ESA Policy News: Aug. 14

policy-news-logo_sESA’s biweekly Policy News, produced by our Policy Analyst Piper Corp, was released on Friday. You can read the full edition here. One theme is the revival of the Sustainable Watershed Planning Act, which was drafted in June but then tabled.

Ecologists are becoming increasingly aware that a world potable water shortage may be looming (see remarks by Sandra Postel at ESA’s Annual Meeting), but the general public seems slow on the uptake. The fact that this bill was pushed back once (it was scheduled for committee markup in June), is in its second draft and has no set date for completion seems to imply its lesser importance to lawmakers on the Hill. Certainly the climate and energy bill is important, but this water bill should prove to be the next important environmental legislation.

The bill, currently under its second draft in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would consolidate and coordinate water resource management efforts at all scales. Currently, water management activities and responsibilities are shared by agencies at all levels of government, often resulting in jurisdictional divides within watersheds. This out-of sync process leads to federal projects often overlapping and local projects neglecting to account for downstream or regional impacts.

The original draft included provisions to:

1.  Create a sustainable watershed planning council, composed of ranking officials at the Environmental Protection Agency; the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Transportation. Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and US Army; the chiefs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and state and tribal leaders.

2.  Establish a president-appointed director to implement federal policies governing sustainable water resources management.

3.  Create regional watershed planning boards, based on Army Corps of Engineers civil work districts, which would be responsible for developing five-year plans for water use and conservation.

    4.  Provide eligible states with annual grants of up to $1.5 million for setting up water planning boards or supporting existing efforts.