Federal Water Tap, May 23: House Committee Advances Water Resources Bill

The Rundown

  • A House committee followed its Senate counterpart and endorsed a key bill to authorize Army Corps water projects.
  • An early-season forecast indicates a moderate harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie this summer.
  • A GAO report recommends better federal agency coordination to help Alaska Native villages address environmental change.
  • An inspector general’s investigation clears a former Trump administration official of lobbying rules violations regarding a California water district.

“We have to continue to emphasize that water is not going to magically appear. We need to be very careful about how we are using the existing resources that we have.” — Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, speaking with Deseret News about water availability in the Colorado River basin.

By the Numbers

$391 Million: Federal funding between 2016 and 2020 to repair and protect infrastructure in Alaska Native villages that was damaged by environmental changes like erosion, flooding, and thawing permafrost. A Government Accountability Office audit found that these investments could be improved with better coordination between federal agencies.

News Briefs

Water Bills in Congress, Mega Action Edition
Congress was busy in the days leading up to the Memorial Day break.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced the Water Resources Development Act, a massive infrastructure and environmental restoration bill for the Army Corps of Engineers that is renewed every other year.

The Senate is working on its version, which also moved out of committee this month.

That’s not all the action in Congress. Several other water-related bills were introduced last week.

  • The Water Data Act would force cabinet agencies to align their data collection standards and processes and share data. This National Water Data Framework would be supported by a federal council and an expert advisory committee. A grant program of $25 million annually over five years would bring in the expertise of non-federal groups.
  • The Rio Grande Water Security Act would require the Interior secretary to convene a working group to develop a plan for managing the water resources of the Rio Grande basin.
  • The Respectful Treatment of Unborn Remains Act would prohibit abortion providers from disposing of fetal remains and medical waste from an abortion in publicly owned sewer systems.
  • The STREAM Act would authorize funding for water projects in the western states. The bill offers $300 million in grants for water recycling, $750 million in grants for water storage and conveyance, $150 million for desalination, and $100 million to assist disadvantaged communities with drinking water. The bill also reauthorizes a federal research program to study aquifers shared with Mexico.

Studies and Reports

Reviewing Lessons from Flint
The EPA Office of the Inspector General says that the agency still needs to address two recommended actions from a 2018 audit.

The audit reviewed agency shortcomings that contributed to the Flint lead crisis.

In the follow-up audit, the Office of the Inspector General noted that the EPA had not monitored attendance at staff trainings on the Safe Drinking Water Act and it did not develop a system for assessing and tracking citizen drinking water complaints. The complaints are registered via a tool in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Interior OIG Clears Former Trump Official
The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of the Interior concluded that a former Trump administration official, David Bernhardt, did not violate federal lobbying disclosure rules before becoming deputy Interior secretary in 2017.

The investigation centered on alleged contacts between Bernhardt, Westlands Water District, and federal legislative staff in the months after Bernhardt was no longer registered as a lobbyist and before he was confirmed as deputy secretary. Westlands is a large and powerful irrigation district in California.

Though Bernhardt continued to work for the district after filing paperwork to end his lobbying activities, the inspector general’s office did not find evidence that he acted as a lobbyist. His work instead counted as consulting. However, the inquiry was limited because Bernhardt and certain congressional staff declined interviews with investigators.

On the Radar

Lake Erie Algae Forecast
NOAA and the National Center for Water Quality Research say that the annual Lake Erie harmful algal bloom is likely to be moderate this summer.

The forecast is based on nutrient loading and precipitation in the spring and early summer. Right now, average- to below-average rainfall in the lake’s western basin means the bloom is predicted to be a four on a 10-point severity scale.

The forecast depends on the weather and could change if the next two months are drier or wetter than expected.

Congressional Hearings
On May 25, a House Financial Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program.

Also on May 25, a Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee will discuss legislation related to water infrastructure and drought. Among the bills to be heard is the Water Data Act, described above.

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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