Federal Water Tap, October 14: Government Still Shutdown

On Hold
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources postponed a hearing on the Columbia River Treaty. Last month stakeholders in the Pacific Northwest recommended that fish, ecosystems, and climate change be given greater weight in a new treaty with Canada.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency postponed public “listening sessions” in Boston and Philadelphia. The EPA will hold 11 such sessions to discuss how to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. The agency will issue a proposed rule by June 2014.

Water Rights
A few hearings did proceed. A House Natural Resources subcommittee discussed a water rights bill introduced by Colorado Republican Scott Tipton. The Water Rights Protection Act would prevent the transfer of water rights to the federal government, a point of contention in recent permitting disputes between the U.S. Forest Service and ski resort operators that use federal land and divert water for snow-making.

The witnesses, representing the Aspen Skiing Company, the National Ski Areas Association and the Utah Farm Bureau, all spoke in support of the bill. The Farm Bureau was concerned that the ski industry example would set a precedent for ranchers, who have individual livestock watering rights but might graze their herds on federal land.

Drought Relief
The House Natural Resources subcommittee also heard testimony regarding the extension of an emergency drought relief bill, first passed in 1991. Tony Willardson, executive director of the Western States Water Council, a body appointed by the Western governors, supported the extension, saying that it will help states respond to current conditions and plan for future droughts.

Opposing the bill was Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank. Crews offered a boilerplate argument for markets that seemed oddly out of place with the gist of this particular bill.

“Markets expand output in tangible products and intangible services,” Crews said in conclusion. “They also help maximize the production of useful information – including research and scientific information about technologies whose applicability is uncertain yet holds promise for people and the environment.

“The task is to bring modern water resources further into the market process, and to lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s discoveries and advances to be informed and funded by market rather than political processes.”

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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