Federal Water Tap, December 23: Congress Begins Tying Loose Ends

Budget Deal
The House and Senate made nice and passed a budget deal, setting total spending limits for the next two years. Now comes the quick work of doling out the money to specific programs. Appropriations committees in both chambers have a January 15 deadline for these negotiations.

When Congress reconvenes, two major bills with direct and indirect implications for water will be on the agenda. The House and Senate are reconciling their versions of a new water resources development act. Representatives from both chambers are still working on a farm bill, which affects water quality through its land conservation incentives.

Lower Rio Grande
Hotter temperatures will increase evaporation and decrease available water supplies for eight counties in Texas adjacent to the Rio Grande, according to a comprehensive Bureau of Reclamation assessment of supply and demand.

The region is already expecting a 35 percent supply gap – of 592,000 acre-feet – by 2060 due to population growth, expected to increase by 135 percent. Climate change will decrease supplies by another 86,000 acre-feet.

To close the gap, the bureau selected four options for further study: saltwater desalination, brackish water desalination, wastewater reuse, and new groundwater development.

The study comes on the heels of last week’s release of the Upper Rio Grande climate change study.

Fire Hydrants
Fire hydrants are now exempted from a federal rule to reduce lead in drinking water, a regulation that goes into effect January 4. President Barack Obama signed the Community Fire Safety Act of 2013 on Friday.

Energy Atlas
The locations of wind turbines, the density of oil and gas wells, and the paths of underground directional drilling. Those are a few of the features in a data-rich energy atlas that the U.S. Geological Survey developed for Colorado and New Mexico.

Columbia River Treaty
Representatives from the Pacific Northwest submitted their final regional recommendations for an updated Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. Written by a group of states, tribes, and federal agencies, the document proposes a slightly different direction for the treaty’s next iteration.

The Pacific Northwest group recommends that reviving salmon runs be given greater consideration in operating the large dams on the river, while still maintaining the same level of flood protection. They also feel that Canada is reaping an unfair share of the financial benefits from the 1964 treaty. The representatives suggest recalculating the formula.

The regional recommendations will be used by the State Department as a starting point for negotiations with Canada.

Clean Water Act Fine
One of the country’s largest energy companies will pay a $US 3.2 million civil penalty for clogging streams and wetlands in West Virginia when it cleared forested sites for natural gas drilling. Chesapeake Energy violated Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, according to a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department. The company also agreed to spend $US 6.5 million to restore the damaged area.

Dam Safety
The Army Corps of Engineers will prepare an environmental assessment for improvements it will make to an at-risk dam in the Denver metropolitan area. A corps analysis showed that the Cherry Creek Dam, built in the 1940s, would not be able to hold back the precipitation from a perfect storm, called a “maximum probable flood” in the lingo. The draft environmental impact statement will be published in 2015 or 2016.

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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