bwl3 at comcast.net
Fri Aug 7 09:34:36 PDT 2009
<http://www.eedaily.com/> E&E Daily
An E&E Publishing Service
WATER: T&I panel floats bill to form resource management council (Friday,
August 7, 2009)
Taryn Luntz, E&E reporter
Congressional aides, conservation advocates and water stakeholders are
gearing up to tackle the increasingly thorny issue of water management,
seeking to transform a system of piecemeal project approvals into one that
plans comprehensively for all aspects of watersheds.
With water conflicts surfacing throughout the country, House Transportation
and Infrastructure Committee staffers are working on a water planning bill
that they have circulated among stakeholders over the past two months.
A June 12 draft of the legislation would create a Cabinet-level council and
a president-appointed director charged with "carrying out the policies and
programs of the federal government affecting sustainable water resources
The bill also would establish regional watershed planning boards that would
produce five-year plans for water use and conservation, targeting "increased
water efficiency, increased water quality and improved ecological health and
resiliency for federal, interstate, state, tribal and local governmental and
non-governmental stakeholder actions with regard to water resource decisions
across the watershed."
The legislation seeks to overcome one of the most significant challenges
facing water managers. Currently, water management is split among local,
state, regional and federal agencies, often with several bodies dividing
responsibility for different aspects -- and sections -- of watersheds. This
approach can lead to unfortunate consequences, advocates say, as projects
planned for one area can fail to account for downstream effects or wider
Lawmakers on the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee noted the need
for broad-level water planning at a hearing on the issue in June 2008.
"At present, several regions of the country face significant water resource
challenges ranging from droughts in the Southeast and Southwest to the
recent flooding in the Midwest," Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas)
said. "Watershed planning and management can be an important tool to help
make better decisions in resolving these water resource needs."
Ranking member John Boozman (R-Ark.) said Congress should consider devising
a way for the federal government to provide technical assistance and
guidance to state and local water planning efforts.
"More and more often we are seeing growing cities' needs for municipal and
industrial water supplies at odds with similar needs for that same water
downstream," Boozman said. "It conflicts with environmental, recreation,
navigation or flood control needs elsewhere in the watershed. What has been
missing in most cases is a comprehensive watershed plan against which more
focused local feasibility plans can be measured."
Sustainable Watershed Planning Act" aims to address these varied concerns
with water management. The bill was scheduled for a committee markup June 4
but was pulled from the schedule to allow staff to gather more feedback, a
T&I legislative aide said. The draft is a work in progress with no firm date
set for completion, he said.
Under the draft legislation, the sustainable watershed planning council
would consist of the U.S. EPA administrator; the secretaries of Agriculture,
Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Interior
and U.S. Army; the chiefs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and state and tribal leaders.
Regional watershed planning boards, based on the boundaries of Army Corps of
Engineers civil works districts, would have federal, state, local and
States would be eligible for grants of up to $1.5 million a year to set up
their own water planning boards or to support existing planning efforts.
Questions, concerns raised
Water experts agree some type of planning fix is necessary.
"At this stage, progress on water resources at the federal level is
frustrating just about everybody," said David Conrad, senior water resources
specialist for the National Wildlife Federation. "There's definitely a need
for better planning and better coordination, both among federal agencies
working on water resources and with states and regional interests --
especially to sort out roles and needs at all different levels."
On the federal level, agencies frequently fail to coordinate with each
other, and Congress approves water projects on a project-by-project basis.
"The Congress has been dealing with water projects by approving them in
'eaches,'" said Gerald Galloway, a civil engineering professor at the
University of Maryland and former Army Corps member. "As a result, there is
no coordination among projects and the priority system is not based on any
analysis of how they impact each other."
The draft bill says it would not interfere with interstate water compacts or
state management of groundwater resources, but stakeholders and state water
planners are fretting about what exactly the bill would affect.
"What it appears to do is create an infrastructure for watershed planning,
but it is unclear what type of watershed planning is intended," said Marcia
Willhite, chief of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's water
"You can plan to manage water quality, to manage water quantity, to make
sure you have intact ecosystems, you can plan for wildlife habitat, even
appropriate navigation," Willhite said. "But it's unclear from the bill that
I've seen what the focus of the planning is to be."
Water industry groups also are hoping subsequent drafts will clarify the
reach of the proposed watershed council.
"We understand that the draft legislation does not give the federal
government ultimate power to accept or reject specific watershed plans or
projects," the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association wrote in its
analysis of the draft. "Ours is a federal system of government in which
states have the paramount role to implement watershed policies. We are
concerned that the structure established in the draft legislation may
actually be too cumbersome to achieve the desired result."
Water experts agree that for legislation to be successful, it must foster
collaboration among the various planning bodies, encourage
consensus-building, and give private stakeholders an incentive to buy in to
"Collaboration in planning for water projects is critical," Galloway said.
"Collaboration means you start together and work together. You don't have
one party write a plan and give it to the others when you're finished."
White House dips into water management
The push to improve water management has gained considerable steam this
year, with the Obama administration tackling two new initiatives.
The White House is rewriting standards for federal water projects, expanding
the scope of 26-year-old rules that guide the Army Corps of Engineers in an
effort to consider environmental and social goals as well as economic ones.
The broader scope represents a shift from the economic emphasis in the
current Army Corps principles and guidelines. In addition, the
administration is considering expanding the scope of the principles and
guidelines to cover all federal agencies that undertake water resource
projects ( <http://www.eenews.net/Greenwire/2009/07/14/archive/3?>
Greenwire, July 14).
The administration also is crafting an executive order aimed at toughening
federal policies restricting the construction of dams, levees, roads and
other structures in flood-prone areas.
President Obama's draft order would direct agencies to use nonstructural
approaches -- typically, building codes, planning laws and education
campaigns -- to manage floodplains and protect public safety, wetlands and
other natural resources (
<http://www.eenews.net/Greenwire/2009/07/21/archive/2?> Greenwire, July 21).
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land
415 519 4810 cell
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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