Federal Water Tap, June 23: Water and Energy Grab the Spotlight

A new Department of Energy report on the connections between water and energy marks a path for the department’s research into the twinned challenges.

Between phrases such as “opportunity space” and “technology continuum” the authors argue that the department’s role is three-fold: researching the technologies that will improve efficiencies and allow polluted waters to be used productively; developing better models to understand how changes in water use and energy consumption interact in complex systems; and gathering more data on water use by the energy sector and the quality of water drawn from the ground when drilling for fossil fuels.

On the horizon is an even broader report. The department is holding listening sessions across the country for the first ever quadrennial energy review, a once-every-four-years assessment modeled on similar efforts by the state and defense departments.

On June 19, one such session in San Francisco heard from two panels comprised of mostly California and western U.S. energy and water experts. The briefing memo, which introduces the meeting and is filled with water-use statistics for the energy sector, notes that a shift from water-gulping energy sources such as coal to water-sipping sources such as solar cells would bring hydrological benefits to dry regions.

The first energy review is due to President Obama by January 31, 2015.

Water-Energy Senate Hearing
On June 25, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will discuss a bill introduced in January by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski. The bill would establish a committee to coordinate federal water and energy research and data collection.

Water Rights for Ski Areas
After several years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing a new definition for the water rights held by ski areas that operate on federal lands in western states. The agency wants to tie the water right to the land, which is generally not the case in western state water law. This move would keep the water on the slopes, rather than seeing it sold to developers in the resort towns at the base of the mountain.

The USFS is taking comments through August 22. Comments can be emailed to skiareawaterrights@fs.fed.us.

Budget Items
The House Appropriations Committee passed a $US 34 billion bill funding the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers for fiscal year 2015. A number of amendments seek to prevent environmental regulations from moving forward. One would block the Army Corps from finalizing a rule to clarify which water bodies are subject to federal Clean Water Act oversight. A second prohibits the corps from enforcing a rule on disposing the debris from coal mining.

Oversight Overwhelmed
The federal agency that is investigating the causes of the January 2014 chemical spill that cut off municipal water to 300,000 people in West Virginia is floundering for lack of resources, the Charleston Gazette reports.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has 17 open investigations, eight of which are more than four years old, Mark Griffon, a board member, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. New funds for the agency have not been offered and board members are resigning.

Water Hearing
Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee will have an airing of grievances against all manner of Obama administration water regulations. Rules that might be discussed at the June 24 subcommittee meeting include the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to clarify what water bodies are regulated under the Clean Water Act and the U.S. Forest Service’s proposal to manage groundwater.

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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