Federal Water Tap, March 24: California Representatives Introduce Drought, Dam Bills

To the pile of existing state and federal legislation that provides drought and disaster relief to California and the U.S. West, add two more bills.

First, a bipartisan contribution from two Northern California congressmen. John Garamendi, a Democrat, and Doug LaMalfa, a Republican, are using the drought to justify a new reservoir in their territory. Their bill authorizes Sites Reservoir, a facility that would store water diverted from the Sacramento River.

The second piece of legislation is broader. Introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman, a Democrat who represents the Northern California coast, the bill includes $US 473 million in emergency funding for drought-stricken areas of the U.S. West, as well as a slew of water management changes – to reservoirs and fisheries, for example.

Members of both the House and Senate have offered legislation in response to California’s record-breaking drought.

In February, Jim Costa, a Democrat, introduced three bills to expand existing dams in California or build new ones. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein sponsored a bill that dangles $US 300 million in drought aid and eases the movement of water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the state’s aquatic hub. And House Republicans approved a bill that would shove federal environmental protections aside in favor of San Joaquin Valley farmers.

The federal actions make clear that water storage is a marquee concern in California. Storage – either below ground in aquifers or above ground in reservoirs – is a central piece to a multibillion-dollar water bond that will go on the state ballot in November.

Water Aid to Jordan
The United States will provide Jordan with $US 165 million for water and wastewater treatment plants, water conservation, and water education programs, according to an agreement signed last week in the southern city of Aqaba.

Though the U.S. has been at the front of the humanitarian response, none of the funds in the agreement is earmarked for helping Jordan manage a rising tide of refugees. Some 1.4 million Syrians, fleeing a violent civil war, have flowed into Jordan, an influx that has strained a creaky water system.

“My impression is that there is no line item for Syrian refugees,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Larson told Circle of Blue. “My understanding is that it’s mostly related to Aqaba.”

The U.S. government has given $US 61 million to Jordan to help provide water, food, shelter, medicine, and schooling to the Syrian refugees. For the water sector in general, the U.S. government has given Jordan $US 700 million since 2000.

The Army’s Water-Energy Project
Call it a “greenprint” for the Army’s largest military base. Located on the arid and sunny New Mexico-Texas border, Fort Bliss will be the new home to an array of renewable energy and water reuse projects, according to a final environmental review.

Attempting to produce as much energy as it uses, a goal called “net zero”, the base will install a solar power station that boils water to produce steam and a facility that burns trash, in addition to drilling geothermal wells that employ the Earth’s heat.

The water target seeks not to deplete the region’s rivers and aquifers. The first step is conservation. The base will also build a 24-mile pipeline to tap into treated sewer water from nearby El Paso.

Climate Data
The Obama administration created an online repository for federal climate data. The White House hopes that businesses, researchers, and agencies will use the data to understand risks, vulnerabilities, and trends.

A Finish Line for Water Resources Negotiations
The House and Senate conference committee reconciling competing versions of a bill to fund dam, levee, and port projects should finish its work by the end of April, Bloomberg BNA reports.

Spring Outlook: Drought and Flood
Because of a deep snowpack and frozen or saturated soils, the northern plains and the southern Great Lakes region are at moderate risk of flooding this spring, while drought is expected to hold fast from southern Oregon to the Texas Panhandle. Both forecasts come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hearings in Congress
Lots of water talk on Capitol Hill this week.

On March 25, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will discuss private-sector investment in public water assets. The next day the committee will look at how water quality trading programs – cap-and-trade for water – can help rivers meet federal pollution standards.

On March 25 the House Natural Resources Committee looks at President Obama’s 2015 budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey’s water program. And on March 26 the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will do the same for the EPA’s budget. Read more about how water fared in the president’s budget request.

EPA Questions Groundwater Effects of California Solar Project
The Environmental Protection Agency raised questions about how a photovoltaic solar project proposed for public land in California’s Mojave Desert would affect aquifers and springs. An endangered fish, the Mohave tui chub, lives in the region’s springs and could be threatened by wells planned for the Soda Mountain solar project.

The EPA recommends additional testing to determine the aquifer’s characteristics, as well as developing a plan for alternative water sources if groundwater proves unreliable. According to the environment review, the project will need 192 acre-feet of water per year for construction and 31 acre-feet per year for operations – miniscule amounts for big rivers but significant volumes in one of America’s driest regions.

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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