Water and Ocean Policy (1/6/11)
Clean water is a valuable natural resource that contributes to the health of the ecosystem, agriculture, and population. Congress has held hearings and worked on legislation that regulates navigable waters, drinking water, wetland preservation, wastewater treatment, vitality of the Great Lakes, and the problems with increasing water demand. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), work to protect U.S. water resources.
Oceans cover about 71% of Earth's surface and are an integral part of many Earth systems, including climate and weather. The oceans also contain most of Earth's biomass, with 80% of all known phyla found only in the oceans. Advances in research capabilities have led to improved understanding of marine and coastal systems, however, many are concerned that new technology has not increased enough to keep pace with our exploration needs. Oceans have recently received congressional attention for their ecological preservation, scientific value, and potential resources. This section covers all ocean and water policy, including policy relate to the Law of the Sea and the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Additional information on the OCS can also be found on AGI’s energy policy page.
National Oil Spill Commission Finishing its Work
The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling held its final public meeting on December 2 to 3 in Washington DC. The meeting covered regulatory oversight of the drilling industry; environmental review and drilling in the Arctic; oil spill containment and response in the Gulf; oil spill impacts in the Gulf; and recovery and restoration of the Gulf. A video and written archive of the meeting is available online.
The commission also announced that their final report will be released on January 11 and they will hold a public forum in New Orleans on January 12, 2011.
Lead Reduction Act Passes Congress and Becomes Law
The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (S.3874) passed Congress in late December and was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. The law amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to prohibit the sale of lead pipes, solder and fixtures used for drinking water and redefines “lead free” to reduce the fraction of lead that may be used in any drinking water fittings and fixtures. The goal is to further reduce potential lead contamination in drinking water, however, the new requirements of the law will not take affect until 3 years after enactment.
EPA Considers Hexavalent Chromium in Water Supplies
In mid-December, the Environmental Work Group released a report showing that 25 of 35 cities had hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen, in tap water supplies above the level proposed by California to protect human health. The problem of hexavalent chromium in drinking water was dramatically brought to public attention by the efforts of Erin Brockovich, who won a multimillion-dollar settlement for Hinkley, California. The story was further popularized by a movie, “Erin Brockovich”.
The environmental group’s water testing results received immediate reaction from the public, the media and policymakers. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson asking for information about EPA’s water testing and EPA’s ongoing review of hexavalent chromium. A day after the letter was sent, Jackson met with Durbin, Kirk, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Senators Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote a separate letter to Jackson and requested a decision within two weeks about a possible health advisory regarding hexavalent chromium. The senators from Illinois and California suggested they might propose legislation to address the issue.
EPA released a statement indicating the agency would carefully review all data before making a final decision about any new standards or testing for hexavalent chromium. The federal government through the EPA has a federal standard for total chromium that is much higher than the proposed California standard for just hexavalent chromium. EPA does not require utilities to test for hexavalent chromium, so the potential scope of the concern is not really understood. The National Toxicology Program is studying hexavalent chromium and noted in a 2007 factsheet that the compound is a human carcinogen when inhaled and may be carcinogenic when ingested. The factsheet also states that the U.S. is a leading producer of chromium compounds, used in electroplating, steelmaking, leather tanning, textile manufacturing and wood preservation.
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DOI Issues Revised Outer Continental Shelf Drilling Plan (11/10)
On December 1, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced an updated oil and gas leasing plan for the outer continental shelf (OCS). The plan removes the mid and south Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico from development until after 2017. The rest of the Gulf of Mexico, the Cook Inlet, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the Arctic may be considered for leasing before 2017. The revised plan is in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010. See the press release for more information plus links to a fact sheet and maps of OCS areas.
EPA Issues Memorandum on Ocean Acidification Reporting(11/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a November 15 memorandum providing guidance to states about reporting marine pH levels as part of the Clean Water Act. EPA is working to integrate all aspects of ocean acidification that are relevant under U.S. laws and EPA authority. Much more information, background materials, and guidance are available from the memorandum web page.
USGS Reports 90 Percent of Streams have Flow Alteration and Degradation (11/10)
A new nationwide study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that 90 percent of streams that have been studied in the U.S. show degradation due to land use change. Activities such as water diversion and impoundment, construction of impermeable surfaces, groundwater withdrawal, and waste water discharge are associated with altered streams with a variety of ailments: excessive erosion and sedimentation, reduced base flow, and a loss of seasonal flow regimes. The USGS conducted the study as part of its National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program, using 1,000 unimpaired streams as a reference for what natural flows would be in 2,888 impaired water bodies. Due to flow alterations, impaired streams can become uninhabitable for native species. Flow alterations can reduce water quality and recreational opportunities as well.
NASA Research Shows Lakes Warming Wordlwide due to Climate Change (11/10)
NASA satellite data show increasing temperatures for 167 lakes over the past 25 years. Average warming occurred at a rate of 0.45 degrees Celsius per decade, with greater increases seen in Northern Europe and the American Southwest. Lake temperatures were measured using infrared satellite data acquired during consecutive summers. The results were published in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters, and compare well with data from surface air measurements and buoys in the Great Lakes.
Report Identifies Severe Water Shortage Risks for U.S. and China (11/10)
The U.K.-based analysis firm Maplecroft released a report identifying “high risk” of water shortages for the U.S., Australia, India, and China in the next several decades. According to the study, those countries are currently consuming more than 80% of their renewable water resources. Those countries also show large areas where water consumption greatly exceeds renewable supply, including the U.S. West where aquifers are being depleted and river discharges are over-allocated.
Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission Established (11/10)
On October 6, 2010, the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) announced a new Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission (ARHC). The IHO is responsible for establishing international hydrographic standards, ensuring the availability of mapping data, and advocating for the sustainable use of the seas. Established in 1921 and an observing body at the United Nations (UN), the IHO has 15 regional commissions, but this is the first time it has sponsored a body with jurisdiction over the Arctic. The ARHC is composed of representatives from the 5 Arctic states: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the U.S. Both the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have hydrographic responsibilities and participate in IHO activities. As the Arctic has only recently begun to open to shipping and commercial exploration, less than 10 percent of the waters are adequately charted.
Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force Releases Report (10/10)
The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force announced in a press release on October 14, 2010, the completion of their progress report, titled Recommended Actions in Support of a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. The Task Force is chaired by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and includes representatives from twenty different government agencies. While supporting efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions and promoting green industry, the Task Force acknowledges that average temperatures are already rising and some amount of climate change is unavoidable. In order to prevent disastrous consequences, the nation will require a coordinated plan to adapt to new climatic conditions.
The report emphasizes the need for the federal agencies to consider adaptation in all of their planning processes, ensuring that federal investments will have lasting value, and to integrate their efforts and decision-making with other federal, state, and local agencies. Planning and decision-making must be based on the best available science. The public should have ready access to accurate and comprehensible information on climate change and adaptation, both for community preparedness and to direct private investment. As coastal communities will be particularly affected as sea levels rise, the insurance industry will have to reassess risk and adjust its policies accordingly. The challenge of adaptation will have to be considered on an ecosystem scale, rather than as isolated effects.
Climate change adaptation also has international significance. Many developing countries benefitting from U.S. foreign aid will be significantly affected by climate change, and, according to the report, it is the responsibility of the U.S. and international aid agencies to direct funds towards programs that will make recipients less vulnerable to climate change. International collaboration will be critical, as many systems affected by climate change, such as the ocean and the atmosphere, do not respect national boundaries.
The Task Force’s Interim Report, released on March 16, 2010, is available here. The next report, documenting progress toward implementing these recommendations, will be available in October of 2011.
Update on BP Oil Spill Investigations (10/10)
In the most significant update from the investigations of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the chief counsel of the presidential commission, Fred Bartlit, Jr., released a letter to the commission on October 27 blaming Halliburton for using a cement mix in the Macondo exploratory well that the company knew was unstable. The letter details laboratory tests conducted on the cement mix two months before the spill showing the mix was unstable. Bartlit indicates that the cement mix probably did not work and therefore was unable to prevent hydrocarbons from entering the well bore. Bartlit does not fault the cement mix as the primary reason for the accident and the ongoing investigation continues to consider many factors. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling will hold a public meeting on November 9, 2010.
The joint investigation by the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard has been granted a 60-day extension. The joint federal investigation report was originally due in January of 2011, but now will be due in March. The investigators requested more time to complete forensic tests and to hold public hearings. More information about the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation is available online.
The National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council committee on “Analysis of Causes of Deepwater Horizon Explosion, Fire, and Oil Spill to Identify Measures to Prevent Similar Accidents in the Future” continues their work, but have not released any interim reports.
Congressman Questions Scientific Integrity In Relation to Oil Spill Response (10/10)
Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA), Ranking Member of the Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, sent a letter on October 28, 2010, to Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), criticizing OSTP for failing to comply with a presidential directive. On March 9, 2009, President Obama requested OSTP to prepare recommendations on scientific integrity within 120 days, but OSTP has not yet produced a report. Broun mentions several examples of scientific integrity issues within the federal government related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and he calls for OSTP to complete the report. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a lawsuit in October against OSTP for not providing records related to draft recommendations on scientific integrity, and other groups have also called for the completion of the report.
A separate letter, sent the same day by Broun, requests all records regarding BP’s Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) from OSTP. Broun expresses frustration about a lack of transparency and cooperation from the White House. Broun also sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, asking for all records related to a report, titled “Increased Safety Measures for Energy Development in the Outer Continental Shelf.” The congressman is concerned that Salazar misrepresented peer-reviewed recommendations in the report.
