Federal Water Tap, August 8: Drought in East Africa, Dead Zones in the Gulf

Make Way for Aid
At an August 3 hearing on the Horn of Africa drought, a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee received testimony from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Mercy Corps, the Atlantic Council, and CARE USA. The representative from USAID said because of signals from a drought early-warning system, the agency began stockpiling food supplies in the region last fall. The same system, she said, predicts southern Somalia will not see a significant harvest for another six months.

A day earlier, the State Department held a briefing on what it is doing to ensure aid reaches the Somali people. A senior administration official said that restrictions placed on development agencies working in the region would be relaxed so that food aid can flow more freely. These restrictions, which come with the threat of prosecution, are generally used to prevent money—such as bribes—from flowing to al-Shabaab, the Islamist group that controls southern Somalia and is designated a terrorist group by the State Department.

Dead Zones
Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have assessed the size of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, concluding that the area of low oxygen is roughly the size of New Jersey. At 6,765 square miles, the dead zone, caused by excess nutrients carried by the Mississippi River from farms in the heartland, is at least 20 percent smaller than predicted. Strong winds and waves from a tropical storm dissipated the zone’s western section.

Adding to environmentalist’s concerns, the EPA has denied a request from a coalition of green groups to adopt national nutrient pollution regulations, the AP reports.

Perhaps a legal decision in Florida will assuage that setback. By denying a challenge from the Florida Department of Agriculture and several chemical companies, a federal judge upheld a 2009 settlement that allows the EPA to limit the amount of fertilizers and other nutrients in the state’s waterways, the Miami Herald reports.

This Is Not (Yet) a Pipeline
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has announced it is beginning the environmental impact review process for an 800-mile natural gas pipeline from Alaska’s North Slope to the Canadian border. The pipeline route will roughly follow the Trans-Alaska crude oil pipeline. The pipeline developers are ExxonMobil and TransCanada, the company responsible for the Keystone tar sands pipeline and the in-limbo Keystone XL project.

FERC will be taking public comments about the natural gas pipeline until February 27, 2012. Comments can be submitted online at www.ferc.gov under the “Documents and Filings” tab. Use the docket number PF09–11–000.

Toward a More Perfect Union of Theories
The University of Maryland at College Park has been awarded a $27.5 million National Science Foundation grant to establish a center for environmental research. The center, to be based in Annapolis, Md., will focus on integrating research from the disparate, and often disconnected, nodes of academia. According to the press release, some of the questions that might be asked include how cultural values and conventions can contribute to the sustainable use of water resources.

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.

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