Federal Water Tap, June 15: Obama Administration Offers $US 110 Million for Western Drought Relief

The Rundown

The president discusses drought with western governors. More problems, more money for communities affected by drought. NOAA’s National Water Center opens new facility. The USGS tests a water gun. Reclamation releases a new basin study, in Idaho. Columbia River Treaty negotiations will be broader.

“Fortunately, this bipartisan legislation will stop the final rule and make EPA and the Corps of Engineers go back and redo it.” — Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, before the committee approved the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, a bill that will undo the Clean Water Act rule that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized two weeks ago.

By the Numbers

115 percent: Increase in water withdrawals in Arkansas from the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer, between 1985 and 2010. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Reports and Studies

Water Gun
To keep Asian carp and other unwanted fish species from traveling through rivers and canals, a pulse of subsurface energy from a water gun is one option. The gun uses compressed air to create a seismic wave. But how might that affect existing structures, such as canals and locks?

The U.S. Geological Survey tested the energy released by two sizes of gun in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, as compared to pulses from industrial practices in the area: railroads, barges, and coal loading. The gun had the greater energy.

Henry’s Fork Basin Study
As part of its basin study program to assess water supply and demand in the western United States, the Bureau of Reclamation analyzed 12 water supply projects in the Henry’s Fork Basin of southeastern Idaho.

The projects were divided into three categories: reservoir storage, aquifer recharge, and conservation. A few of the reservoir options held the greatest potential for an increase in water storage, but the conservation options — such as lining canals — produced just as much water as two of the dams, at one-tenth the cost and with little environmental damage.

News Briefs

Drought Meeting
President Obama received a drought and wildfire briefing on Friday from seven governors of western states during a one-hour teleconference, according to White House officials.

The president told the governors that the administration would respond with the “full resources and authorities of the federal government,” according to Brian Deese, a White House senior advisor.

The president and governors talked about coordination and “getting pragmatic and cutting through bureaucracy,” Deese said.

Drought Aid
One of the pragmatic responses is to offer money to those affected by the drought. The Obama administration announced $US 110 million in drought aid, which comes on top of $US 190 million already allocated this year. Highlights of the aid package include:

  • The U.S. Department of Labor will award as much as $US 18 million to California to provide jobs for workers who lost employment or were dislocated by the drought. Under the program, an individual can be employed for six months or make $US 14,000, whichever comes first. The workers will be placed in jobs with public agencies or nonprofits, for example, colleges, city government, or local housing authorities, according to Portia Wu, of the Department of Labor.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding a program that allows farmers to exclude their exceptionally bad production years from their crop insurance calculation. This action will provide an estimated $US 30 million in additional relief to farmers in fiscal year 2016, and $US 42 million in fiscal year 2017.
  • The Department of the Interior will spent $US 10 million for 10 Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Projects, to cut wildfire risk.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency will provide at least $US 7 million to address the drought-related needs of water utilities and households.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation is announcing $US 6.5 million in fiscal year 2015 to support water management improvement projects over the next two years. All of the money will go to projects in California.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, in collaboration with faith-based and community groups, will establish at least 760 summer food service meal sites in Central Valley communities.
  • $US 21 million in water conservation funds will be made available for all western states through EQIP, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program.

National Water Center
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration opened the National Water Center, a research facility located at the University of Alabama. The center will provide researchers from various federal agencies the opportunity to collaborate on scientific studies of drought and flood, and use models to forecast the extreme weather events.

Columbia River Treaty
State Department negotiators indicated that environmental issues, namely salmon health, will be a third component in discussions with Canada over a new Columbia River Treaty, according to the Tri-City Herald. The old treaty, signed in 1964 focused on hydropower and flood control.

On the Radar

Coal Ash Hearing
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on June 17 to discuss the EPA’s recent rule on the disposal of coal ash and other byproducts of coal burning.

Water Legislation Hearing
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on June 18 to discuss seven water bills. The bills address water rights, funding for rural water projects, and the permitting process for new reservoirs.

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.

1 reply
  1. Andrew Funk says:

    “getting pragmatic and cutting through bureaucracy”

    I’m not convinced the relatively tiny amount of drought aid (about $300 million) is sufficient, given the seemingly overwhelming socio-economic and environmental costs of western water scarcity. US Foreign Aid to Middle East countries, with only fractions of the population we have in the Western USA, receive much much more annually.

    Hopefully the $300 million will genuinely help out some folks in the west. It is certainly a nice Band-Aid. But Band-Aids are temporary. If the USA is to genuinely adapt to 21st Century water scarcity, far more is needed from multiple levels of governance.

    My two cents?

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