Funding for Oceans Research (10/10)
Congress has recently been working on three bills that would provide funding for geoscientists who do research related to the oceans. The Senate is currently considering The Oceans and Human Health Reauthorization Act of 2009 (S. 1252) which was introduced by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) over a year ago, but has now made it to the full Senate for consideration. This bill would expand the authority of the Interagency Oceans and Human Health Task Force. Included are provisions that would fund ocean and climate change monitoring projects, which would be funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Voting could occur during the lame duck session after the election in November.
In the House, The Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2010 (H.R. 6344) was introduced in September and referred to the Committee on Science and Technology. It sets up a funding apparatus within the Department of Energy (DOE) that would provide grants to researchers and facilities that are developing technology—other than dams—that will produce renewable hydrokinetic power. These grants would also fund scientists doing feasibility or environmental impact studies. The bill aims to promote partnerships with private industry in the hopes that the technology produced will be as cost-effective as possible.
Finally, the House is considering The Digital Coast Act of 2010 (H.R. 6215) which is in the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife. NOAA is interested in mapping the 95,000 miles of U.S. shoreline that are not accurately mapped. This data is critical to emergency preparedness, shipping, environmental health, and national security. The mapping will be contracted out to qualified geoscientists, while NOAA will provide a platform for data integration and promote commercial remote-sensing technologies. Mapping projects will include shallow bathymetric data, airborne elevation data, large-scale land use and land cover maps, benthic habitat and aquatic vegetation mapping, parcel data, planimetric data, and socioeconomic and human use data.
Interior Announces Water Census and Climate Change Initiatives (10/10)
In a meeting of water leaders in Phoenix, AZ, on October 20, 2010, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Colorado River Basin will be the first area analyzed as part of a new U.S. water census. The last water census was in 1978 and a new one is critically important for understanding water quality and quantity, especially in relation to climate change and ecosystem health. In a press release, Salazar stated that the Colorado River Basin Geographic Focus Study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is part of the WaterSMART initiative and will be conducted over three years at a total cost of $1.5 million.
Salazar also announced the fourth and fifth of eight Climate Science Centers, which will initially serve as hubs for the USGS’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center. The fourth center, the Southwest Climate Science Center, will be based at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and will study issues including drought, the impact of people on the desert environment, and the invasion of the pine bark beetle. The fifth center, the North Central Climate Science Center, led by Colorado State University in Fort Collins, will study the pine bark beetle invasion, forest fires, decreased agricultural productivity, and habitat loss for endangered species.
Update on BP’s Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative on Oil Spill (10/10)
On September 29, BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance issued a press release on their plans for the remaining $470 million of the $500 million pledged by BP for oil spill impacts research. The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative will be administered by the alliance, which will set up a board of scientists from academic institutions with peer-recognized credentials. An equal number of board members will be selected by BP and by the alliance. The research will focus on five themes: distribution and fate of contaminants, chemical and biological evolution of the contaminants, environmental effects of the contaminants on the ecosystems, technological developments to mitigate future spills, and integration of these four themes in the context of human health.
The research will be conducted primarily by Gulf Coast academic institutions; however, “appropriate partnerships” will be allowed. The research projects will be selected using a merit review by peer evaluation as described in a National Science Board report on the National Science Foundation’s Merit Review System. Researchers are expected to comply with the professional standards described in the National Academy of Sciences publication – On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research (2009).
BP Releases Report on Causes of Gulf Spill (9/10)
BP has released a report from an internal incident investigation team on the cause of the Gulf spill. The report found that decisions made by "multiple companies and work teams contributed to the accident.” The accident involved a well integrity failure, followed by a loss of hydrostatic control of the well, and a failure to control the flow from the well with the blow-out preventer.
The report summarized eight key elements that contributed to the catastrophe. First, there were weaknesses in the cement design, testing, quality assurance, and risk assessment. The cement that was pumped down the production casing and up into the wellbore likely experienced a nitrogen breakout, which allowed hydrocarbons to enter the wellbore. Second, the “shoe track barrier” did not stop the movement of hydrocarbons in the well. The shoe track is installed at the bottom of the production casing, and consists of both cement and a float collar that prevent fluid movement into the production casing. Neither of these barriers prevented the movement of hydrocarbons following the initial cement failure. Third, the negative-pressure test to confirm well integrity was not properly interpreted. The test was conducted, and pressure readings indicated that the barriers were not intact, but the rig crew and BP well site leaders reached the “incorrect view that the test was successful and that well integrity had been established.”
Fourth, the influx of hydrocarbons was not recognized until hydrocarbons were in the riser. Because of the accepted negative-pressure test, hydrocarbons were allowed to flow through the production casing and past the blow-out preventer, to the riser on the surface. Fifth, the rig crew failed to regain control of the well and divert fluids overboard rather than into the mud gas separator system. Sixth, because hydrocarbons were diverted to the mud gas separator, the separator system was overwhelmed and gas was able to vent onto the rig. Seventh, the fire system on the drill rig did not prevent ignition of the escaping hydrocarbons. The heating and air conditioning systems probably transferred the gas-rich air to the engine rooms, creating a source of ignition for an explosion. Eighth, the blow out preventer’s three emergency modes did not seal the well as intended. The first system was likely disabled by the explosion and fire on the rig. The second system, which depended on control pods on the blow out preventer, failed because of a faulty valve in one pod and insufficient battery life in the other. The third system failed because the blind shear ram failed to seal the well. The indicators for these potential weaknesses were apparent in audit findings and maintenance records performed before the accident according to the BP report.
The report stressed that several factors contributed to the accident including mechanical failure, human judgment, engineering design, operational implementation, and team interfaces over time; no single team or action caused the accident. The full report can be found on the BP website, along with a detailed video that illustrates the investigation team’s findings.
Report Calls for More Federal Research to Predict and Prevent Hypoxia (9/10)
A report from the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) was released in September of 2010, detailing the federal government’s response to hypoxia in major U.S. water bodies. The report, Scientific Assessment of Hypoxia in U.S. Coastal Waters, was released by the Interagency Working Group on Harmful Algal Blooms, Hypoxia, and Human Health. It identifies the scale and effects of hypoxia in the U.S. and outlines the legislative action to date, as well as the current federal research addressing the hypoxia issue. Among other things, the report calls for expanded monitoring of dissolved oxygen in vulnerable waters, the development and increased use of predictive hypoxia models, and the monitoring and source-identification of nutrient loads in streams.
The report makes clear that hypoxia is a large and growing problem, contributing to fish kills and ecological degradation that have large economic costs. Despite established point source regulation and increased concern for soil and water conservation practices, hypoxia incidence has increased 30-fold in U.S. waters since 1960. In response, the federal government has attempted to decrease nutrient pollution and hypoxia with several pieces of legislation. The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA) of 1998, and the Coastal Zone Management Act address hypoxia directly, while portions of the Clean Water Act and the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 authorize regulation of activities that influence hypoxia-inducing conditions.
As hypoxia sustains further fish kills and compromises coastal and lacustrine ecosystems, the Interagency Working Group has recognized a need to tackle the issue with new research and adaptive management. In particular, the progress to date calls for the use of adaptive management as a means of addressing uncertainty in future hypoxia trends, and for more basic research on the watershed scale impacts and causes of hypoxia.
This report complements a review from the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology entitled Charting the Course for Ocean Science for the United States in the Next Decade: An Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy.
EPA Requests that Companies Disclose Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids (9/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has requested that nine oil and gas drilling companies provide the EPA with a list of the chemical additives used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, as well as locations where fracturing has been used.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracing,” is a drilling technique used in natural gas extraction. Water and chemical additives are forced into wells, physically breaking the rock to allow for gas to flow to the wellbore. These fractures are held open by “proppants” like sand or silicates that are also added to the fracturing fluids. Hydraulic fracturing is most commonly used in coal beds and oil shale formations. The EPA does not normally regulate the injection of hydrofracing fluids, but is in the process of conducting a multiyear, $1.9 billion, congressionally mandated study to examine the impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. The information disclosed by oil and gas companies as a result of the September 9th request will help inform that study. In an effort to demonstrate that the technique is safe, the contacted companies are likely to provide the requested information. “(If asked) we will of course fully cooperate with their request” said a Halliburton spokeswoman.
Multi-Agency Report Finds No Spill-Related Dead Zones in Gulf (9/10)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP) released a joint report looking at dissolved oxygen levels in areas where federal and independent scientists had previously reported the presence of subsurface oil from the BP/Deepwater Horizon spill. The report found that in areas where subsurface oil had been reported, oxygen levels have dropped by 20 percent from their long-term average, but these levels are not low enough to characterize the areas as “dead zones.” Dead zones are areas where dissolved oxygen concentrations fall below 2 mg/L, low enough that most life forms are impacted. These zones are commonly found in the near shore waters of the western and northern gulf in summer, but do not normally occur in deep water like where the study was performed. Scientists believe that the observed low oxygen levels at depths around the underwater oil plumes are due to microbes that are using oxygen to consume the oil from the BP spill.
The findings of the report are consistent with findings of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists, who also did not find dead zones where subsurface oil was found.
Oil Spill Update (9/10)
***National Commission Investigations of Oil Spill Continue
The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling held a public meeting in Washington DC on September 27-28 and interviewed government officials, scientists, Gulf coast community officials and a BP executive. National Incident commander Thad Allen called for a third party to be put in charge of any future oil spills and suggested the response should involve more local people. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson defended the use of chemical dispersants as a risk management decision and called for more study of their use and environmental impact. Other scientists interviewed by the commission expressed concern about the long-term impacts of dispersants and called for more research. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists noted the errors in the early estimates of spilled oil and indicated that some of the problems were caused by a lack of data. A recent paper in Science has estimated the amount of oil spilled from videos and their estimated total is the same (within uncertainties) as the government’s final estimate of 4.9 million barrels.
Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary, and Michael Bromwich, Director of Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement discussed current offshore drilling plans, the Gulf moratorium and reforms of the offshore drilling program. David Hayes, Interior Deputy Secretary, discussed science related to offshore drilling and response, especially research in the Arctic. He noted that the U.S. Geological Survey has been asked to conduct a special analysis of the Arctic environment.
The Interior Department has withdrawn offshore oil leases in the Arctic until more information is available about the science, the conditions, and the abilities of the government and industry to respond to any problems. Bromwich also noted that even after the Gulf moratorium is lifted, there will be additional technical requirements placed on industry that will likely delay any offshore drilling. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) appeared before the commission and requested an end to the moratorium. Landrieu also called for more support for restoration of wetlands in the Gulf.
The commission interviewed BP Executive Doug Suttles and criticized the BP report on the causes of the oil spill and suggested that the company was woefully unprepared to deal with the catastrophe.
A video archive of the two-day meeting is available from C-SPAN.
***Gulf Spill Research
BP has committed $500 million for research on the impacts of the Gulf oil spill on the environment. About $40 million was distributed to researchers. After some initial delays, it appears likely that the rest, $460 million, will go to a Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a consortium of state officials, to distribute the funds to research groups within the Gulf.
Research funds for understanding the impact of the oil spill on the Gulf will also be available through the government’s natural resource damage assessment program and through federal agencies that have provided support for basic research in these areas in the past.
***Administration Releases Long Term Recovery Plan for Gulf
The Administration released a recovery plan for the Gulf of Mexico calling for Clean Water Act penalties and other oil spill liability funds to be used in the Gulf region rather than being paid into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The plan calls for the elimination of a liability cap for offshore oil drilling damages. The plan also calls for a Gulf Coast Recovery Council to administer the restoration funds. Congress would need to enact legislation to fulfill these plans. On September 28, 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating a Gulf Coast Ecosystems Restoration Task Force. The task force will be chaired by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Lisa Jackson. If Congress creates a council, it will replace this task force.
EPA Releases Draft Report of Clean Water Strategy – Comments Requested (8/10)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its “Coming Together for Clean Water: EPA’s Strategy for Achieving Clean Water” report. The strategy report is designed to guide the agency’s actions with respect to its key priority of protecting America’s waters, and was developed at the Coming Together for Clean Water Conference in April. The report states that “EPA must improve and adapt regulations, permitting, and compliance/enforcement efforts as a key first step to change our current path.” The strategy report focuses on two thematic lines: 1) healthy watersheds and 2) sustainable communities.
EPA is soliciting public comments on the approaches outlined in the draft. Comments can be submitted here until September 17.
Senators Introduce Bill to Create National Endowment for the Oceans (8/10)
The National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO) Act of 2010 (S. 3641) was introduced in late July by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). The bill would create NEO in order to promote the protection and conservation of United States ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. Funding for NEO would come from revenue generated from offshore oil and gas leasing (12.5%), revenues earned by offshore renewable energy (12.5%), interest from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund Investments, and fines from violators of federal law in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. These sources should generate about $1 billion annually. These funds would be overseen by the Secretary of Commerce, and would be used to fund grants to conserve, restore, and better understand the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources. This specifically means funding for research in climate change, hazards, ocean acidification, ocean modeling, and baseline data collection. The bill has been referred to the Senate committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation where it is awaiting further action.
Representatives Call for Lubchenco’s Resignation Following Misuse of NOAA Funds (7/10)
Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) has called for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco to resign in light of recent fisheries controversy.
Earlier this month, an audit of the agency by the Inspector General of the Commerce Department found that NOAA’s law enforcement officials have been misusing penalties collected from fishermen. It was Lubchenco who requested the report and in response to the audit’s results, Lubchenco stated that she was “deeply troubled” by the handling of funds. NOAA is working to implement proper budgeting, expenditure tracking, accounting, legal opinions, expenditure approvals and external review.
Frank has been critical of Lubchenco in the past, particularly over the continued implementation of the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which requires federal fisheries managers to end overfishing by 2010. Frank says that Lubchenco should have worked to alter the law to ease the transition for Northeastern fishermen. Frank’s call for Lubchenco’s resignation was echoed by several other representatives, including John Tierney (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC). Frank later backed off of his call after the Obama administration assured him that the fishing industry's problems would have "the highest priority."
ACWI Holds Conference, Discusses New Water Programs (7/10)
The Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI) held a conference to discuss current efforts to protect groundwater throughout the country. The Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Anne Castle, attended the meeting and requested feedback on two different programs. The first, the WaterSMART Clearinghouse, is intended to provide information and leadership on sustainable water practices and water conservation to state and local governments, tribal nations, and other interested parties. It will bring together all stakeholders to accomplish this task, and is set to be released July 30, 2010.
Castle asked for ACWI’s feedback on an implementation strategy for the Interior Department’s implementation plan for the WaterSMART program. The assistant secretary asked for advice and comments on how to focus the program from its onset, as well as ensure that the program maintain efficiency and effectiveness. The WaterSMART implementation plan draft will be available for review in August 2010.
Nate Booth, a lead architect for the ongoing Water Quality Exchange (WQX) project, informed ACWI of the near completion of the water data portal. The portal is a system that allows water quality information housed in two different systems—the USGS National Water Information System (NMIS) and the EPA Storage and Retrieval System (STORET) — to be accessible through one portal. It takes the data available through both of these systems and organizes it, so that it uses one system of terms and data access. Over 150 million sites are available through the two different systems. In the future, the portal will include information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and data from state and local agencies.
President Obama Establishes National Ocean Policy (7/10)
On July 19, President Obama issued a Presidential Order to enact the Ocean Policy Task Force’s final recommendations, which involve establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes (National Policy) and creating a National Ocean Council (NOC). The NOC, which will coordinate across the federal government to implement the National Policy, has received support from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of the Navy.
The final recommendations prioritize actions for the NOC to pursue, including ecosystem-based management, regional ecosystem protection and restoration, and strengthened and integrated observing systems. The National Policy prioritizes coastal and marine spatial planning and calls for a flexible framework to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, the coasts and the Great Lakes.
The full text of the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes is available at www.whitehouse/oceans.gov.
Committee Passes Arctic Mapping Bill (6/10)
The House Natural Resources committee unanimously approved H.R. 2864, to increase the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) mapping efforts in the Arctic to delineate the extent of the U.S. continental shelf and ensure safe navigation of the Arctic Ocean. The bill, introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK), amends the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 to NOAA to acquire hydrographic data, provide hydrographic services, and conduct coastal change analyses as necessary to reach those goals. $10 million over the next two years would be dedicated to new hydrographic data and $5 million towards mapping the continental shelf.
Though NOAA can currently complete Arctic mapping, Young thinks the legislation is necessary to push NOAA forward more quickly. With a diminishing extent of sea ice, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to those looking for natural resources and new shipping lanes. Knowing the extent of the U.S. continental shelf will help the U.S. lay claim to potentially resource-rich territory in the Arctic. The data collection funded by the bill will help create a baseline map for any new energy development and safe navigation routes.
Senate Introduces Outer Continental Shelf Management Reform Act (6/10)
Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is sponsoring legislation (S. 3516) that will reform management and oversight of offshore drilling on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The bill is cosponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bill is meant to correct the issues with offshore drilling management that were realized with the Gulf Coast spill. In addition the bill would authorize more research and development on offshore drilling and safety, and would require more training for employees.
The bill would create legislation implementing the changes Interior Secretary Salazar made to the Minerals Management Service (MMS). Additionally, it would create an Outer Continental Shelf Safety and Environmental Advisory Board to provide independent assessment and advice. The legislation would examine drilling plans more closely; including engineering reviews of blowout prevention systems, and would extend the current 30 day timeline for federal approval of exploration plans to 90 days. Enforcement would be increased, with required investigations for employee allegations of safety risks and more frequent Department of the Interior (DOI) inspections and reviews.
USGS Debuts WaterAlert Service (5/10)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) introduced the new “WaterAlert” system, which sends emails or text messages to subscribers when water values for data collection stations exceed given parameter thresholds. The development and maintenance for this service comes from the USGS Cooperative Water Program, the USGS National Streamflow Information Program, and USGS data-collection partners. Updates are received at regular intervals (1-4 hours for most stations), and more frequently during a high risk event. For more details, or to subscribe, visit the USGS WaterAlert web site.
House Democrats Request EPA Consider Acidification (5/10)
Forty four House Democrats submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the agency’s public comment period on ocean acidity. The letter, spearheaded by Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Jay Inslee (D-WA), asks EPA to take a more active role in addressing ocean acidification by looking at ways that the Clean Water Act may be used to protect marine waters.
Representative Lois Capps’s website contains a press release and copy of the letter.
House Committee Approves Water Infrastructure Bill (5/10)
The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a water infrastructure measure (H.R. 5320) that would provide assistance to improve drinking water infrastructure, reduce lead contamination and study endocrine disruptors in drinking water. An amendment from Representative Dianne DeGette (D-CO) to require drillers to disclose the chemical composition of waters used for hydraulic fracturing was withdrawn at the request of Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA).
The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2007 that $335 billion over about 20 years is needed to upgrade drinking water infrastructure in the U.S. The measure provides $4.8 billion over three years for states to borrow for upgrading and maintaining drinking water infrastructure.
Senate Bill Would Stop Offshore Aquaculture (5/10)
Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced a bill to freeze plans, permits or rules regarding offshore aquaculture for more than three years so that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could study the impacts in more detail. NOAA is considering a national plan to permit offshore fish farms and fisheries that include sinking large cages into deep water to raise saltwater species such as halibut and cod.
