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Phase IV Roll-Out Potential Clouded Over Legal Liability Concerns

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) put Members on notice that the next tranche of federal assistance for Coronavirus impacts will focus on the needs of states and local governments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seems to have revised his position that earlier appeared to dash any hopes for another assistance package. Now, the Majority Leader is conditioning any consideration of a state and local assistance package on delivering protections for employers that might face legal jeopardy for reopening businesses and requiring employees to return to work that subsequently contract the virus.

In what seems to be an emerging reality, is the notion that the next package of assistance would include infrastructure spending. Congressional staff are communicating that infrastructure spending could be addressed in late summer into the fall. While infrastructure spending decisions may be delayed, the anticipated Phase IV package may provide funding assistance to the benefit of utilities. Among the priorities that have been aggressively promoted by water sector stakeholders are: funding to help offset revenue losses from moratoria on water and wastewater shutoffs and payroll tax credits for the provision of mandatory paid sick, medical and family leave during the pandemic.

An additional demand that continues to percolate is a call for direct financial assistance to communities with populations less than 500,000 to help reduce overall revenue losses attributable to the health crisis economic impacts. The CARES Act provided $150 billion to states as well as local government with populations in excess of 500,000 to support efforts to stabilize economies by supporting efforts to reverse revenue losses experienced during the pandemic. As to timing, the Speaker and Senate Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has urged expeditious passage during the month of May.

Pelosi Names Democratic Members to COVID-19 Oversight Panel

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) named seven Democrat Members to the recently formed House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. The select committee will be responsible for overseeing the federal government’s response to the crisis. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has yet to name Republican Members. Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) will lead the committee. The other six members include:

  • Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA)
  • Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
  • Representative Bill Foster (D-IL)
  • Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY)
  • Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD)
  • Representative Andy Kim (D-NJ)

California Water – It’s Complicated – Interior Secretary Responds to CA Delegation on CVP/SWP Operations

This week, in a letter sent to select members of California’s congressional delegation, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt expressed his frustration with actions taken by the State of California regarding the implementation of 2019 biological opinions.  Bernhardt’s letter highlights the seemingly endless conflict over California water policy and increases the prospect that courts will ultimately decide California’s water future.

On April 15, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Representatives John Garamendi, T.J. Cox, Josh Harder and Jim Costa sent a letter to Secretary Bernhardt stressing the need for cooperation and coordination of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP), as well as to resolve differences between the 2019 biological opinions.  A similar letter was sent to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

On April 21, Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a motion for a preliminary injunction regarding the 2019 biological opinions.  Becerra asserts Interior’s operation of water pumps in the Delta, under the biological opinions, violates the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, “because it has resulted, and will result, in the unlawful take of these fish species.” In his letter, Secretary Bernhardt calls the State’s actions “ill-founded and potentially unlawful” and stated that any litigation will further complicate the operation of the two projects.

CVP contractors file suit against California (Press Release 4.28.20)

USEPA Extends Comment Period on PFAS/PFOA Determinations

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced the extension of the comment period for a preliminary regulatory determination to regulate perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water.  USEPA is seeking comments on potential monitoring requirements and regulatory approaches.

The comment period is being extended an additional 30 days from May 11, 2020 to June 10, 2020.

Implementation of Water and Environmental Provisions of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018

Final rule modifies existing regulations to include the statutory revisions authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill for the USDA – Rural Utilities Service program.

  • Emergency and Imminent Community Water Assistance Grants Program – Extends use of grant funds for nonprofits, states and local governments to include inadequate water supplies due to an event, including drought, severe weather, or contamination and increases the maximum grant amount to $1,000,000.
  • Household Water Well System Grant Program – Assists nonprofits and tribes to create a revolving loan fund to construct, refurbish, or service individually owned household water well systems. Modifies eligibility from 100% to 60% of the median nonmetropolitan household income for the State.
  • Technical Assistance and Training Grant ProgramAssistance for nonprofits to provide long‐term sustainability of rural water and waste systems and address the contamination of drinking water and surface water supplies by emerging contaminants.

Federal Agency Updates For The Week

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Whole-of-America Update – Details FEMA’s and the wider federal government’s response to COVID-19 to date.

Whole-of-America Fact Sheet – One-page fact sheet summarizing above FEMA update.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Announcement of FY2021 WaterSMART Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)– FOA detailing FY2021 funding for drought resiliency projects. Applications for FY2021 are due to Reclamation by July 8, 2020 at 4:00p.m.

Stakeholder Updates

Water Environment Federation (WEF) Coronavirus and Supply Chain Disruption Report – Details results from WEF’s “Pulse Check” of water sector impacts from COVID-19.

(Report) How to help rural communities confront the coronavirus and economic damage Center for American Progress – Report highlights how providing resources to rural areas is one pathway to help the many communities of color and people with disabilities fight back against the coronavirus.

Climate Change and Displacement in U.S. Communities Report – EcoAdapt + University of California, Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project – Survey to determine if and how people working to address displacement pressures are considering the effects of climate change.