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House Subcommittee Announces Water Access Legislation

On January 28, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife (WOW) will convene a hearing into legislation to address water security, water conveyance needs, and the delivery of drinking water supplies to disadvantaged communities.  The WOW Subcommittee will review Representative T.J. Cox’s (D-CA), Move Water Now Act (H.R. 5316) and Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Assistance Act (H.R. 5347). The Subcommittee will also consider legislation introduced by Representative Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), the Western Water Security Act of 2019 (H.R. 4891).

H.R. 5347 includes the following provisions:

  • Establishes a new grant program, the Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Assistance Program that would provide financial assistance to disadvantaged communities that have “experienced a significant decline in quantity or quality of drinking water, and to obtain or maintain adequate quantities of water”.
  • Authorizes $20 million for each of the fiscal years 2020 through 2025 to fund the Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Assistance Program.

H.R. 5316 enjoys the co-sponsorship of Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Jim Costa (D-CA), Josh Harder (D-CA), and John Garamendi (D-CA).  It includes the following provisions:

  • Authorizes $200 million for fiscal years 2020 – 2023, in the aggregate, to repair damage caused by severe land subsidence.
  • Specifies that “water made available for conveyance through the project would be used primarily for groundwater recharge to assist in meeting groundwater sustainability.”

H.R. 4891 includes the following provisions:

  • Increases funding by $120 million for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART program, of which, $65 million is provided to support desalination design and construction.
  • Expands this program to allow non-government organizations to apply and expand the authority of the states and Native American tribes to declare drought emergencies and access federal relief funds.
  • Reauthorizes the Bureau of Reclamation Cooperative Watershed Management Program.
  • Creates a pilot water leasing program that provides the Bureau of Reclamation and local water districts with increased flexibility to transfer water supplies, including for environmental purposes.
  • Companion legislation (S.2718) has been introduced by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM).

Administration Announces Withdrawal of Proposed Water Supply Rule

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), acting on a presidential directive, announced the withdrawal of a proposed rulemaking entitled  Policy for Domestic, Municipal, and Industrial Water Supply Uses of Reservoir Projects Operated by the Department of the Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer.  The proposed rule is also known as the Water Supply Rule.  In 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would clarify USACE’s policies governing the use of its reservoir projects for domestic, municipal and industrial water supply.

In announcing the action, R.D. James, Assistant Secretary, Civil Works, USACE stated that USACE was taking the action to allow USACE to reconsider the best approaches and uses of waters and facilities.  This focus, according to James, will consider how to simplify and stream line USACE rule mandates to address water users’ concerns over water uses. Among the various factors that led to the rule pullback was a position voiced by the Western Governors Association that argued the proposed rulemaking threatened to interfere with states’ sovereign authority to manage and allocate water resources within their boundaries.  In addition to this uppermost concern, stakeholders also argued that consultation with states and others during the development and finalization of the Proposed Rule was inadequate despite repeated requests during the formulation of the rulemaking.

Waters of the United States Rule Finalized

On Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the Navigable Waters Protection Rule to define which waters are subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.  The action represents the final step toward formal replacement of the Obama era rulemaking that generated numerous lawsuits.  The revised definition identifies four categories of waters that are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act: 1) territorial seas and traditional navigable waters, 2) perennial and intermittent tributaries, 3) certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments, and 4) wetlands that are adjacent to jurisdictional waters. The final rule specifies twelve categories of exclusions including:
  • Groundwater, including groundwater drained through subsurface drainage systems.
  • Stormwater control features constructed or excavated in upland or in non-jurisdictional waters to convey, treat, infiltrate, or store stormwater run-off.
  • Groundwater recharge, water reuse, and wastewater recycling structures constructed or excavated in upland or in non-jurisdictional waters.

The final rule will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.  In response to the new rule, environmental organizations announced that the rule would be legally challenged.

Reports/Studies/New Legislation

(Report) Farming’s Growing Problem (The Center for Public Integrity) Fertilizers are contaminating and warming the planet. Regulators haven’t acted on decades-old warnings. (Photo:NOAA)

(Study) PFAS Contamination of Drinking Water Far More Prevalent Than Previously Reported (Environmental Working Group) – Study determined contamination from PFAS in 34 communities where it has not been previously reported.

(Study) Climate Change Increases the Risk of Wildfires (ScienceBrief Review)
Human-induced climate change promotes the conditions on which wildfires depend, enhancing their likelihood and challenging suppression efforts.

(Video) San Francisco building gives water and human waste a second life (NBC)
A series of pipes, pumps and filtration in a store room in the 35-story building to reroute some of the wastewater that would otherwise flow to the sewer. The water is treated and sent back into the building where it can then be reused for non-potable applications.

Next Week in Congress

January 27
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment- Member’s Day Hearing on Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2020.

January 28
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety – Hearing on Building Infrastructure in America: Overview of the Build America Bureau and the Transportation Department Rural Transportation Initiatives.

House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife – Hearing on H.R. 4891, the “Western Water Security Act of 2019”; H.R. 5316, the “Move Water Now Act”; and H.R. 5347, the “Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Assistance Act.”

House Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry – Hearing to Review Implementation of Farm Bill Conservation Programs.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy – Hearing on Out of Control: The Impact of Wildfires on our Power Sector and the Environment.

January 29
House Committee on Ways and Means – Hearing on Paving the Way for Funding and Financing Infrastructure Investments.