NOAA has been moving toward a national plan for offshore aquaculture for some time and recently accelerated plans after the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved plans to allow aquaculture between 3 and 200 miles offshore. There are no fish farms in federal waters and no federal regulations for offshore aquaculture. There are some commercial operations in state/territorial waters near Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Vitter noted the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as a yet another complicating factor in an already stressed Gulf and is concerned that offshore aquaculture might add more strain. NOAA would like a national plan rather than piecemeal efforts regarding offshore aquaculture. Congress has been lukewarm regarding offshore aquaculture at best and would likely be required to provide the authorizing legislation for NOAA to develop a plan and regulations. Besides the oil spill, efforts regarding offshore aquaculture are likely to be complicated by other competing interests in the offshore, such as new wave and wind energy projects.
House Tackles Definition of ‘Navigable’ Waters (4/10)
In an attempt to clarify the bodies of water covered by the Clean Water Act, Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) introduced the America's Commitment to Clean Water Act (H.R. 5088) to remove the word ‘navigable’ from the law passed in 1972. This is the fifth attempt to amend the definition to reflect what supporters call the original intent of the law. Supporters have said the Clean Water Act is supposed to reduce pollution to all freshwater bodies, including rivers, streams, and wetlands, regardless of their size. However, two Supreme Court decisions have upheld the literal interpretation of the bill to apply only to waters defined as ‘navigable’.
Despite repeated defeats, Oberstar is hopeful for passage this year. Companion legislation pass through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (S. 787), though it met strong Republican opposition. Oberstar will face even more opposition as many farm and industry groups remain skeptical of the changes. They argue that passage will give the federal government too much control over all bodies of water, including imposing pollution regulations on gutters, puddles, and ditches. Oberstar submitted a letter (PDF) to his colleagues clarifying exemptions to his proposed rule. These exemptions would include irrigation ditches, stock ponds, and other areas associate with wastewater and croplands. Still, some worry that this bill will fail to sufficiently clarify the Clean Water Act, keeping it open for broad interpretation.
Call For ‘Priority’ Water Projects Ahead of New WRDA (4/10)
Ahead of consideration of the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2010, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) have called on Senate colleagues to submit “priority” water project proposals by May 18. A new WRDA is supposed to be passed every two years to authorize U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) water infrastructure projects, but the last two WRDA bills were passed in 2007 and 2000. Boxer and Inhofe hope their push will help expedite passage in Congress.
WRDA projects include everything from beach and ecosystem restoration to flood control measures and focus on job creation and economic development. Critics oppose WRDA because they see the money as funding special interest projects. It is one of the few mechanisms for local water projects can receive federal funding. USACE is slowly implementing reform mandates required in WRDA-2007, like completing independent reviews of large or controversial projects and setting environmental goals equal to economic development.
Estuary Conservation Bill Passes House (4/10)
The Clean Estuaries Act of 2010 (H.R. 4715), to amend the Clean Water Act to reauthorize the National Estuary Program, passed the House on April 15, 2010. H.R. 4715 will modernize the National Estuary Program by creating a comprehensive approach to estuary management that includes upstream waters, commercial activities, climate change effects, and public outreach and education. The bill mandates conservations plans for estuaries that include accounting for sea level changes, restoring the Great Lakes, and looking at whole “estuarine zones” that include tributaries, transitional areas, and associated aquatic ecosystems. H.R. 4715 authorizes $50 million annually through fiscal year 2015, an increase of $15 million per year from the current budget.
The program is headed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but requires coordination and collaboration with the Army, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Resources Conservation Service, and others as necessary.
Hearing Held on Arctic Mapping Bill (4/10)
The House Natural Resources Committee is discussing a new bill to map the Arctic to delineate the extent of the U.S. continental shelf and for safe navigation of the Arctic Ocean. H.R. 2864, introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK), amends the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 to fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to acquire hydrographic data, provide hydrographic services, and conduct coastal change analyses as necessary to reach those goals. $10 million over the next two years would be dedicated to new hydrographic data and $5 million towards mapping the continental shelf.
With diminished sea ice extent, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to those looking for natural resources and new shipping lanes. Knowing the extent of the U.S. continental shelf will help the U.S. lay claim to potentially resource-rich territory in the Arctic. The data collection funded by the bill will help create a baseline map for any new energy development and safe navigation routes.
Karst Portal Has a New Look (4/10)
The Karst Information Portal is a digital library linking scientists, managers, and explorers with quality information and resources concerning caves and karst environments that has recently been upgraded. Visit toe portal for more information and updates about caves and karst.
Harmful Algal Blooms Legislation Passes House (3/10)
The House passed the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2010 (H.R. 3650), with a vote of 251-103, to reauthorize and expand research on deadly coastal algal outbreaks. About $41 million would be authorized for eleven different research programs annually for detection, prediction and elimination of the blooms. The bill would direct federal funding to research on coastal dead zones.
Harmful algal blooms, sometimes called “red tides”, are concentrated areas of algae that deplete the ocean of oxygen upon decomposition and create low oxygen, or hypoxic, “dead zones”. In addition to hypoxia the algae may release toxins that are harmful to marine life and humans. Harmful blooms have been observed for centuries and the harmful algal blooms act was first signed into law in 1998 (Public Law 105-383) and re-authorized in 2004 (Public Law 108-456). The measure is meant to understand the causes of the blooms, monitor their development, warn the public and mitigate the hazard.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Director Jane Lubchenco said the blooms are increasing in frequency, severity and duration in her testimony before the House Science and Technology Committee in March. The legislation would establish the first federal task force assigned to prepare regional action plans to mitigate the effects of algal blooms.
Senate Committee Approves Oceans and Health Bill (3/10)
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the Oceans and Human Health Reauthorization Act of 2009 (S.1252), which investigates the interplay between human and marine health. The original legislation required consideration of climate change, but a substitute amendment removed the reference. Striking the phrase “climate change” does not prohibit research that incorporates climate change impacts into the consideration of ocean health. The legislation maintains $60 million authorization levels per year s the previous act of 2004.
The legislation uses a cross-disciplinary and a multi-agency approach to answer critical questions about the relationship between human and marine health. Half of the funds are used for competitive external research grants and the other half goes to NOAA’s ocean and human health program. Research may still address issues such as climate change, as well as beach closures, hypoxia, and utilizing marine resources for pharmaceutical development.
The bill calls for the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish a task force to develop plans for future human-ocean health research and present it to Congress within five years.
Bureau of Reclamation Announces WaterSMART Grants (3/10)
According to a Bureau of Reclamation press release, the bureau is seeking proposals for projects “that seek to conserve and use water more efficiently, increase the use of renewable energy in water management, protect endangered and threatened species, facilitate water markets, and carry out other activities to address climate-related impacts on water or prevent any water-related crisis or conflict.” The initiative is the first step in a new Department of the Interior program called WaterSMART (Sustain and Manage America's Resources for Tomorrow). The program is “intended to address the most significant challenges facing our water supplies in the 21st century, including population growth, climate change, rising energy demands, environmental needs, and aging infrastructure.”
Proposals should be submitted to www.grants.gov before May 4, 2010.
EPA Will Regulate Florida’s Water (1/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed pollution standards for nutrients in Florida waters. This is the first time that EPA has taken over pollution standards for a state. The proposal sets limits for nitrogen and phosphorous in lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals. Standards for coastal waters will be set in January of 2011. Florida estimates charges for water and sewer services may double in some parts of the state. The enforcement stems from an EPA Inspector General report that found that the EPA failed to enforce federal nutrient pollution standards after Florida failed to do so on their own. Some environmental groups are pressing EPA to set nutrient standards in Wisconsin next.
House Passes Energy and Water Research Bill (12/09)
The Energy and Water Research Integration Act (H.R. 3598) passed out of the House on December 1, 2009. The bill addresses the nexus between energy and water resource demands by directing the Secretary of Energy to take water into consideration. The Secretary of Energy must work to advance energy technologies to become more water efficient, consider the implications of climate change on water supplies for energy, estimate the water needed for energy production, and understand the energy required to provide water to the public. It creates an Energy-Water Architecture Council to work on improving energy and water resources data and advance technological innovations. The Energy Department will take the lead, but work in coordination with other federal agencies.
The bill has now goes to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for consideration.
EPA Publishes Water Research Strategy (12/09)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a national water research strategy on December 18, 2009. The four research priorities include healthy watersheds and coastal waters, safe drinking water, sustainable water infrastructure, and water security. The plan is to “diversify the science the water program uses to develop its regulatory and non-regulatory water management tools and decisions” according to an EPA press release. Water researchers, water managers and the public are invited to view the strategy in order to understand how this national plan may affect their work and use of water. Other federal agencies with water-related research responsibilities may wish to consider this strategy in relation to their work.
More information is available at: http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/strategy
EPA Study Shows Freshwater Fish Contamination (11/09)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a study detailing the prevalence of toxic chemicals in freshwater using fish tissue samples from across the continental U.S. The National Lake Fish Tissue Study shows widespread distribution of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBTs) chemicals in fish.
Mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were detected in all of the lakes sampled, while dioxins and furans were found in 81 percent of these lakes. Of the five chemicals responsible for 97 percent of fish advisories at the end of 2008, each was found to be above human health screening values (SVs) in at least some lakes. PCB and mercury concentrations above SVs were found to be in especially high proportion, at 16.8 and 48.8 percent of lakes, respectively.
Sampling was conducted over the course of four years on predator (such as largemouth bass and brook trout) and bottom dweller (such as blue catfish and common carp) composites at 500 lakes and reservoirs in the lower 48 states. Samples were tested for 268 PBTs. The study was carried out through a series of partnerships forged by the EPA with 47 states, three tribes, and two other federal agencies. The National Lake Fish Tissue Study is the first of its kind in the U.S. to utilize a random, statistical design, and thus be representative of contaminate distribution across the nation.
