Federal Water Tap, April 16: The Mississippi River and the Rio Grande

Restoration Hardware
The Mississippi River Delta is the beating heart of economic activity in the nation’s midsection. From grain exports to fisheries to oil and gas production, the lower stretch of the country’s longest river is a both a trade conduit and a bulwark against storm surges and rising seas. Restoring it has become a top priority.

To that end, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local and state partners are initiating a study into how water managers can use the river’s water and sediment to rebuild coastal wetlands. Public meetings will be held throughout Louisiana this month.

Also working on the issue is a coalition of environmental groups, which released a report last week that deems a $50 billion investment in delta restoration a national priority. The report, written by scientists and engineers, recommends using manmade diversions to funnel high-sediment river water to eroded areas.

Rio Grande Dispute
Drought respects no borders. When Texas cattlemen and farmers lost billions in 2011 because of historically dry weather, their agrarian cohort across the Rio Grande likewise suffered. Now farmers in Mexico, to make up for last season’s losses, have appealed to a bilateral commission to release water earlier than usual from a reservoir in New Mexico.

The Western Farm Press reports that the International Boundary and Water Commission, which administers water treaties between the two countries, has agreed, and that has irrigation districts in Texas and New Mexico concerned about their own water supplies.

Green Philly
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put its imprimatur on Philadelphia’s plan to use natural systems to capture rainwater and reduce polluted sewer overflows into area rivers. The EPA will collaborate with the city on certain projects and provide technical assistance to help implement the 25-year, US$2 billion plan.

Food Security in Africa
The U.S. government runs a global early warning system for famine. Earlier this month it predicted that spring rains in the Horn of Africa will be inadequate. In response, the State Department is providing an additional $50 million for the region. That is on top of the nearly US$1 billion given since the drought began last year.

The early warning system also predicts that food insecurity will peak in Africa’s Sahel region from July through September.

Fracking Orders
On Friday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to coordinate the administration’s policies on natural gas development. “It is vital,” the order states, “that we take full advantage of our natural gas resources, while giving American families and communities confidence that natural and cultural resources, air and water quality, and public health and safety will not be compromised.” The order establishes a working group comprised of deputies from cabinet-level agencies.

Also on Friday, the Obama administration announced an energy research partnership between the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and the EPA. The three agencies will collaborate on research to understand the effects of developing “unconventional” oil and gas deposits, such as shale gas and oil shale. The goal, according to the memo: a “safe and prudent development of these resources.

Fracking Report
Congress’s research arm, the Congressional Research Service, released overviews of hydraulic fracturing’s relationship to the Safe Drinking Water Act and of chemical disclosure requirements for hydraulic fracturing. Both assessments were obtained by the Federation of American Scientists’s Secrecy News blog, which regularly makes public the for-Congressional-eyes-only documents.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

Author: Brett Walton  is a Seattle-based reporter for Circle of Blue. He writes our Federal Water Tap, a weekly breakdown of U.S. policy. Interests: Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Pricing, Infrastructure.

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