Federal Water Tap, February 9: President Obama’s 2016 Budget Seeks Broad Funding Increases

The Rundown

The president recommends more money for agencies that deal with water. The EPA offers a list of pollutants for potential regulation while the State Department promotes sustainable energy in the Mekong River Basin. Western states receive more federal drought assistance. A new committee will assist Great Lakes water managers.

“The entire Mekong region must implement a broad strategy that makes sure future growth does not come at the expense of clean air, clean water, and a healthy ecosystem. Pulling off this essential task will show the world of what is possible.” — Secretary of State John Kerry writing in an op-ed about the future of the Mekong River Basin, in Southeast Asia.

“Reclamation’s projects and programs play an important role in sustaining the economy of the American West. In fact, I would go so far as to say without Reclamation, the West would not be what it is today. Addressing water resource challenges this year and beyond will require continued investments in infrastructure and improved management, to address water scarcity and climate variability. We’re going to have to leverage these accomplishments through partnerships and stakeholder funding agreements.” — Commissioner Estevan Lopez talking about the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2016 budget proposal.

By the Numbers

100: chemicals under consideration for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
44 percent: increase in the president’s 2016 budget request for Indian water rights settlements (Bureau of Reclamation)
$US 50 million: emergency drought funding provided to California and the Western United States for monitoring, restoration, operations, and planning (U.S. Department of Interior)

Reports and Studies

Florida v Georgia
Georgia claims that mismanagement by Florida officials, not upstream diversions, is the root of water quality problems in the Apalachicola Bay, a Florida water body, according to a brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court last week and cited by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The high court agreed last year to hear Florida’s petition that Georgia is using too much water and is wrecking the bay’s oyster industry.

News Briefs

Budget Season Begins
Washington’s financial dance began last week when President Obama announced his 2016 budget request. In the coming weeks, the Republican-led Congress will weigh in during committee hearings before submitting its own spending plan.

Under the president’s proposal, most federal agencies would see their budgets rise: a 6 percent increase at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to $US 8.6 billion; a 9 percent increase at the U.S. Geological Survey, to $US 1.2 billion; a 10 percent increase at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to $US 6 billion.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water projects in the American West, received $US 1.1 billion in the president’s request, down 2 percent from last year. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan Lopez highlighted a number of agency priorities: settling tribal water rights claims, ecosystem restoration, water supplies, California drought response, and hydropower production.

Indian water rights settlements are an administration priority, and the budget reflects that, proposing a 44 percent increase, to $US 112 million. “It’s significant money,” Lopez said. The money will go toward infrastructure projects to deliver water to tribal communities. The WaterSMART program, which focuses on water efficiency and improved scientific understanding of Western water supplies, also saw a large increase — by 15 percent, to $US 58 million.

Other programs took a hit. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the administration’s signature environmental restoration program, will be cut by 16 percent, to $US 250 million. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans to the states for sewage treatment, will be cut by 23 percent, or $US 332 million. However, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a similar fund, will rise by 31 percent, or $US 280 million.

Drinking Water Pollutants
An amoeba that infects the brain (Naegleria fowleri) and component of rocket fuel (nitroglycerin) are among the 100 chemicals and 12 microbial contaminants that are under consideration for regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

By law, the EPA is required to publish every five years a Contaminant Candidate List, which consists of unregulated pollutants that could be in drinking water. The agency must then decide whether to set legal standards for at least five contaminants. The EPA is taking comments on the list, which is in draft form, through April 6. Submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov/ using docket number EPA-HQ-OW-2012-0217.

Mekong River
While in Laos for a meeting of a donors group, U.S. State Department officials announced a package of energy and water initiatives for a region where dam-building and protection of fecund fisheries are on a collision course.

The Sustainable Mekong Energy Initiative will “promote the use of alternative energy and low-emission technologies.” The State Department did not return phone and email messages from Circle of Blue asking what alternative energies and how they would be promoted.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will contribute $US 500,000 to study the social and environmental consequences of hydropower development.

Clean-coal Project Shuttered
A project to capture carbon emissions from a coal plant in western Illinois and store the gases underground is being shut down after the U.S. Department of Energy withdrew $US 1 billion in funding, the Associated Press reports. The department provided little justification for the action, telling the AP that the move was to “protect taxpayer interests.”

Great Lakes Committee
The binational commission that manages waters shared by the United States and Canada has established a 16-member advisory committee on rivers flows. The committee will assess the operation of gates and dams that regulate the flow of water between the Great Lakes and provide recommendations to water managers.

On the Radar

Natural Gas Pipeline
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will prepare an environmental review of a proposed 175-kilometer (109-mile) pipeline that will deliver natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale to markets in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Comments on the PennEast pipeline, projected to begin construction in 2017, should be submitted via www.ferc.gov using docket number PF15-1-000.

Recycled Water in California
The Bureau of Reclamation along with the city of San Bernardino, California will study the environmental effects of a municipal recycled water facility. The Clean Water Factory will inject recycled water into groundwater basin and for landscape irrigation. The water is currently discharged into the Santa Ana River, home to the Santa Ana sucker, a fish listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Public comments are being accepted through March 9 and can be emailed to dmcpherson@usbr.gov.

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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