Friday, November 09, 2007

Hearing On Twenty-First Century Water Commission Act

Nov 8: The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, Chaired by Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), held a hearing to receive testimony on H.R. 135, the Twenty-First Century Water Commission Act of 2007, sponsored by Representative John Linder (R-GA). Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Representative Linder; Benjamin Grumbles, U.S. EPA's Assistant Administrator for Office of Water; the Deputy Executive Administrator for Planning for the Texas Water Development Board; the National Wildlife Federation; a water rights attorney from Phoenix, AZ; and a professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. Chairwoman Johnson also delivered an opening statement.

Representative Linder began his testimony by addressing the concerns of some on the Committee that his bill would somehow infringe upon states’ water rights. He said, “First, I want to hasten to assure my friends from Michigan [i.e. Representatives Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Candice S. Miller (R-MI)] that the only thing worse than a national water policy is a global water policy. This is not to establish a national policy for use of water, but to get people around the same table to bring all of the knowledge we have about water to the same place to advise the Congress and the President.”

Linder explained that there are new ideas all across this country, and the world, that are making their way into the water discussion, and an effort needs to be made to bring them to the same table. The Water Commission will focus on storage, water conservation, and repairing the leaky pipes that contribute to so much unnecessary water loss. Linder noted that Philadelphia alone loses 85 million gallons of water a day through leaky pipes. He said, “We need to increase the revolving loan fund under the Clean Water Act so that more states can fix their problems. In Atlanta, we’re fixing a $3 billion problem with our sewage treatment. We ought to be able to borrow that money at low interest rates from the Federal government under the Clean Water Act.”

Linder finished his testimony by reiterating to the Committee that the intention of the Water Commission is not to establish a national water policy. Rather, he concluded, the Commission’s true intention is to establish exactly what we know about water and what we know works across the country, and then to bring that information to the President and Congress so it can be looked at, and then decide how to help improve our nation’s water needs.

Michigan Representative Miller issued a release stating, "Don't even consider using a seemingly harmless bill to study the nation's water usage as cover to begin a process aimed at taking Great Lakes water." She said, "I don't think I'm being too alarmist about this. Do not look to the Great Lakes to solve the nation's water problems." According to the release, Michigan colleague on the Subcommittee, Vern Ehlers, predicted what might happen if anyone attempted a water grab saying, "I would suspect we'd call up the militia and take up arms. We feel that serious about it." Miller noted that the witness panel, talking about the legislation, included speakers from Arizona, Georgia and Texas -- and none from the Great Lakes region. Miller asked the bill's supporters if they would be willing to add a provision specifically saying the commission wouldn't recommend diverting water from the Great Lakes. Some supporters were somewhat in agreement, though they generally were against taking any point of discussion off the table.

Miller noted that similar legislation was passed by the House in the last Congress, over her objections, but got bottled up in the Senate. This year, it was included in the House Transportation Energy Security and Climate Change Mitigation Act of 2007, approved by the House, though the Senate, again, hasn't taken it up. In a related matter, on October 10, a number of western Senators, including Senators Domenici (R) and Bingaman (D) from New Mexico, introduced S. 2156, the SECURE Water Act, which among other things requires an assessment of whether available surface and groundwater supplies will be available to meet the future needs of the United States [See WIMS 10/11/07].

EPA testified that the Office of Water is working closely with the Western Governors’ Association and the Western States Water Council to implement the recommendations in their June 2006 report, Water Needs and Strategies for a Sustainable Future. Contained within the Report are many recommendations that are consistent with EPA initiatives as well as recommendations contained in a report released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy titled, A Strategy for Federal Science and Technology to Support Water Availability and Quality in the United States. The responsibility for water, both in terms of quality and quantity, is divided among many different federal agencies as well as each of our states, tribes, and territories. In light of this shared and diverse responsibility, it is imperative that we all work collectively to meet the growing needs and demands of our limited water resources.

David Conrad, Senior Water Resources Specialist with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) applauded Representative Linder and the 22 cosponsors and indicated that NWF believes there is a "strong need for a national water commission." He emphasized the language of Section 8207 regarding the Commission duties, included in the House-passed comprehensive energy bill, H.R. 3221, which creates a similar commission as that contemplated in H.R. 135. He suggested including the provisions of Section 8207 in Section 4 of H.R. 135. Although, the National Wildlife Federation along with the National Parks Conservation Association are major actors in the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, he did not specifically discuss the issue of Great Lakes water diversion.

Access the hearing website with links to background information and witness testimony (click here). Access a release from Representative Linder (click here). Access a release from Representative Miller (click here). Access the White House report, A Strategy for Federal Science and Technology to Support Water Availability and Quality in the United States, dated September, 2007 (click here). Access links to various media reports of the meeting (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 135 (click here). Access legislative details for S. 2156 (click here). [*Water, *GLakes]

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