Oceans Policy Task Force Provides Update to Congress (11/09)
The President’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force (IOPTF) updated the Senate Commerce Committee on its progress in developing recommendations for a national ocean policy at a hearing in November. Much of the discussion centered on the recommendations of the interim report released in September.
The IOPTF recommends an ocean council to coordinate federal policy initiatives. The report suggests a council chaired jointly by the Council for Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Numerous concerns were raised about the presumably insufficient role of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the council.
Featuring testimony from high level administrators across various agencies with ocean jurisdiction, the major topics of the hearing included marine spatial planning, ecosystem based resource management, ratification of the Law of the Sea, and leadership of a prescribed ocean council.
Marine spatial planning has been described as “zoning for oceans”, and plays a large role in the recommendations of the task force. Zones are to be set out according to ecosystem based management, which would allow for ocean resource use to have minimal impact on sea life.
NASA Signs Agreement with India for Ocean Satellite Data (11/09)
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) signed an agreement with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to use data from the Indian satellite Oceansat-2. Oceansat-2 measures ocean surface wind speeds, atmospheric humidity and temperature to improve understanding of the oceans and ocean-atmosphere interactions. The data is essential for dealing with climate change, weather forecasting, ocean health and Earth system dynamics.
ISRO is part of India’s National Natural Resources Management System, and Oceansat-2 is but one of a large constellation of Earth-observing satellites operated by India for civilian use.
Congressional Hazards Caucus Holds Coastal Erosion Briefing (11/09)
The American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America, in coordination with the Congressional Hazards Caucus Alliance and the Congressional Hazards Caucus, held a briefing entitled “Eroding Coastlines: Geological and Societal Impacts of Extreme Storms, Wetland Loss, and Sea Level Rise”. The briefing featured talks by geologist John Boothroyd, oceanographer Abby Salanger, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) project manager James Titus.
Boothroyd displayed storm damage to the Outer Banks and vulnerability on the Rhode Island coast while Salanger demonstrated coastal losses on the Gulf of Mexico since Hurricane Katrina using lidar before and after storms to observe changes in coastal elevation. Both pointed out the potential for storm damage to amplify with climate change, the important role wetlands play in storm mitigation, and considered beach “nourishment” to be a long term maintenance expense.
From the EPA, Titus revealed the muddy legal waters concerning ownership of beaches and other coastal landforms, most of which has yet to be settled. A quagmire of federal, state, local, and common laws often features conflicting and ambiguous language to which makes it difficult to govern these areas.
Study Ties Drought to Population, Not Climate Change (10/09)
A Columbia University study found that the drought that overwhelmed the Southeast from 2005-2007 was nothing out of the ordinary. By studying data from tree rings, computer models, and weather instruments, the drought was found to be pretty standard and even mild compared to other droughts even in the recent past. Despite the normalcy of the drought, it forced many states to declare water usage restrictions and file lawsuits against other states over water. Columbia reported that the resulting water shortages were due to population growth and bad planning rather than climate change.
There were 6.5 million people in Georgia in 1990, and now there are 9.5 million people. That is almost a 50 percent increase in only 17 years. The population is still growing and little has been done to reduce consumption or increase storage of water. Although it was much drier in the 19th century, it had less of an effect due to the small population.
Most climate models have actually predicted that as temperatures rise, rainfall will increase in the Southeast, but this will come with an increase in evaporation. Richard Seager, a climate modeler at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia, says the best one could hope for is for the two to balance out and that “climate change should not be counted on to solve the Southeast’s water woes.”
NSF Launches Dead Zone Interactive Site (10/09)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched a new interactive “Dead Zone” website to help answer questions that the public might have about these increasingly prevalent zones of oxygen starved water in the oceans; areas that are virtually devoid of life. This multimedia package features videos, photographs, a narrated slideshow, illustrations, easy-to-understand texts, and downloadable documents.
There are currently over 400 dead zones on the Earth. Dead zones are normally thought of as being the aftermath of pollution, but recently many are thought to be caused by changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation that may be a result of climate change.
To visit this new interactive site, go to: http://nsf.gov/news/special_reports/deadzones/
Ocean Policy Task Force Releases Interim Report (9/09)
The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force released an interim report with suggested national policy for stewardship of the ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes, as well as a policy coordination framework and an implementation strategy. To improve coordination, they call for a clear and overarching national policy to promote healthy, productive oceans that are protected from unsustainable practices. The task force advises forwarding the scientific understanding of the ocean ecosystems, their relationship to humans and other Earth’s systems, and the changing environmental conditions. Improved scientific understanding and subsequently improved public will lead to informed decisions.
The task force advises that the U.S. ensures a fiscally responsible, comprehensive policy framework that includes cooperation with relevant stakeholders and joining the Law of the Sea Convention. The implementation strategy is broken down into the top nine objectives: ecosystem-based management, coastal and marine spatial planning, improved public understanding, coordinate support from stakeholders, resiliency to climate change and ocean acidification, ecosystem protection and restoration, water quality on land, Arctic stewardship, and observations and infrastructure.
The task force, created by Presidential Memorandum in June, consists of senior-level officials from the federal agencies led by White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley. It was mandated to release this coordination framework and implementation strategy in 90 days, and now has an additional 90 days to develop a recommended framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning. The Task Force will provide a final report with all of its recommendations later this year.
Further Endorsement of the Law of the Sea (9/09)
The Executive Office of the President has endorsed U.S. ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, along with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen wrote a column in the Seattle Times in support of accession. Their column called ratification a way to “participate in interpreting and applying the convention to the changing realities of the global maritime environment and preserves our ability to protect domestic interests including extending our continental shelf claims.”
The Law of the Sea (LOS) treaty is an international agreement that defines the rights and responsibility of nations in regards to the oceans and the seafloor. This 27 year old treaty has been ratified by most industrialized countries. The U.S. Senate has not ratified the treaty, even though past Administrations and President Obama have asked for ratification. An outspoken congressional supporter, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry (D-MA), hopes that his committee will proceed with ratification and that the full Senate will approve of the treaty in the near future.
The full column in the Seattle Times is available here.
House Committee Proposes Water Management Council (8/09)
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is drafting a bill that would establish a Water Resources Management Council consisting of Cabinet level members and a director nominated by the President. The bill, called the Sustainable Watershed Planning Act, would establish regional watershed planning boards to work for a comprehensive water management infrastructure of all watersheds. The boards would develop five year plans for water use and conservation, and be comprised of members from stakeholders and local, state, and federal agencies. States could also create their own water planning boards or assist planning efforts through council grants of up to $1.5 million per year.
The bill is a response to the recent droughts in the Southeast and Southwest and flooding in the Midwest that have called into question the divided managerial structure of water resources. Currently, agencies at the local through the federal levels can have jurisdiction over different parts and aspects of the same watershed. Problems arise when water projects or demand for the water upstream affects the downstream supply. The legislation is an attempt to consolidate and coordinate water management so that regional effects from local management decisions can be taken into account. There are some doubts over the legislation, as stakeholders and state water managers are unsure what the specific goals of the council and planning boards are, but water experts agree that the current water management structure needs to be fixed.
Committee Passes Algal Blooms Research Bill (8/09)
To mediate the effects of the growing number of algal blooms and hypoxic events happening along the U.S. coasts, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee unanimously passed a research and mitigation bill ( S. 952) on August 5. The bill would address algal blooms through research, forecasting, monitoring, and mitigation and control measures. The bill requires NOAA to implement a national program developed by a prescribed task force.
USGS Releases Water Quality Report (7/09)
On July 16, 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a water quality report on the High Plains aquifer, which supplies eight states with water for drinking, irrigation and livestock watering. The water quality study concluded that the aquifer is generally acceptable for these uses, but warned that the amount of pollutants is increasing over time. The study measured samples from public-supply wells, irrigation wells, and shallow monitoring wells taken between 1999 and 2004.
As the nation’s most heavily used groundwater resource, an increase in contaminates casts doubt on the long-term sustainability of the aquifer. The slow movement of water compounded with slow rates of contaminant degradation would make the contaminants hard to remove. However, currently only 6 percent of the wells had concentrations of the fertilizer derived contaminant nitrate over the federal standard while more than 85 percent of the 370 drinking wells measured were within federal drinking-water standards.
The water quality report is available from the USGS at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1337/
Hydraulic Fracturing Debated In Congress (7/09)
Congress is debating whether hydraulic fracturing should be monitored under the Safe Water Drinking Act. In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, hydraulic fracturing was removed from the oversight of the Safe Water Drinking Act. Bills in the House (H.R. 2766) and the Senate (S. 1215) would repeal this exemption. According to an HIS Global Insight study released by the American Petroleum Institute (API), between $84 and $374 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) losses would occur by 2014 if there was increased regulation or total elimination of hydraulic fracturing. The study also found that an increase in unemployment and foreign imports would follow.
Hydraulic fracturing has been used by the industry for over 50 years to aid in drilling for difficult to recover gas reserves. Some say the chemicals mixed with the sand and water to break up the rocks are harmful to groundwater. After Congress was assured the process was safe, it was removed from the Drinking Water Act. Since then several contaminated sites have been found near gas wells, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now has limited authority to investigate. Congress wants to reinstate EPA authority and held hearings to assess the situation, while industry references studies showing that state oversight is sufficient and federal regulations will only hamper exploration.
The PDF of the API study is available here:
Information on the Safe Water Drinking Act is available from EPA:
The full text of H.R. 2766 is available from Thomas:
The full text of S. 1215 is available from Thomas:
International Watersheds Initiative Third Report Released (7/09)
The Canada Institute of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held a meeting on July 23, 2009 to promote and discuss the release of the third report by the International Joint Commission (IJC) on their International Watersheds Initiative (IWI). The report summarizes the recent work that the IJC has accomplished, as well as recommendations for how to manage watersheds that fall along or across an international border, in this case the U.S. and Canada. The three reports have been instrumental in establishing techniques to decide how pollution, water resources, and levels and flows of the water systems should be regulated across international borders by looking at the entire ecosystem involved. The IWI achieves this through international watershed boards that anticipate, prevent, and resolve local issues before they develop into international problems.
Two guest speakers gave presentations and answered questions about the IJC and the findings of the IWI report. Charles Lawson, the secretary of the U.S. Section of the IJC, discussed the history of the IJC and the IWI. The IJC was created by Canada and the U.S in June of 1909 as a result of the Boundary Waters Treaty, the longest standing and continuously operating international environmental treaty. The IWI was commissioned by both countries in the 1990s to address how the environmental issues of the 21st century would be met while taking into account the constraints of the treaty. Willem Brakel, senior advisor at the IJC and co-coordinator of the IWI, highlighted some of the IWI’s recent work. The IWI has successfully tested its “more ecosystemic approach” on four river basins and is working on hydrographic data harmonization. Brakel also emphasized climate change and water quality as two emerging issues of consideration for the IWI. He concluded that there needs to be better outreach to stakeholders by the international boards, and more funding from the governments and participation from federal agencies.
ESA “Water Resources in the West” Briefing (7/09)
The Ecological Society of America (ESA) held a hearing on “Water Resources in the West: Assessing Tradeoffs in a Changing Climate” on July 13, 2009. The briefing focused on how water use will be impacted by climate change, the relationship between ecosystem services and water resources, and managing agricultural and urban ecosystems. The speakers included Dr. Jill Baron of the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado State University, Dr. Darrel Jenerette of the University of California Riverside, and Dr. Diane Pataki of the University of California Irvine.
There will not be enough water in the West to satisfy all human and environmental needs in the future as a result of growing population and climate change. The likely effects of less water will be reduced water quality, smaller bird and fish migration corridors, and contracted trout and salmon fisheries. It will be necessary to engage in adaptation and management of watersheds on the local and regional scales to maximize the benefits of the water that will remain. Ecosystem services will suffer in the coming decades due to more severe droughts which will become the norm. Goods and services related to drinking water, energy, fiber production and food production will be threatened. Policy options exist in water pricing, agriculture policy, and housing policy that will allow us to maximize the benefits of these services. Outdoor urban water use in the West needs to be reduced and the smart plant ecology choices in those urban cities would curb usage. Considerations must also be made of the tradeoff between water conservation and climate since irrigation makes cities cooler but takes more water out of the watershed.
House and Senate Introduce Ocean Energy Legislation (5/09)
At the very end of April, the House and Senate introduced legislation that will promote ocean energy research. The aim is to bring ocean energy technology up to par with other clean energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. The Marine Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2009 (H.R. 2148 and S. 923) was introduced in the House by Jay Inslee (D-WA) with companion legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
The legislation would authorize up to $250 million a year for ocean research, something that the Obama Administration is also promoting. The legislation increases research and development work at the Department of Energy to improve the reliability, efficiency, and cost of marine devices. The funding will also go towards new technologies and integration into the national grid. Marine renewable energy is defined as energy generated by ocean thermal energy conversion, or water motion in oceans, estuaries, rivers, lakes, man made channels and tidal areas. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that the U.S. oceans could generate 6.5 percent of the nation’s electricity if ocean energy is funded at the same levels as other forms of renewable energy.
The full text of H.R. 2148 is available from Thomas:
The full text of S. 923 is available from Thomas:
Massive Water Infrastructure Bill Passes Committee (5/09)
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Water Infrastructure Financing Act of 2009 (S.1005). The bill would increase the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) to $20 billion and the Drinking Water SRF to $14.7 billion, provides $1.8 billion in grants to address sewage overflows, $60 million for grants to reduce lead in drinking water, $50 million for grants to address agriculture-related water quality, $50 million for watershed restoration projects and $20 million for grants for research and development on technologies to improve water quality or supplies. These amounts would be authorized over a five-year period. Other water projects would be supported in the measure, but are not listed here.
Experts Call For Federal Measures to Protect Coasts and Ocean Resources (4/09)
The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) pressed for stronger federal ocean regulations to address the threats coastal regions face from climate change and offshore energy production in a 44-page report presented to the Obama Administration and policymakers on April 7, 2009. The JOCI panel members called for a new cabinet-level ocean policy coordinator. The report indicated that a “lack of rational management strategy” and limited ocean science studies have resulted in significant reduction in the economic vitality provided by the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. The recommendations made were based on previous reports from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission over the last 5 years that predicted dire conditions in coastal areas resulting from climate change-induced sea level increases over the coming decades.
The JOCI panel also called for the urgent ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty. The Law of the Sea Treaty, ratified by over 150 nations since the mid-1990s, set international standards for navigating and managing marine areas as well as defining offshore jurisdiction of resources. The U.S. however is not a treaty member, as efforts to ratify the measure have stalled in the Senate. The Obama Administration has made it clear of its intention to ratify the treaty, as several nations party to the treaty are claiming resources in the Arctic that have become more readily available due to melting ice caps.
World Oceans Day (4/09)
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has recently designated June 8 as World Oceans Day, starting in 2009. The designation came in the recent UNGA resolution 63/111, titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea,” as a statement of solidarity from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to identify the goal of promoting peace, security, and cooperation of all nations regarding the use of the world’s oceans.
Water Science Bill Passes House Vote (4/09)
On April 23, 2009, the House passed the National Water Research and Development Initiative Act (H.R. 1145), a bill intended to improve coordination in areas of water research and management among the numerous federal agencies involved with water resources. Introduced by House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), H.R. 1145 would direct the President to implement a National Water Research and Development Initiative under the direction of an interagency committee. This committee would be charged with creating the National Water Availability Research and Assessment Plan that would coordinate all federal, state, local, and tribal governments’ water-related activities. Such activities include water science research, development, demonstration, data collection and dissemination, education, and technology transfer. H.R. 1145 specifies several goals for the interagency committee to work towards, including the implementation of a national water census, development of a new generation of water monitoring techniques, development of technologies for enhancing reliable water supplies, improvement in water efficiency technologies, creation of processes and tools to facilitate resolutions in potential conflicts over water, improvement in hydrologic prediction models, and analysis of the water-energy nexus.
Many of the policies included in H.R. 1145 follow recommendations made in the 2008 publication by the American Geological Institute, Critical Needs for the Twenty First Century: the Role of Geosciences. The recommendations in the water section of the document highlighted by H.R. 1145 are: the call for a national water census, enhancement of a national water monitoring network, and greater cooperation of federal agencies involved in water research. The document also calls for the USGS to be the lead federal water agency, a provision that has not yet made it into legislation.
H.R. 1145 is not the first attempt at developing a national water census, however. The Bush Administration’s fiscal year 2009 budget called for a $8.2 million increase to implement a national census as part of the Water for America Initiative, a program within the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Reclamation to assess the nation’s water supply and strategize ways to develop and protect the resource. With both Administrations noting the critical need for a nation water census, the bill is likely to be well received as it moves onto the Senate Environment and Public Works.
Senate Working on Energy and Water Bills (4/09)
The Energy and Water Integration Act of 2009 (S. 531) directs the Secretary of Energy to have the National Academy of Sciences conduct an in-depth analysis of the impact of energy development and production on U.S. water resources. It requires the Secretary to conduct a study to identify the best available technologies and related strategies to maximize water and energy efficiency in the production of electricity by each type of generation. It also requires the Secretary to develop an Energy-Water Research and Development Roadmap and the Administrator of the Energy Information Administration to conduct an assessment of energy consumption in various sectors of the economy that are associated with the acquisition, treatment, or delivery of water.
The bill also directs the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study to evaluate the quantities of energy used in water storage and delivery operations in major reclamation projects; and to operate, manage, and maintain the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Otero County, New Mexico, to carry out research, development, and demonstration activities to develop technologies and methods that promote brackish groundwater desalination as a viable method to increase water supply in a cost-effective manner.
Public Lands Omnibus Signed by Obama (3/09)
After failing in the Senate last year and the House earlier this month, the Public Lands Omnibus (introduced to the 111th Congress as S. 22, but passed as H.R. 146) was signed into law by President Obama on March 30 (Public Law 111-11). The omnibus contains over 160 bills authorizing many conservation measures. Beyond expanding national parks and protecting 2 million acres of federal lands, the bill contains many programs to address ocean research, water and climate change, fossils on public lands, and geologic mapping. The passage marks “one of the most significant protections for our treasured landscapes in a generation,” according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Bills such as the Federal Oceanic Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2009, the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, and the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009 passed as part of the package. FOARAM authorizes $150 million over the next five years for federal agencies to monitor the effects of ocean acidification. The Interagency Committee on Ocean and Coastal Mapping will establish a plan for mapping the Great Lakes and U.S. coastal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zones, and the continental shelf in order to advance marine science. The National Ocean Research Leadership Council will create an observing system to protect key coastal areas. Programs at the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will coordinate to address the potential water shortages, conflicts, and hazards due to climate change.
The National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act, included in the omnibus package, provides funding to the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program to continue work on a national geologic map database and increases the allocation for state and educational components through fiscal year 2018.Also included is the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, which prevents taking fossils from public land without a permit with an amendment allowing casual, or unknowing, collecting of common fossils.
