Federal Water Tap, June 6: Water Assessments

US Forest Service Maps its Waters
For the past few years, through the marbled halls of government and the glass towers of multi-lateral development agencies, a conservationist buzz phrase has resonated: ecosystem services. The term designates the things nature does—like scrub the air and pollinate flowers—that benefit humans. For forests, one of the key functions is providing clean water. And as the nation’s largest forest manager, the U.S. Forest Service is interested in how its wards are doing.

The agency has released its first comprehensive watershed assessment for the 193 million acres it manages. The evaluation is part of the Watershed Condition Framework, a policy plan for cataloging watershed conditions, identifying priority areas, and restoring them. The framework provides a national set of standards for assessing watershed health. Electronic maps for the watershed assessment will be available this week from the Department of Agriculture website. An interactive map will be ready by the end of the month.

…And the EPA, Wetlands
Not to be outdone, the Environmental Protection Agency—in collaboration with state agencies—is doing its own assessing. The EPA’s target: wetlands. Started in 2007, the assessment program began data collection in the field this year. A final report on the health of the nation’s wetlands is expected in 2013.

Smart Water Use
Last year the secretary of the Department of the Interior established the WaterSMART program, a mechanism to promote efficient water use in the West. The DOI has released a draft plan for implementing the program. The plan covers inter-agency collaboration and research, as well as the water-energy connection, water footprinting and a Colorado River Basin study. Comments on the draft are due August 1 to WaterSMARTBOR@usbr.gov

Water Bills Move Through Congress
Two water bills have been reported out of committee and will move to a floor vote. In the Senate, a bill requiring an analysis of how energy development will affect water resources has moved through the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The bill, the Energy and Water Integration Act, was introduced by New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman.

In the House, an Appropriations subcommittee cleared a $30.6 billion water and energy spending bill, the New York Times reports. For fiscal year 2012, the bill allocates funds to the Department of Energy ($24.7 billion), the Army Corps of Engineers ($4.8 billion), and the Bureau of Reclamation ($934 million). The DOE outlay is $6 billion less than was requested by President Obama.

Neither bill has been scheduled for a floor vote.

EPA Contaminants Meeting
On June 16 in Washington, D.C., the EPA will hold a public meeting to discuss contaminants that it might regulate under the Safe Drinking Water Act. To get more details and reserve a seat, email simic.melissa@epa.gov by June 8.

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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