Federal Water Tap, November 11: Water’s Value to the U.S. Economy

Chasing the Wind
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked itself a difficult question – What is the value of water to the American economy? – and came up with a broad answer. Water is obviously valuable, but because reliable data on price, quantity, and use is often not kept, water’s “total contribution to the U.S. economy cannot be quantified in any meaningful way,” according to an EPA summary report published last week.

Though the grains might not be visible, the beach is. The “entire economy directly or indirectly relies on the output of industries for which water is a critical input,” the report states. Therefore, “protecting and efficiently managing our water resources is essential to maintaining a strong, vibrant economy,” the report continues.

A few numbers do pop up. The total market value of crops produced in the U.S. in 2009 was $US 144 billion and half that value came from irrigated farms. Manufacturing accounted for 17 percent of gross domestic product in 2007 and more than one-third of manufacturing’s total output came from the water-intensive chemicals, paper, metals, and fossil fuels sectors.

Estimates of the market value of the water itself ranged from $US 1 per acre-foot for hydropower to $US 4,500 per acre-foot for municipal supplies. (An acre-foot equals 325,850 gallons or 1,233 cubic meters.)

The report concludes that better information is needed on water use and water productivity for different economic sectors. Economic modeling could also show the costs and benefits of shifts in water use — from, say, agriculture to urban supply or from leaving water in rivers for recreation.

Earth Monitoring
What should be in a national plan for monitoring the Earth’s climate, hydrology, and geology? The Obama administration wants recommendations for such a plan, which will coordinate data collection among agencies so as to minimize gaps and redundancies. Submit a response (on the form found here) to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (email: earthobsplan@ostp.gov with the subject line: “National Plan for Civil Earth Observations”) by December 6.

Clean Water Act
The White House office that vets federal rulemaking should put the brakes on a proposal to define more clearly the scope of the Clean Water Act, according to the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The Office of Management and Budget should hold judgment on the rule until the draft “Connectivity” report is peer reviewed, wrote Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, in a letter to the OMB. The report, released in September, claims all streams would be regulated under the Clean Water Act, as would wetlands that affect the flow of water into rivers and streams.

House Hearing
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold an oversight hearing to take stock of Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. Administrators from federal agencies involved in rebuilding the mid-Atlantic will testify.

Colorado River
For five days beginning today, the Bureau of Reclamation will increase the flow of water from Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. The high-volume flow, the second since a new management plan was adopted in 2012, will move sediment from Lake Powell and rebuild beaches and sandbars downstream.

Fracking Research
An EPA science advisory panel will hold a public teleconference on November 20 to solicit information it should consider as the EPA conducts a study of hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. If you want to submit an oral or written statement contact Edward Hanlon (hanlon.edward@epa.gov) by November 13.

New York Hydro
A draft environmental assessment for a 14-megawatt hydroelectric project to be installed at an existing dam owned by New York City is available.

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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