To help the omnibus through the House after failing by two votes in early March, the Senate employed a procedural strategy allowing a previously passed bill, the Revolutionary War Battlefields Protection Act (H.R. 146), to be a vehicle for the Public Lands Omnibus. Since H.R. 146 had already passed in the House, the ensuing vote would just require a simple majority to approve the single, albeit all encompassing, amendment. There was hesitation in the House when some members tried to add an additional amendment allowing concealed weapons in national parks, but the bill passed without amendments in a 285-140 vote on March 25.
Water Legislation Makes Its Way Through Congress (3/09)
The Water Use Efficiency and Conservation Research Act (H.R. 631) passed the House on February 11, 2009 and moved onto the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). The bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a program promoting water efficiency and conservation. The program will look at technology to better store, treat, and distribute water as well as the sociological and economic challenges to water use efficiency. The Senate EPW Subcommittee on Wildlife and Water held a hearing on March 30 to discuss the EPA’s role in promoting water use efficiency.
USGS Congressional Briefing on the Nationwide Quality of Water from Private Well Sources (3/09)
On March 27, 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported findings from a 13-year study on the quality of the nation’s private well water sources. Also presented at the briefing was an update on a National Cancer Institute (NCI) investigation on a New England study of trends in well water contamination associated with emerging cases of bladder cancer. The final presentation at the briefing was from the executive director of the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) who shared guidelines on proper well stewardship as well as a response to the USGS private well water quality study.
Dr. Leslie DeSimone of the USGS presented an overview of major findings from the USGS report, Quality of Water from Domestic Wells in Principal Aquifers of the United States. The study was conducted as part of the USGS’s National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAQWA) and examined waters from 30 major aquifers across the nation. The study analyzed water samples for the presence of inorganic and organic compounds as well as for bacteria and aesthetic characteristics. Concentrations of these compounds were compared to human-health benchmarks set by both the Environmental Protection Agency (MCLs- maximum contaminant levels) and the USGS (HBCLs- health based screening levels). The study found that over 20 percent of all the wells sampled had at least 1 contaminant that exceeded an MCL or HBCL, and that of the 400 wells sampled for bacteria 34 percent contained a measureable amount of coliform bacteria, of which about 8 percent also reported the presence of escherichia coli (e. coli). The study found that the most common contaminants in wells (radon, arsenic, uranium, nitrate, fluoride) that exceeded benchmark levels were derived from natural sources, with the exception of nitrate. Although naturally occurring, nitrate levels can be elevated by agricultural activities. Man-made organic compounds were found in 60 percent of all the wells sampled, but only 1 percent of these wells had levels exceeding human-health benchmarks. More information on the study is available online at water.usgs.gov/nawqa/qw_domestic_wells.pdf
Dr. Kenneth Cantor of the NCI presented an update on an ongoing investigation of arsenic levels in private wells and bladder cancer incidences in New England. Elevated levels of arsenic in drinking water, which commonly occurs in the fracture-granite aquifers of New England, is a suspected cause of bladder cancer. Cantor’s case-control study is examining 1,213 new cancer cases across New England compared to 1,418 control subjects. Although findings from the study have not yet been reported, Cantor emphasized the importance of spatial information on contaminants to environmental health studies, which Cantor indicated can be a valuable tool to public health officials in assessments of exposure and risks to carcinogenic compounds in water supplies.
Kevin McCray, executive director of NGWA, provided a brief overview of his organization’s mission. He noted that it is duty of the NGWA to use the findings in the USGS report to educate private well owners on proper well maintenance and testing, which McCray called “a homeowner obligation.” He also pointed out that the water samples in the USGS study were all obtained prior to any treatment, a step that would likely decrease the levels of contaminants reported in the study. McCray shared several guidelines for private well owners to ensure proper well performance and water quality. As part of NGWA’s consumer-focused programming, these guidelines and more information can be found at www.wellowner.org.
New Oceans Feature Makes Waves with Google Earth
On February 2, 2009, Google introduced a major upgrade of its popular planetary image viewer, Google Earth (GE). Now users of GE can view the depths of the Mariana Trench or their favorite scuba-diving location as easily as looking at their parent’s neighborhood. The latest version, GE 5.0, is enhanced with bathymetric information from dozens of research institutions and organizations, and provides the capacity to view the topography of the entire planet’s ocean floor in three dimensions.
In addition to the ocean floor surface, 20 ocean layers are now available in GE 5.0 that contain archived information ranging from fertile fishing grounds to famous shipwrecks to daily ocean temperatures courtesy of the U.S. Navy. David Sandwell, professor of geophysics at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and a key leader in gathering the vast amounts of bathymetric data of the ocean, feels the new GE ocean feature can be a powerful tool for geoscientists and earth science educators. “Our global seafloor map on Google Earth opens new possibilities for users to explore Earth's most remote ocean environments, such as the East Pacific Rise and Mariana Trench," stated Sandwell after the announcement of the GE 5.0 launch. With only about 5% of the ocean floor mapped in detail, Google developers and marine researchers hope the enhancement to GE will spur interest worldwide into further sea exploration and conservation.
In addition to the Oceans feature, GE 5.0 includes the Historical Imagery viewer. This feature allows users to view all available historic imagery as well as the most current images, thus providing the opportunity to view changes in the landscape over timescales of up to several decades. Earth scientists can use this feature to track changes in landforms, erosional patterns, land use, glacial size/movement, vegetative patterns, or any other modifications to the Earth’s surface through the timeframe available at a given location. (02/09)
Read the full NY Times article on their website.
The FOARAM Act Making the Rounds Once Again
The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4174) passed the House in July 2008, yet failed to make it through the Senate before the end of the 110th Congress. However it was reintroduced in the House as the FOARAM Act of 2009 (H.R. 14) and incorporated into the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S. 22). The omnibus has passed in the Senate and is now waiting House debate.
As the oceans absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, the water is becoming more acidic. The consequences pose potentially serious and permanent damage to ocean environments. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent since industrialization and increased carbon dioxide emissions have the potential to lower pH to its lowest level in 20 million years.
The FOARAM Act would establish an ocean acidification program within NOAA, and an interagency committee tasked with coordinating ocean acidification activities. The interagency committee would include representation from NOAA, National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The committee would be responsible for organizing and expanding research programs with the following goals: to enhance understanding of the role of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems, to identify marine ecosystem conservation measures, and to investigate the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification. (02/09)
Senate May Consider Ratification of the Law of the Sea
Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair has announced that he will push for ratification of the Law of the Sea. His office released a statement that said “The Arctic should be recognized as a strategic priority for our nation. In order to guarantee secure borders, ensure access to natural resources, mediate shipping and transportation routes, and protect our marine resources, we must become full partners with the other Arctic nations and ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea."
Geoscientists at federal agencies and elsewhere have studied the Arctic for a long time and would be even more critical for improving our understanding of the natural resources, environmental health, Earth system processes and other details of the Arctic if the treaty is ratified. Even without ratification the resources and the changes in the Arctic are substantial and will require more study, exploration, observation and analysis to meet national and global needs. (01/09)
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Two major pieces of legislation regulate the nation's waters: the Clean Water Act (CWA) governs navigable waters including lakes, rivers, aquifers, and coastal areas and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) governs the nation's public drinking water supply. Congress has been unable to reauthorize the CWA in its entirety, but continues to appropriate funds for its implementation while debating several issues, such as wetland preservation and local wastewater treatment. The SDWA authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national drinking water standards to protect against both naturally occurring and anthropogenic contaminants. EPA is currently investigating several specific health risks including: arsenic, radon, microbial contaminants, and the byproducts of drinking water disinfection. Water use and reuse, conservation and efficiency, and rural infrastructure are also major concerns.
The USGS implemented the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program in 1991 to develop long-term consistent and comparable information on streams, rivers, ground water, and aquatic systems to help with decisions related to water-quality management and policy. In May 2004, the USGS’s National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) presented findings from its first decade of research. 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. NAWQA activities during the second decade (2001-2012) focus in large part on national and regional assessments, including continuing national-synthesis assessments of information on pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nutrients, selected trace elements, and aquatic ecology, studies on five national priority topics, and regional assessments of water-quality and trends in surface water and principal aquifers.
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, have had seven straight years of drought. In February 2007, an Associated Press article reported that the U.S. Climatic Data Center predicted that 67 percent of the western United States will be in moderate to extreme drought by the end of spring 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.
The Great Lakes are an extremely valuable natural resource for the United States. Constituting one-fifth of the global supply of fresh water, they provide over 35 million Americans with drinking water, food, transportation, and recreation. However, the resources of the Great Lakes are threatened by a variety of environmental problems, including pollution, toxins, invasive species, erosion, habitat loss, and unsustainable development. To address some of these problems, nine federal agencies and several states have implemented nearly 200 environmental restoration programs in the Great Lakes region since the 1970s.
In 2003, the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study to identify, evaluate, and assess federal and state restoration programs in the Great Lakes. GAO found that 148 federal and 51 state programs were funding environmental restoration in the area, causing them to recommend "a coordinated strategic plan and monitoring system... to achieve restoration goals."
In response, President Bush issued an executive order in May 2004 that called for the establishment of a Great Lakes Interagency Task Force to improve coordination and communication of Great Lakes restoration projects. Chaired by the EPA Administrator, the task force includes the heads of the Departments of State, the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, the Army, Homeland Security, and the Council on Environmental Quality. A Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy (GLRCS) team released a report in December 2005.
