a boat on it is complete lunacy."

Curry stated that the southwest U.S. has a dry season and a monsoon season, so many of the main water resources for the area are ephemeral and thus not covered by CWA as defined by the Supreme Court. The costs of not protecting such important water bodies would be high. He implored Congress to restore the purpose of CWA by broadening jurisdiction over a greater range of water bodies through legislation such as H.R. 2421 and its companion bill.

Dr. Scott Yaich, the Director of Conservation Operations for Ducks Unlimited, Inc., testified about the importance of wetland protection. Over one half of wetlands in the U.S. have already been lost, and those remaining need to be protected. All wetlands are connected at some point to usable water resources, and the recent Supreme Court decisions put the wetlands and the water resources at higher risk for pollution. Dr. Yaich asked the committee to fulfill the primary purpose of CWA and protect all U.S. wetlands.

Duane Desiderio, from Legal Affairs of the National Association of Home Builders, asked the committee to consider the recent housing industry problems and to help alleviate these issues. He believes that changing CWA to include more water bodies in its jurisdiction will hurt homebuilders because it will require more permits. Unlike the previous witnesses, Mr. Desiderio stated that expanding the jurisdiction of CWA would not be consistent with the act's original purpose. He said that originally Congress had "no intent" to apply the legislation to ephemeral waters or similar water bodies, and that including them would create serious constitutional questions and possibly overstep federal authority. He also noted the Supreme Court Justices ruling that a water body needs to provably connect to navigable waters for CWA to have jurisdiction.

George J. Mannina Jr., an attorney at law, testified on the complexity of jurisdiction in CWA. He said there "always has been and will be confusion about what is the jurisdiction of water in the U.S.," and the confusion has been compounded as the legislation has been changed through time. Different standards are used in different regions, and often no written standard is available. Mr. Mannina noted that previous congresses have used navigability as the basis for authority, and broadening the legislation to cover all waters would create a much larger jurisdiction. He asked the committee to define their purpose in CWA. If they want to protect all waters, then they should broaden the jurisdiction. If they want to limit CWA to covering navigable waters, the current Supreme Court rulings uphold that purpose. He noted that using the term "navigable" waters to define authority may not make upholding the CWA easier.

Dr. William W. Buzbee, professor of law at Emory Law School, testified that the Supreme Court rulings were a "partial success" because some protections have been lost. He said that a key prerequisite of many water laws, including CWA, is understanding what waters are under the law's jurisdiction. Dr. Buzbee stated that even small water bodies are very important to the ecosystem and that it makes sense to protect all waters because costs are "not exorbitant" to do so. He further stated that the current status of CWA as redefined by the Supreme Court rulings "is really not acceptable" and undercuts the effectiveness of the legislation. Dr. Buzbee supports H.R. 2421 and its expanded jurisdiction of CWA.

Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) stated that the division among the committee has been reflected in the testimony of the panel. All committee members can submit questions to the panel, but could not do so during the hearing due to time restrictions. She also presented a chart with EPA data showing that 111 million Americans get their drinking water from ephemeral sources. Boxer noted there are ways to fix CWA, but they are a long way off. She referred to this hearing as an "opening round" for further discussion.

Opponents of the Supreme Count rulings believe CWA will no longer protect important waterways. Proponents argue that the ruling protects businesses from undue costs and does not affect important U.S. waters. While this hearing was not directly about H.R. 2421, those that agree with the Supreme Court rulings limiting CWA jurisdiction are likely to oppose the bill, while those that disagree with the rulings generally support the bill. The committee Chair stated that additional hearings will be heard regarding the Supreme Court decisions.

A link to witness testimony can be found here.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing
"To receive testimony on S. 2156 (SECURE Water Act)"
December 11, 2007

Witnesses

Panel I
Hon. Robert Johnson, Commissioner of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Dr. Robert Hirsch, United States Geological Survey

Panel II
Mr. John D'Antonio, New Mexico State Engineer, Representing Western States Water Council
Mr. Patrick O'Toole, President, Family Farm Alliance
Mr. Jon Lambeck, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
Mr. Brian Richter, The Nature Conservancy
Dr. David R. Wunsch, Representing National Groundwater Association

Members Present

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Ken Salazar (D-CO)
Ranking Member Pete V. Domenici (R-NM)
Larry E. Craig (R-ID)
John Barrasso (R-WY)

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said that today the "stakes are higher than ever before" for water availability. Issues such as increased droughts, climate change, and population increases have decreased water supplies to lower levels than ever before. Chairman Bingaman noted the "dire predictions about water supplies" often in the news. In June of 2007, a scientist from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) testified that the majority of climate models were in agreement that there will be a 20 percent or more reduction in water supplies in the future in the U.S. Putting additional funds towards assessing and managing water supplies now however, can help decrease that loss by about half. The SECURE Water Act (S.2156), will increase water efficiency and help us better understand water uses and availability, which may provide the management necessary to keep the U.S. from suffering water shortages in the future.

