Federal Water Tap, September 28: U.S.-China Meeting Gives Lift to Climate Change Talks

The Rundown

President Xi Jinping visits Washington. A smaller backlog for drinking water infrastructure spending, but dollars still sit in the bank. A new treatment facility for the Gold King mine, and legislation to compensate for damages. New reports look at global food security and the Columbia Plateau Aquifer. Without congressional action, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire this week. Afghanistan’s water draws attention at a diplomatic conference.

“Beyond the immediate cleanup of this spill, it’s high time that we overhaul our abandoned mine cleanup policies to make future disasters like this less likely. While developers of resources like oil, natural gas, and coal all pay royalties to return fair value to taxpayers for our public resources, hardrock mining companies can still mine valuable minerals for free.” — Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), speaking at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on the August wastewater spill at Gold King mine, in Colorado. Heinrich plans to introduce legislation establishing royalty payments for hardrock mining on federal land. He also co-sponsored the Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act, which lays out allowable compensation for those hurt financially by the spill.

By the Numbers

$US 1.1 billion: Money allocated by Congress for improvements to public drinking water systems that has not yet been spent. The backlog is half what it was four years ago. (Associated Press)

$US 2 million: Grant funding to establish water quality trading markets, a cap-and-trade system for water pollution. (Natural Resources Conservation Service)

$US 1.8 million: Cost of temporary water treatment facility that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will build at the Gold King mine site, in southwest Colorado. (Durango Herald)

Reports and Studies

Federal Report on Climate Change and Food Security
A warming planet with more erratic rainfall and deeper droughts is “likely to diminish continued progress on global food security,” according to a draft federal report on agriculture and climate change.

The report notes that water availability will limit the capacity of both wet and dry regions to adapt to changes in precipitation and temperature. It also notes that the United States is likely to see increased demand for agricultural exports from countries that struggle to adapt.

The report — titled Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System — is the consensus work of 21 federal agencies, universities, private groups, and nongovernmental organizations.

Public comments are due by October 8 and can be submitted at https://review.globalchange.gov/.

Columbia Plateau Aquifer Report
Groundwater levels have declined in a quarter of the Columbia Plateau Aquifer system because of intensive irrigation, according to a U.S. Geological Survey assessment.

The Columbia Plateau, a volcanic basin between the Cascades and the Rockies, produces $US 6 billion in farm output per year. Here’s a link to a six-page fact sheet on the report.

News Briefs

Climate Talks
During a visit to Washington, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that a national cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions will begin in 2017. The tricky matters of measurement, monitoring, the size of the cap, and enforcement are still on the table.

The two leaders also issued a joint statement that serves as a guidepost for the climate negotiations that will take place in Paris later this year. They affirmed the notion that technology and financing will be essential in assisting the transition to low-carbon economies and in helping poor countries cope with the unwelcomed effects of a warming planet.

Afghanistan, Development, and Water
At a diplomatic meeting in New York on the future of Afghanistan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi mentioned the fractured country’s water resources as a prospective salve for healing economic and civic wounds.

“Afghanistan has a significant geographic location, abundant water and mineral resources, and a huge potential in terms of human talent,” Wang said at the meeting, which was organized by the governments of Afghanistan, China, and the United States. “The international community should step up strategic communication with Afghanistan and help the country fully tap its potential, harness its advantages, and explore an effective development path that fits the country’s reality and actual needs, and draw up a master plan for national development.”

What happens when Afghanistan begins developing its rivers — for agriculture, mining, or industry — is a significant geopolitical question. The country is located at the headwaters of major watersheds that flow into Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and other neighbors. Only the Helmand River, shared with Iran, is marked by a treaty.

On the Radar

LWCF Deadline Approaches
A fund that uses royalties from offshore oil and gas production to purchase land for parks, forests, wildlife refuges and water benefits will expire on September 30 unless Congress reauthorizes it.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is allowed to provide $US 900 million per year for parks and conservation, but recently Congress has allocated only one-third the limit. A temporary extension could be added to a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December, which will be voted on this week. Or its authorization could lapse and the program would be reconstructed, with uncertain outcomes.

“If Congress fails on this and we are forced to reinvent this program in the future, there’s no telling how it could get written,” said Dave Chadwick of the Montana Wildlife Federation, to the Missoulian newspaper.

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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