Wetlands and Coastal Resources
Wetlands are complex ecosystems that are among some of the nation's most valuable resources. They serve several ecological functions including improving water quality, controlling floods, diminishing droughts, and stabilizing shorelines. Home to many rare and endangered species of plants and animals, they not only serve the interests of natural ecosystems, but also serve hazard management, economic, and commercial interests, such as coastal drilling for oil and natural gas. Prior to the mid-1970's, wetlands were regularly drained and filled in for development projects, leading to a loss of about half of the wetlands in the contiguous United States since the 1600's. In the 1970's, however, wetlands were recognized as a resource of ecological value, and concern about their loss led to federal efforts to protect them on both public and private lands.
Federal efforts to protect and preserve coastal barriers from major development have similarly gathered momentum over the past few decades. Coastal barriers, such as barrier islands and sand spits, play an important ecological role by protecting human communities and ecosystems, including coastal wetlands, from storm damage. In addition to being the first line of defense against major storms, coastal barriers provide habitat for valuable seafood and wildlife species and are often popular recreation areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for managing coastal barriers that are protected under the Coastal Barriers Resources Act (S. 1869).
President Bush declared a new policy in April 2004 to increase total wetland area in the United States by 1 million acres and to increase protection of an additional 2 million acres during the next five years. This policy will largely be implemented through a Natural Resources Conservation Service program in which farmers receive grants when they set aside wetlands on their property, and through an increase of Wetlands Reserve Program funding from $15 million in 2004 to a proposed $455 million in 2008. The actual funding levels are anticipated to be outlined in a new Farm Bill in 2009. The Bush administration also advocates the mitigation bank approach, which allows developers to fill in wetlands if they pay for creation of new wetlands elsewhere. Some concerns have been raised by organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation about the higher quality of wetlands that have already been lost compared to those that will be constructed.
Wetlands are otherwise primarily regulated by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) programs under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1977. Section 404 seeks to protect wetlands and adjacent waterways though permitting of dredged or fill materials that might cause environmental degradation. It does not regulate other acts, such as those that drain or flood wetlands. Many environmentalists disagree with the use of section 404 as the primary means for wetland protection, often noting that the program is weak because it is not comprehensive and not created specifically for wetland protection. Landowners generally feel they should be allowed to alter their land as they see fit, and taking away that right through wetland designation decreases the value of their property.
The Marine Resources and Engineering Development Act of 1966 was the first legislation to define a national ocean policy. The law created a commission -- commonly referred to as the Stratton Commission after its chairman Dr. Julius Stratton -- that examined development, utilization, and preservation of the marine environment. In 1969, the Stratton Commission submitted a report to Congress entitled Our Nation and the Sea with recommendations that led to the creation of the National Sea Grant College Programs, the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In the late 1980s the United States recognized the need to more clearly define ocean policy, but legislation to create an oceans commission repeatedly failed to pass Congress. Instead, an independent group of experts created the Pew Oceans Commission in 2000 to lead a national dialogue on policies to restore and protect marine resources. At the same time a rise in the nation's population living near coasts, increased development of ocean resources, and an increasingly complex legal framework associated with environmental threats led Congress to pass the Oceans Act of 2000. The legislation established the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy with the purpose of issuing findings and recommendations to the President and Congress on national ocean policy issues ranging from stewardship, to environmental protection, governance, and research.
The Oceans Act of 2000 required the Bush Administration to submit an implementation plan to Congress in response to the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. This resulted in President Bush’s U.S. Ocean Action Plan and the creation of a Committee on Ocean Policy within the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality. The Committee on Ocean Policy established an ocean governance structure composed of subsidiary bodies to coordinate existing management and help oversee the implementation of the recommendations.
The Pew Ocean Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy joined forces in early 2005 establishing the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. At the request of Congress, the joint commission issued a report in June 2006 entitled “From Sea to Shining Sea: Priorities for Ocean Policy Reform — A Report to the United States Senate.” The 10 prioritized actions needed to implement the commissions’ recommendations listed in the report are:
1. Adopt a statement of national ocean policy;
2. Pass an organic act to establish NOAA in law and work with the Administration to identify and act upon opportunities to improve federal agency coordination on ocean and coastal issues;
3. Foster ecosystem-based regional governance;
4. Reauthorize an improved Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act;
5. Enact legislation to support innovation and competition in ocean related research and education consistent with key initiatives in the Bush Administration’s Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy;
6. Enact legislation to authorize and fund the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) to monitor ocean health;
7. Accede to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (see background below);
8. Establish an Ocean Trust Fund, with monetary input generated from outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas revenues, as a dedicated source of funds for improved management and understanding of ocean and coastal resources by federal and state governments;
9. Increase base funding for core ocean and coastal programs and direct development of an integrated ocean budget; and
10. Enact ocean and coastal legislation that progressed significantly in the 109th Congress.
In addition, the joint commission reported that the four highest priority areas for funding are: ocean governance and coastal management; ocean science and research; monitoring, observing, and mapping the oceans; and education and outreach.
Congress has continued to consider ocean policy and management recommendations of the joint commission and to monitor the progress on implementing and responding to those recommendations. Improvements continue to be made in ocean policy ranging from changes in the organization and administrative structure of ocean research and governance, to specific improvements to ocean and coastal mapping and observation.
The National Sea Grant College Programs Amendment Act of 2008 (H.R. 5618) was signed by President Bush in October 2008. The bill aims to provide grants and contracts to support education, research, training, and management of the oceans, coastal areas, and major lakes. The research programs cover a variety of themes from creating models of the oceans, to studying coastal hazards and ecosystems, to working on marine biotechnology. The new amendments stress integrated research, extension services, and regional coordination between the Sea Grant partners. The partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), states, industry groups, and university-based programs. The Sea Grant Act was last reauthorized in 2002.
Other key ocean legislation for the 110th Congress was the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4174). The FOARAM Act passed the House in July 2008, but never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. The legislation would establish an interagency research program overseen by NOAA to enhance understanding of the role of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems, to identify marine ecosystem conservation measures, and to investigate the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
With the melting of the arctic ice sheet, there are increasing opportunities for navigation, shipping, exploration and extraction of natural resources near the North Pole. Indeed the potential natural resources are considered so significant that multiple nations are staking claims to large areas of seafloor beneath the ever-changing ice cap. The melting ice has again drawn attention to the United Nations’ Law of the Sea Treaty, which governs activities on, over, and under the world’s oceans and defines the extent of territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones for signatory nations. According to the treaty, a nation has the rights to the resources in its territorial waters, and sole exploration rights within its Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 200 nautical miles off of its coastline. The Exclusive Economic Zone can be extended up to 350 nautical miles if a nation can prove that the area is a continuation of the continental shelf from the nation’s coastline. In 2007, the Russians claimed a broad swath of the north polar seafloor, including the North Pole, because new research suggested the Russian continental shelf extends through area. The Russians, who have already ratified the treaty, have filed a claim for the area with the United Nations.
The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea was opened for signature in December 1982. President Reagan refused to accede to the treaty because of objections related to deep seabed mining. After revisions to the deep sea mining provisions President Clinton chose to sign the treaty and requested approval from the Senate. The Senate has not considered the treaty on the floor. In May 2007, President Bush expressed his support and urged the Senate to approve of the treaty and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved ratification again in October 2007. The treaty will likely remain in this limbo until proponents believe they have enough votes to meet the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution. Opponents fear that accepting the treaty will limit U.S. sovereignty over ocean exploration and navigation, while supporters fear the U.S. will lose claims to vital ocean assets if it is not a part of the treaty.
Outer Continental Shelf
Activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are of interest to the geoscience community for a variety of reasons. The availability of resources, possibilities for energy production, environmental impacts from all activities, and proximity to highly populated coastlines all play a role in OCS policy. Of all the activities on the OCS, the most visible, and contentious, are those associated with the leasing and development of OCS lands for fossil fuel exploration and development and the collection and distribution of resulting revenues from these leases. Environmental concerns have prompted the establishment of leasing and drilling moratoria that prohibit most OCS production. Last year, due to rising energy costs, President Bush lifted the executive moratorium on OCS development and the 110th Congress allowed their congressional ban to expire. The new Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is currently conducting studies to determine the feasibility of developing wind and wave power offshore.
The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is defined by current law as the submerged lands that stretch between 3 and about 690 geographical miles seaward of the U.S. coastline. Within the first 3 miles of a state's shore, all subsoil and seabed resources are managed by the state. The Gulf of Mexico coasts of Texas and Florida are the exceptions, with state waters extending to about 9 geographical miles. Beyond 690 miles, or 200 nautical miles (nm), the seabed and subsoil are considered to be in international waters. The 200 nm expanse beginning at the shoreline is referred to as a nation's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The OCS and EEZ are extended if the coastal margin is geologically defined as extending beyond the 200 nm limit. Such extensions can be found off of Alaska, the Atlantic coast, and in the Gulf of Mexico. Where the geological continental margin is narrow, as in the Pacific, federal jurisdiction is limited to within the 200 nm zone.
State jurisdiction over coastal resources was passed and signed into law under the Eisenhower administration, with the Submerged Lands Act of 1953. In the same year of the Submerged Lands Act, Congress and President Eisenhower passed into law the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OSCLA), which grants to the Secretary of the Interior authority over all mineral resources on the OCS.
Sources: AGI's Monthly Review, E&E Daily, and THOMAS.
Contributed by Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Rachel Poor, and Linda Rowan, Government Affairs staff; Clint Carney, AGI/AAPG Spring 2009 Intern; Stephanie Praus, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Joey Fiore, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Mollie Pettit, AGI/AAPG Fall 2009 Intern; Eliabeth Brown, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; Eliabeth Huss, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; Kiya Wilson, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; and Matthew Ampleman, AGI/AAPG Fall 2010 Intern.
Background section includes material from AGI's summaries and updates for Clean Water, Watersheds, Wetlands, Water Resources, and Oceans in the 110th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on November 5, 2010