The other senators agreed that water availability is important, especially in the western U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) said that "quite simply, water is life" and that the SECURE Act would give important new assessments of water supplies in the U.S. He noted it is "better to find out what we have before we find out we do not have enough" water.

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) is concerned that the legislation is not comprehensive enough. He believes S.2156 will only look at climate effects on water resources. He is also apprehensive that the legislation will cause environmental lawsuits to increase and cost tax payers large amounts of money. He suggested that the federal government could help states complete their own water supply assessments instead.

The honorable Robert Johnson, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BR), said that water is the foundation of the economy. Fast population growth and climate change will alter water availability. He said the BR supports the SECURE Act, and applauded the grants programs and cooperative research agreements, especially the Water 2025 grants, which will allow states to obtain funding for water surveys in growing areas of the West.

Dr. Robert Hirsch from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) testified that the goals of S.2156 are "vital to the nation" and that major organizations, such as USGS, support the legislation because a strong science base, which is crucial to water management, would be used. Hirsch stated that the last comprehensive water supply assessment in the U.S. regarding water use and groundwater availability was published in 1978. A pilot program of the type of assessment that would be conducted under S.2156 is already being used in the Great Lakes region.

Senator Barrasso asked if BR could already do these types of assessments without the authorization of S.2156. Johnson replied that BR does have some of this authority, but the bill focuses assessment work and helps prioritize to achieve the best possible cost-benefit ratio.

Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) asked how agencies are looking at climate change and getting estimates of water use and availability. Hirsch said these assessments have been worked on for nearly 20 years by USGS, BR, and the Army Corps of Engineers and include data from stream flow studies and paleoclimate research. Salazar asked if, in Hirsch's opinion, the federal agencies have a coherent plan to present. Hirsch replied that knowledge of the science of climate change and its impacts on water are still very limited, and the field is "in its infancy." Johnson said a plan included research partnerships and getting specific availability data for each basin, which is included in the bill.

Ranking Member Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) asked the panel if they thought Congress should do more to help, and if FEMA and USGS have sufficient resources to carry out their work. Hirsch replied that USGS is very concerned about the continuity of monitoring in the longer-term. He said stream gauges often need to be shut down due to lack of funds, which eliminates valuable data and reduces the ability to complete comprehensive assessments.

Mr. John D'Antonio, a New Mexico state engineer representing Western States Water Council, testified in support of S.2156, stating that it will help us better understand "water needs and strategies for a sustainable future." He said much more knowledge of U.S. water resources is needed to make educated decisions about use and conservation for the future. Mr. D'Antonio also noted one of the bill's benefits will be increased collaboration between the government, universities, and other organizations to conduct research and analyze data.

Mr. Patrick O'Toole, President of the Family Farm Alliance, stated that farmers support S.2156. Farms are losing water as populations increase and climate changes. He believes the increased coordination between federal agencies will enable greater research capability and future resource planning. Mr. O'Toole also supports the cost-shared grants in the bill that will allow water managers to obtain additional funding to increase water efficiency. He also suggested including more federal-state partnerships for water monitoring and availability.

Mr. Jon Lambeck of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California testified that S.2156 is "essential" to understand water supply and mitigation in a time of growing populations. He said a key issue for water managers is that decreased water levels allow less hydropower to be generated, which in turn increases prices and forces energy companies to rely on power sources that emit greenhouse gases, adding to the climate change problem and decreasing water supplies even more. Federal assistance should be given to help optimize power production with low water supplies to get the most value out of the current supply. Mr. Lambeck stressed that the U.S. "cannot afford to wait" on water assessment and planning.

