White House summit showcases water action. Companion event urges global response to water crises. Obama administration refocuses on drought planning. The Army Corps cancels billions of dollars of water projects. Research program starts new national initiative on nanotechnology for water.
“The premiere strategic threat to global security, and our own, is not a particular country, ideology, or weapon. It is human wants and needs — for the unsatisfied necessities for life-basics, including food, energy, water, and even dignity…The growing imbalance in global water supply and demand is evolving into the most toxic threat to world peace and international and U.S. national security.” — Gen. James Jones, a former national security adviser to President Obama, speaking on March 22 at a World Water Day summit in Washington, D.C.
By the Numbers
143: Commitments to water action from the private sector, utilities, universities, and other organizations that were announced at the White House water summit. John Holdren, the president’s science adviser, called the 37-page list the longest fact sheet the administration has ever released. (White House)
$US 14.3 billion: Cost of the 144 water projects “deauthorized” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 required the corps to cancel projects that met several conditions: they were approved before November 2007 and construction had either never begun or had not advanced in the last six years. (U.S. Army Corps)
$US 8.5 million: Grants to 10 universities for water quality and efficiency research. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
World Water Day
On the United Nations calendar, March 22 is World Water Day. The Obama administration marked the day by highlighting its water technology agenda, which focuses on innovation to increase efficiency and reduce the cost of desalination and recycling.
The White House hosted a water summit that featured nearly 150 commitments to action by businesses, universities, and environmental groups. Ali Zaidi, an associate director at the Office of Management and Budget, told Circle of Blue that the administration knew there was demand for water action, but was not expecting such a high level of interest.
A companion summit on global water security was hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace. Gen. James Jones, former national security adviser to President Obama, gave the keynote address, and several top-level State Department officials participated in panel discussions.
Obama Drought Memo
The White House, hoping to firm up Obama initiatives before he leaves office, also released a presidential memo on drought response. An action plan discusses the goals in more detail.
The memo formalized the National Drought Resilience Partnership, a forum established in 2013 to coordinate actions between local, state, and federal agencies.
The memo also requires federal agencies to adopt the administration’s preferred policy responses for drought resilience: data collection, coordination, planning, efficient water use, and assistance to local and state officials. A number of reports and actions, to be accomplished without additional funding, are due by December 31, 2016.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) published her own water policy memo, a proposal that reflects most of the president’s key points.
Fix the Dam
President Obama sent Iraq’s prime minister a note pleading that the government repair the ailing Mosul Dam, Reuters reports.
“They dragged their feet on this,” a U.S. official told the news agency.
If the dam were to break, between 500,000 and 1.5 million people along the banks of the Tigris would need to be evacuated in order to survive the surge of water, according to the U.S. embassy. The government signed a contract on March 2 with an Italian firm to patch the dam, but repairs might not begin for months.
Studies and Reports
Federal Funding for Water
The Congressional Research Service reports on programs that Congress uses to fund municipal water treatment systems.
Spring Flood Risk Report
The lower and middle stretches of the Mississippi River Basin have a risk of moderate spring flooding as does the coastal South, according to NOAA analysis.
On the Radar
Thinking Big by Working Small
A U.S. government nanotechnology research program launched a new initiative on water technology.
The National Nanotechnology Initiative has three goals: increase water supplies through membrane purification, improve the performance of water delivery systems with new materials, and design components to monitor water systems.
Senate Hearing on Missouri River
On March 31, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing to discuss the Army Corps’ management of the Missouri River.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton