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GAO Report Finds USEPA Violated Law in Promoting Clean Water Rule

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report today finding that two social media campaigns operated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated federal laws against publicity, propaganda and grassroots lobbying by the agency. The violations occurred as part of USEPA’s efforts to adopt the Clean Water Rule defining the scope of “waters of the United States” under the federal Clean Water Act.

For a more detailed analysis of the report, you can see my article contained in the December 2015 issue of Global Water Intelligence, which will be published later this week.

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Simpson/Bowles, Federal Water Pork and Full Cost Pricing

I had the privilege yesterday evening to hear a conversation with Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and authors of the Commission’s report The Moment of Truth (2010). It was a great chance to hear genuine statesmen discussing one of the most pressing issues of our day. Logically, the first question posed by the moderator was “how did we get here?” Mr. Bowles discussed the five main causes of our national debt crisis—health care, the tax code, defense spending, social security and compounded interest. Sen. Simpson had a very short answer: we got here because US citizens over the past decades have elected representatives to Congress to bring home the bacon. He listed a few of the things that we have asked the federal government to pay for, and number one on the list was dams.

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Water Resources and the US Presidential Election

As we come to the final week before the 2012 US presidential election, this post reviews the political platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties related to water resources.

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Drought to Persist in Southern US

On February 10, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new maps showing drought conditions across the southeastern US. States that are experiencing particular drought include Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida. In all of these states except Arkansas, drought is expected to persist or worsen over the spring of 2011 and possibly beyond.Combined with the drought and possible effects of climate change are demographic and regulatory challenges facing water supplies, including population growth in the Texaplex cities (Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio) and litigation in federal court that is limiting access by metropolitan Atlanta to Lake Lanier.

These challenges collectively mean that the southeastern states, which only recently emerged from a multi-year drought, will need to continue developing their physical, institutional and legal infrastructure for water supplies. There is likely to be appropriate emphasis on water use efficiency, recycling, desalination, conjunctive use and interbasin transfers. Texas, Georgia and Florida are likely to be the most active. Texas has the clearest path, while both Georgia and Florida are tied up in interstate stream litigation with Alabama. Water resource managers and strategic advisors certainly are living in interesting times.

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West Coast Sea Level Projections

As a water resources professional who regularly handles issues related to climate change and water planning, I have noted in past that one of the key missing data points in scientific studies related to climate change is a reliable projection of sea levels. This is important because sea level is a key input for determining the potential impact of climate change on coastal groundwater basins. Such basins frequently have both on-shore and off-shore areas, and intrusion of seawater into the on-shore portion is affected by the relative head of groundwater in the two areas. The head of groundwater in the off-shore portion is directly related to sea level, such that a rising sea level would increase the head in off-shore basins and tend to push seawater toward or into the on-shore portion.  Seawater intrusion can be a significant problem for management of coastal basins and the water utilities, industries and individuals that rely on those basins for water supply.