Federal Water Tap, November 30: President Obama Attends Paris Climate Change Conference

The Rundown

President Obama arrives in Paris. The Interior Department will review a proposed river diversion in southwest New Mexico. Food safety rule targets irrigation water. The Coast Guard updates a ballast water rule. 2015 continues to break heat records.

“We support a strong and ambitious agreement that holds countries accountable for the emission target that they take on. And the system that we’ve advocated for, where some provisions are legally binding but targets themselves are not, is the one that we believe is designed to maximize ambitious action from the broadest range of countries. That, in fact, is the lesson from Kyoto and other previous approaches.” — Paul Bodnar, National Security Council senior director for energy and climate change, on the Obama administration’s approach to the Paris climate conference, which takes place November 30 to December.

By the Numbers

88: House lawmakers who asked the chairman of the Appropriations Committee to cut funding for the Obama administration to implement a new rule defining the scope of the Clean Water Act. (The Hill)

8.7 to 14.3: Days earlier in the calendar for peak spring river flows in the northern plains, compared to 1910. Warmer temperatures are melting the snowpack sooner. (U.S. Geological Survey)

17: Stream gauges in eastern Colorado that set a new peak flow record in the deluge of September 2013. The storm also set a state record for highest rainfall in a 24-hour period, at 11.85 inches (U.S. Geologic Survey)

Reports and Studies

October Heat
Last month continued a sizzling year. It was the planet’s hottest October in 136 years of record keeping, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. With El Nino in place, scientists are confident that this year will end up the hottest on record.

News Briefs

Gila River
The Interior Department decided to move forward with an environmental review of the controversial and expensive Gila River diversion, a network of canals, reservoirs, and pipelines proposed for southwest New Mexico. It is a procedural move, and no decision has been made to approve the project, Interior officials stressed.

New Mexico’s senate delegation, however, lambasted the project, which could cost as much as $US 1 billion, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

“Based on everything I’ve seen so far, this project simply isn’t financially realistic or environmentally wise,” said Tom Udall, a Democrat, in a statement. “Many New Mexicans are rightly concerned about the extremely high cost of this project and the damage that it could do to our thriving tourism and sporting businesses. The Gila is the last free-flowing main-stem river in New Mexico — to sacrifice it to a project that the state can’t afford and that might not ever yield enough water, would be irresponsible. Those millions of dollars would be better spent to rebuild roads, bridges and the crumbling water infrastructure in communities across our state.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich also doubted that the project is best for New Mexico.

Food Safety Rule
As part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized a new set of rules to ensure that produce is grown, harvested, and packaged without microbial contamination.

For water that touches the produce (i.e. sprayed on the fruit or vegetable), farmers must test for E. coli at least once a year, depending on the water source (from a public system, river, or well). The water must meet certain microbial standards.

The rule goes into effect January 26, 2016.

Ballast Water Rule
The Coast Guard finalized a rule that both expands and simplifies the process for reporting how a ship handles its ballast water, which is used to stabilize the ship when it does not hold cargo. Ballast water is a way that invasive species or pathogens can hitch a ride to new waterbodies.

Ships that sail within a single “captain of the port” zone will now be required to submit an annual report. There were no reporting requirements in the past.

The rule goes into effect February 22, 2016. If you have questions, email Regina.R.Bergner@uscg.mil.

On the Radar

Obama in Paris
Barack Obama arrived in Paris on Sunday night to attend the United Nations climate change conference, a two-week summit that will test the world’s resolve to cut carbon pollution.

The president, hoping to shepherd the negotiations toward success with an early appearance, begins the week with a Monday morning meeting with Xi Jinping, president of China. Obama will then speak at the opening ceremony and meet after lunch with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister.

“We see [the president’s] role as focused on bringing together the world’s leading economies to signal that they’re going to do their part while also elevating a sense of urgency in Paris,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told reporters.

Six cabinet secretaries or agency administrators will also travel to Paris and continue the negotiations after the president returns to the United States on Tuesday.

Invasive Species Hearing
On December 1, the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the nation’s invasive species policy.

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.