Mr. Brian Richter of the Global Freshwater Program at the Nature Conservancy stated that "protection of ecosystems is critical for human beings," and ecosystems need water. Policies that address adaptation such as S.2156 are beneficial in a changing world. To better understand water use, the government needs better data on the availability and use of water, increased state and federal investment in water accounting, and improved management of water infrastructure. Mr. Richter suggested including incentives for storing water in natural aquifers, using flood controls such as levees and dams to naturally store flood waters, and adding a stronger research component to the bill.

Dr. David R. Wunsch, representing the National Groundwater Association, testified that S.2156 is "overdue." He suggested including assessment of recharge rates, groundwater storage and recovery, and brackish water availability in the legislation. He stated that some states need federal funding to conduct surveys, and encouraged the committee to extend additional grants to states conducting water resource assessments.

Chairman Bingaman asked the panel how much groundwater storage is happening in the West. Mr. D'Antonio replied that several states use groundwater storage, and more want to use it but need to know more about the quality and quantity of storage available in aquifers. Mr. O'Toole said that some areas do not allow groundwater storage, but in other areas it has worked well. Mr. Lambeck responded that over $400 million has been spent on groundwater storage research.

Ranking Member Domenici stated that he plans on introducing a bill regarding "energy for water and water for energy" research next week.

Witnesses showed overwhelming support of S.2156, the SECURE Water Act. Each witness suggested additions to the bill, including increased funding for state assessments and additional research. A sense of urgency is apparent in their testimony, with emphasis on the effects of climate change and population increase on already depleted water supplies. Congress is close to adjourning for the end of the year, and S.2156 will likely not surface again until the next session.

A link to hearing testimony can be found here.
The full text of S.2156 can be found here.

-EAL

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the
"Status of the Nation's Waters, including Wetlands, Under the Jurisdiction of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act"
July 19, 2007

Witnesses:
Hon. Carol M. Browner, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Steve Moyer, Vice President Government Affiars and Volunteer Operations, Trout Unlimited
Joe Logan, President of Ohio Farmer's Union
Marcus J. Hall, PE, Public Works Director and County Engineer, St. Louis County Public Works Department
Norman Semanko, Executive Director of Idaho Water Users Association, on behalf of the National Water Resources Association and the Family Farm Alliance
Larry Forester, City Councilman, Signal Hill California, on behalf of the Coalition for Practical Regulation
Dr. Scott C. Yaich, Director of Conservation Operations, Ducks Unlimited, Inc.
Dr. Judith L. Meyer, Distinguished Research Professor of Ecology Emeritus, University of Georgia


On July 19, 2007, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee met for a hearing on the "Status of the Nation's Waters, including Wetlands, Under the Jurisdiction of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act." In May, Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) introduced the Clean Water Restoration Act (H.R. 2421) to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, by providing a more detailed description of the "waters of the United States." These would include "all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, the territorial seas, and all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries." The amendment also replaces the term "navigable waters" in the CWA with the words "waters of the United States."

As Oberstar could not attend, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) chaired the hearing. In her opening statements, Johnson spoke positively about the need to protect the nation's waterways and wetlands. She criticized the Supreme Court and its 2006 ruling in Rapanos v. United States, which limits the number of waterways that may be regulated under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, also known as the Clean Water Act (CWA). She accused the Court of making decisions driven by ideology and expressed interest in better understanding the reasons for the ruling.

Reps. Richard Baker (R-LA), Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) also made opening statements. Reps. Timothy Bishop (D-NY) and Brian Higgins (D-NY) submitted statements for the record. Baker urged clarity in the definition of the word "navigable" a key word to describe which waterways are protected by the CWA rather than removing the word from the CWA. Westmoreland called Oberstar's amendment to the CWA "alarming," and expressed considerable concern that agencies were "reaching over the bounds" of the original act. Matsui expressed concern that the permitting process "is not administered equally." Matsui's district, includes Sacramento, the city at the greatest risk for catastrophic flooding in her view. In her comments, Norton cited a same-day headline about the district's water quality in the Washington Post that addressed rising concern about potential toxins put into the district's municipal water during the treatment process. She argued that protecting the natural source of water could help avoid problems that arise due to treatment. Also present at the hearing were Reps. Thelma Drake (R-VA), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Brian Baird (D-WV), Howard Coble, (R-NC), John Duncan (R-TN), Mary Fallin (R-OK), and Henry Brown, Jr. (R-SC).

