Federal Water Tap, July 14: White House Threatens Veto of House Water and Energy Bill

The House Appropriations Committee passed a $US 34 billion bill on Thursday to fund the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, which handles western U.S. water matters, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of many levees, dams, and wetlands.

The White House threatened to veto the bill, making several water-related objections.

The Obama administration opposes the elimination of funds for restoring habitat along California’s San Joaquin River. It also opposes a rider that would prevent the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency from defining what water bodies are subject to Clean Water Act regulations, the environmental spat du jour inside the Beltway.

The bill increases funding for the Bureau of Reclamation’s water programs by $US 95 million compared to the president’s budget request. That still represents a $US 97 million decrease from current levels. Funding for watershed restoration in California’s Central Valley is increased by $US 3.7 million.

Concerns about groundwater contamination and use are two issues at play over a proposed underground uranium mine in South Dakota. The licensing board for the nation’s nuclear power regulator will hold a hearing to gather public comments about the project on August 18 in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

Members of the Oglala Sioux tribe questioned the analysis in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s environmental review of the Dewey-Burdock facility. The NRC signaled its approval of the project in January.

The facility would use in-situ recovery to mine uranium. In-situ recovery means pumping a water-solute mixture underground to dissolve the ore and then pumping the ore solution up to daylight.

Great Lakes
A Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee will discuss on Wednesday two bills relating to the world’s largest source of fresh surface water.

The Great Lakes Water Protection Act, sponsored by Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, sets fines for publicly owned wastewater treatment that dump sewage into the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act, sponsored by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, makes the goals of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program established in 2010, part of the Clean Water Act. The bill also requires an annual report on the lakes’ health and a report on federal budget. It authorizes $US 475 million per year through 2018 to carry out the restoration plan.

Water Conservation
The same subcommittee as above will also consider a water conservation grant program for utilities.

The Smart Water Resource Management Conservation and Efficiency Act, introduced by New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall, sets aside $US 7.5 million for projects that demonstrate new technologies that save water, save energy, or collect better data on energy and water use.

Lebanon Water
The U.S. Agency for International Development will help Lebanon’s four regional water authorities improve water system operations and management, according to an agreement signed last week.

The agreement defines how USAID’s $US 26 million water infrastructure program in Lebanon will collaborate with the regional authorities. The State Department did not respond to a request to clarify what this means.

An audit last year by the inspector general found that USAID’s $US 34 million Lebanon water sector program, a separate contract, was achieving its goals for drinking water but not for sewers.

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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