Federal Water Tap, February 6: Water and National Security

The director of national intelligence said that during the next decade water issues abroad will affect America’s national security, according to an on-the-record report to a special Senate committee on intelligence.

In his annual threat assessment, James Clapper told the committee that “water shortages and pollution will probably negatively affect the economic performance of important U.S. trading partners” — especially in the agriculture and energy sectors. While water problems alone will not cause instability, Clapper said, they can exacerbate tensions that already exist. He said that direct conflict in the next decade between countries over water is not likely.

Low Snowpack
The latest monthly water supply forecast from the National Water and Climate Center shows that the snowpack in the mountains of California and Nevada is less than 50 percent of normal. Most of the Colorado River basin is below average as well.

Oil Shale Developments
The Department of the Interior released a draft plan for oil shale development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming that prioritizes research and development before granting commercial leases. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, at least 1.4 trillion barrels of oil are in the formation. But the Government Accountability Office said that limited water supplies would prevent the deposit from full development.

The Bureau of Land Management acknowledged this in the draft plan. “Because there are still many unanswered questions about the technology, water use, and impacts of potential commercial-scale oil shale development, we are proposing a prudent and orderly approach,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey in a statement.

A public comment period ends May 4. Comments can be submitted on the plan’s website.

Does Red Tape Hold Back Reservoirs?
On Tuesday, a House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing to talk about which regulations are preventing more “surface storage infrastructure” (i.e. “reservoirs”) from being built. A list of witnesses has not yet been published.

One of the nation’s largest irrigation districts is suing the Department of the Interior (DOI) for $1 billion in damages over the federal government’s failure to clean up salty irrigation drainage, the Fresno Bee reports. The dispute between the DOI and Westlands Water District in California’s Central Valley dates to a law from the 1960s that put the federal government in charge of drainage. Subsequent attempts to clear the land of the poisonous irrigation runoff have been unsuccessful.

South Sudan
Last December the U.S. government hosted a conference to discuss development goals for South Sudan. A number of international organizations and donor countries participated and made commitments to the newly independent country. The government of South Sudan, for its part, pledged to increase the percent of its population with access to water and sanitation from 9 percent to 29 percent by 2014.

Last Friday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a $260 billion bill for transportation and highway funding. A section of the bill directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish a research program with emphasis on 16 areas, one of which is porous or permeable pavement that would minimize stormwater runoff. But a paltry amount—$3 million per fiscal year through 2016—is allocated to the broad program.

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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