The first panel featured only one witness, the Honorable Carol M. Browner, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clinton administration. The EPA is in charge of enforcing the CWA. In her opening statements, Browner began by mentioning the steadfast bipartisan support that the CWA has earned since its inception. She emphasized the importance of wetland areas and the current crisis they face. The nation loses 60,000 acres of wetlands per year, she said. Browner told lawmakers to step away from the specific cases that brought this issue to the forefront, and urged them to acknowledge the "widespread agreement" about how the EPA regulates wetlands. Addressing the Rapanos case, she said that she and three other former EPA Administrators wrote an amicus curiae brief to the Court on behalf of the EPA. Incidentally, this was the same position, she said, as the current administration. Ultimately, the Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Rapanos, thereby narrowing the jurisdiction of the CWA.

The committee and Browner then engaged in a very lengthy question and answer session, which featured Browner repeatedly defending the CWA. She reiterated many times that since 1972, the EPA had clearly defined boundaries for the jurisdiction of the CWA and that the proposed bill would be clarification and not expansion of the act. Many committee members asked various questions about changes to regulatory authority, such as the scope, state-federal partnership, or exemptions, to which Browner kept on repeating that the proposed bill would clarify, but not change, what was the status quo prior to the Court case. Asked by several congressmen what she thought of the relationship between federal and state environmental officials, Browner said that a federal regulation was needed, but enforcement needed to be enacted at the state level, . The EPA allows state agencies to enforce the mandate of CWA if the states apply and show they have the ability to carry out the task. Citing her experience at the state level in Florida, she testified that state officials would better handle situations but that federal assistance should be available.

Due to a congressional crunch time, when the committee had to disband for a series of important votes on the floor, the last two panels were combined into one. Witnesses only had time to read their opening statements, and few questions were allowed. Steve Moyer, testifying on behalf of Trout Unlimited described the new guidance of the Rapanos decision as "unnecessarily narrow." He stated the organizations support for the bill under current consideration. Representing the National Farmer's Union, Joe Logan, President of the Ohio Farmer's Union, reminded the committee of the important role that agriculture plays in the water cycle. He encouraged congressional efforts to ensure the availability and healthy use of the nation's water. By the same token, he said that farmers and ranchers play as much a role in the preservation of water supply as government agencies. Marcus Hall, a county public works director in St. Louis County, Minnesota, gave the perspective of a local official on water management. He argued that current guidelines are "unworkable." The county he represents has a large number of highways, and getting permits from the government in order to build highways in the county, of which 35% is covered in wetlands, is time-consuming and costly.

Norman Semanko, testifying on behalf of the National Water Resources Association and the Family Farm Alliance, suggested that the CWA "has expanded significantly over the past thirty-five years, not narrowed." With regard to the proposed bill, he affirmed that both his organizations were "strongly opposed" to its passage, urging "clarity, not expansion of the Clean Water Act." Representing the Coalition for Practical Regulation, Larry Forester, a city councilman from California, advocated looking to his city of Signal Hill as a representation of future problems that will arise if H.R.2421 passes. Forester said that expansion of the CWA would open the door for third-party lawsuits to many smaller American communities, thereby burdening them with hefty legal fees. Scott Yaich, of Ducks Unlimited, described the state of the nation's wetlands, their ecological importance, and their current rate of destruction, upwards of 80,000 acres every year. Yaich and Ducks Unlimited stand behind congressional legislative action, saying that passage "is the only apparent remedy for restoring wetland protection." The last panelist to testify was Dr. Judith Meyer, Distinguished Research Professor of Ecology Emeritus at the University of Georgia. With thirty years of research experience, Meyer provided a scientific perspective on wetlands. She said that protection of small streams is "critical to the goal of the Clean Water Act." As the water in smaller bodies make their way to navigable waters, protection of small streams inherently protects larger bodies, she said.

The text of Oberstar's bill can be found by clicking on the link below:
H.R. 2421

-SDJ

Sources: Hearing testimony

Contributed by Merilie Reynolds, AGI/AAPG Fall 2008 Intern; Laura Bochner, AGI/AIPG Summer 2008 Intern; Corina Cerovski-Darriau, AGI/ AIPG Summer 2008 Intern; Jillian Luchner, AGI/AIPG Summer 2008 Intern; Marcy Gallo, Government Affairs Staff; Elizabeth Landau, AGI/AAPG Fall 2007 Intern; and Sargon de Jesus, AGI/AIPG 2007 Summer Intern.

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

Last updated on September 28, 2008.

 

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