Federal Water Tap, January 19: Obama Administration Promotes Private Sector Involvement in Infrastructure, Conservation

The Rundown

A new federal bond program targets public-private infrastructure deals while the EPA gains an infrastructure finance center. The secretary of state promotes dam-building in Pakistan. An aqueduct in Kansas would cost $US 18 billion. The EPA released a final report defining waters covered by the Clean Water Act. The Supreme Court denied an appeal that challenged California’s water policy. Agencies release new data on toxic pollutants and pesticides while lawmakers introduce algae and water funding bills.

“If we’re going to lead the world in the 21st century…then we have to have the most advanced infrastructure in the world. Businesses do not come to places where the water is dirty.” — Vice President Joe Biden, who introduced new infrastructure spending initiatives while touring a $US 2.6 billion sewer project near Washington, D.C.

By the Numbers

$US 18 billion: estimated construction cost of a 360-mile canal from the Missouri River to western Kansas (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
$US 372 million: federal funding for conservation projects (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Reports and Studies

Kansas Aqueduct Report
By all measures, it would be a mammoth undertaking. A 360-mile canal to move Missouri River water uphill across Kansas would cost $US 18 billion to build and $US 1 billion per year to operate, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers technical report. That figure includes power stations and pumping stations, but does not include the cost of a canal network to deliver water to individual farms. Design, administration, and interest on the loans would add another $US 10 billion.

Farm districts in western Kansas, which rely on the Ogallala Aquifer, a finite resource, for irrigation have dusted off and promoted the project, which was first analyzed in 1982 and is viewed as a lifeline for agriculture. The canal, which would actually stretch 420 miles but was analyzed according to 1982 specifications, would deliver between 900,000 acre-feet and 3.2 million acre-feet while lifting it a third of a mile in elevation.

Western Water Supply
The first water supply forecasts for the year show below normal river flows this spring and summer in the Sierra, the Washington Cascades, and the Rio Grande Basin, according to the National Water and Climate Center.

The EPA released 2013 data on the amount of toxic pollutants put into the nation’s air, land, and water. Nearly half of all pollutants came from the mining and metals industry, according to the Toxic Release Inventory.

The U.S. Geological Survey released data on agricultural pesticide use in the United States between 2008 and 2012.

News Briefs

Dams in Pakistan
Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated American support for several high-profile dams in Pakistan while visiting the mercurial U.S. ally last week for ministerial meetings. The United States voted in June to approve World Bank funding for the Dasu Dam, and it hosted a trade delegation for Diamer Bhasha, a proposed dam on the Indus River in northern Pakistan that has drawn opposition over the removal and resettlement of residents and how they are compensated. Kerry, when he was in Congress, helped pass a $US 7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan in 2009, energy being a major focus.

California Delta Lawsuit
The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take up a case that would have had broad implications for California’s water policy, Reuters reports. Denying the appeal by farm groups to reverse a lower court ruling means that restrictions on pumping water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the state’s water hub, will stand. Put in place in 2008 to protect the Delta smelt, an endangered fish, the restrictions resulted in less water for farmers in the Central Valley who rely on state and federal canals that move water through the delta.

New Water Bond
The federal government will create a new class of bond for financing water infrastructure. The Qualified Public Infrastructure Bond is designed for projects that are undertaken in partnership with private companies, through long-term management contracts or leases. These partnerships will be eligible to sell municipal bonds with tax-free interest, a carrot that lowers the cost of borrowing. The bond program will not be open to public systems that are bought by private owners.

Water Finance
The EPA will be home to a water finance center, which will help utilities with funding and technical expertise. The Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center will also assist utilities in designing water projects that stand up to a changing climate.

Conservation Funding as Venture Capital
Part of the recent farm bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is promoting a model of land and water conservation marked by partnerships with private companies, local governments and nonprofit groups. To kick-start the initiative, the department offered $US 372 million for 115 projects nationwide. The federal government will contribute $US 1.2 billion over five years, expecting an equal match from its partners.

California Water Deal
The Bureau of Reclamation and a powerful farm district in California’s Central Valley agreed in principle to resolve a decades-long dispute over toxic irrigation drainage that killed thousands of birds in the 1980s.

Westlands Water District will retire some 100,000 acres of poisoned farmland and be forgiven the $US 342 million it owes the federal government for canal construction while federal taxpayers will not be on the hook for the drainage problems, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Congress must approve the deal.

Algae Bills
Two Ohio representatives — Marcy Kaptur (D) and Bob Latta (R) — introduced bills in Congress to address algae in drinking water, the American Water Works Association reports.

Water Bills
Two California Democrats — Barbara Boxer and Grace Napolitano — reintroduced similar bills to authorize more than $US 1.6 billion over five years for water recycling, efficiency improvements, and research into desalination and drought response. The Water in the 21st Century Act did not pass last session of Congress.

Waters of the United States
The EPA released the final draft of a report that evaluates which water bodies are to be regulated under the Clean Water Act. Streams need not always have water in them to fall under the law’s domain, the report argues.

On the Radar

State of the Union
After a series of high-profile data breaches in the last year, cybersecurity – including the security of the systems that run water, sewer, and electric power infrastructure – will be a part of President Obama’s State of the Union speech on January 20.

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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