ESA Policy News May 16, 2014: national climate assessment, water resources bill agreement, drought initiatives

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. WHITE HOUSE: ASSESSMENT OUTLINES NATIONWIDE IMPACTS OF HUMAN-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE

On May 6th, the US Global Change Research Program released the 3rd National Climate Assessment that summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. The NCA report concludes that the effects of human-induced climate change, once thought to be a distant problem, are happening now and causing significant ecosystem changes with numerous consequences for the natural world and human society. Precipitation patterns are changing, sea level is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, and the frequency and intensity of some weather events are increasing.

“As an ecologist, you can’t escape the effects of climate change on natural resources. We’re observing climate impacts in nearly all natural and managed ecosystems,” said Ecological Society of America President Jill Baron in an ESA press release. “In order to protect biodiversity and the natural resources that we rely on, we need to be developing policy now. The National Climate Assessment provides guidelines for how to respond and adapt.” Baron was also a contributor to the NCA.

Reaction on Capitol Hill was typically partisan. An array of press statements from Republicans and Democratic leaders on related committees highlights how far Congress has to go in reaching any consensus on legislation to address climate change. “The new National Climate Assessment report confirms with the greatest level of detail yet that climate change in the United States is all around us and we are already feeling the impacts,” stated Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “We must act in a comprehensive way to reduce carbon pollution for the sake of public health, our nation’s economy, and the well-being of future generations.”

“This is a political document intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions,” asserted House Science, Space and Technology (SST) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “In reality, there is little science to support any connection between climate change and more frequent or extreme storms.  It’s disappointing that the Obama administration feels compelled to stretch the truth in order to drum up support for more costly and unnecessary regulations and subsidies.” View the National Climate Assessment by clicking this link. A White House Fact sheet on climate change by region is available by clicking this link. View the full ESA press release by clicking this link.


This week, House and Senate leaders who sit on committees with jurisdiction over water infrastructure announced an agreement on a conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).

The $8.2 billion legislation reauthorizes 34 Army Corps of Engineers projects related to flooding, environmental restoration, dams, levees, bridges and other water-related infrastructure and includes various reforms to the Army Corps. The key negotiators of the finalized bill were Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), EPW Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and T&I Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV).

“In my home State of California, Sacramento faces some of the nation’s most severe flood risks,” stated Chairwoman Boxer. “I am so pleased that this bipartisan legislation includes critical flood control that protects lives and property in California. It also includes important reforms to strengthen our ports, including in Los Angeles and Long Beach, and restores critical ecosystems, such as the Salton Sea. I look forward to moving this critical legislation to the President’s desk to be signed into law as soon as possible.” A full summary of the conference report is available by following this link.


Passage of comprehensive energy efficiency legislation for the current 113th Congress was scuttled this week as Senate Republicans blocked a vote to end debate on the bill. The move also nullified a deal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had made with Republicans to allow a vote on legislation to expedite approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) felt that the deal shortchanged Republicans by preventing them from considering amendments to the energy bill.

The vote was 55–36. Sixty votes were needed to overcome the minority party filibuster. The nine Senators who missed the vote were Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mark Begich (D-AK), John Boozman (R-AR), Bob Corker (R-TN), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-NV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and David Vitter (R-LA). Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who cosponsored the bill, along with Sens. Kelly Ayote (R-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) were the only Republicans to vote with the majority of Senate Democrats to end debate on the measure.


On May 15th, US Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell announced $20 million in funding for nine Bureau of Reclamation water projects in California intended to provide drought relief. The funding is provided through DOI’s Water Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow (SMART) program, which works to improve water conservation efforts.

California Project funding includes an extension of water recycling service in the city of Corona, construction of a wastewater treatment facility in Yucca Valley, and construction and development of three supply wells and two primary raw water transmission lines to produce groundwater that would replace water that would have been imported from the Colorado River or Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta region.

For additional information, click this link.


For the first time since 1939, water began to flow this week from the Friant Dam near Fresno into the San Joaquin River to help California farmers as they face low water levels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The Bureau of Reclamation released the water to fulfill water contracts made in 1939 when the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority agreed to take its water from the Delta rather than the San Joaquin River, unless the Delta could not meet needs. The Exchange Contractors hold senior water rights and provide irrigation water to about 240,000 acres of farmland. They will receive 529,000 acre-feet of their normal 840,000 acre-feet supply. Certain wildlife refuges will also see their supplies increased from 108,000 acre-feet to 170,000 acre-feet. The allotment of irrigation water to many Central Valley farmers who are not considered senior rights holders is expected to remain at zero for the rest of the year, officials said.

The US Drought Monitor reports that conditions in the San Joaquin Valley have intensified from “severe” drought in May 2013 to “exceptional” drought in May 2014. “Exceptional” is the worst of the five stages of the US Drought Monitor Classification. For additional information, click this link.


On May 9th, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in partnership with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released two proposed rules and one proposed policy that collectively intend to improve the process of designating critical habitat for endangered species.

The first proposed rule would expand the definition of “adverse modification” to better quantify how various federal activities, including mining, drilling and construction effect critical habitat’s ability to meet a listed species recovery needs. The second proposed rule would clarify the procedures and standards used to designate critical habitats. The policy proposal would improve transparency and consistency with how agencies determine exclusions for critical habitat designations.

Additional information on the proposals is available via the following link.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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