Friday, May 22, 2015

Mississippi River Water Resources Blog Memorial Day Recess

Congress is not in session during the Memorial Day week, and your FNB* is taking that opportunity to rest and relax in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware - a proverbial "stone's throw" from Capitol Hill, and renowned as "The Nation's Summer Capital."

The blogger and blog will return bright and early on the first of June, with Federal lawmakers due to return shortly thereafter.

*"Friendly Neighborhood Blogger"

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Most of the Water News - None of the Spin~
This Week and Next
The week saw some substantive work in the U.S. Congress to move bills along that could eventually set fiscal year 2016 spending levels for the Army Corps of Engineers and NOAA.  House appropriators passed a Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill that would fund NOAA at a level $274 million less than in 2015, and their Senate counterparts passed an Energy and Water spending measure funding the Army Corps at a level $45 million above the current year's level.  The Senate Appropriation Committee also set discretionary spending caps for its 12 subcommittees; allocating $30.01 billion of its $1.017 trillion budget to the Subcommittee on Interior and Environment to distribute among the Interior Department, Forest Service and EPA in its fiscal 2016 spending bill, and $20.5 billion for the Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration subcommittee.  You can link to details under "Federal Budget," below.

The activity on and off Capitol Hill regarding the pending Waters of the United States (WOTUS or Clean Water) rule was of a less substantive and more frenetic nature.  Unlike recent weeks when legislation was introduced and considered, no new bills (or even approved amendments to bills) surfaced this past week.  The topic did come up - sometimes loudly - in several Congressional committee hearings and meetings, as well as in a sizable number of White House meetings, as stakeholders rushed to have their voices heard before the final rule is published. Below, under "Water Quality," you can find a lengthy listing of the week's WOTUS news.

Next week will be noticeably quieter and slower in Washington, DC, with the halls of Congress darkened for the Memorial Day recess.  Don't be surprised, however, if the Obama administration uses the Congressional down time to publish its final Clean Water Act (WOTUS) rule.  Controversial announcements are sometimes made during such recesses, and indications from the White House Office of Management and Budget are that the White House review of the final rule is nearing its end.

If you plan on getting out and about this holiday weekend, one recommended destination up and down the Mississippi River is the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, which was recently highlighted as one of America's best waterside drives.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
Waters of the United States
  • Obama administration expected to soon announce major clean water rule that clarifying federal authority to limit pollution
  • Opponents of Waters of the U.S. rule go on offensive during Senate "Federal Water Quality Protection Act" hearing
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial Board: "Don't let special interests dilute federal 'Clean Water Rule'"
  • Poll: most voters think Congress should allow Waters of the U.S. rule to move forward; 18% think it should be blocked
  • New York Times: "Critics Hear E.P.A.’s Voice in ‘Public Comments’" regarding Obama administration's proposed water rule (see related EPA blog post below)
  • US EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia defends the agency's proposed water rule education and outreach activities in a blog post
  • Since April 15, the White House Office of Management and Budget has had 17 stakeholder meetings on the proposed water rule
  • Over 100 advocates representing dozens of groups flocking to White House in last-ditch effort to influence WOTUS rule
  • Administration's decision not to run proposed water rule through small business review process troubles key Senate Democrat
  • Senate Environment and Public Works panel Republicans say administration's clean water rule proposal is an example of federal overreach
  • Sen. Hoeven (R-ND) offers amendment to Energy and Water spending bill to defund implementation of Waters of the US rule; then withdraws amendment after debate; link to meeting archive:
Other Water Quality News
  • Mississippi River - Gulf Hypoxia Task Force discusses Midwest’s role in Gulf of Mexico dead zone at Columbus, Ohio meeting
  • Des Moines Register editorial: "Give us results, not spin, on water quality" - "pay attention to measurable progress"
  • Study (Pennsylvania and West Virginia): discharge and accidental spills of oil and gas wastewater to waterways pose risks to both human health and the environment (related article:
  • Interior Department mining stream protection rule comes under scrutiny at House hearing
  • Quad-Cities authorities monitoring apparent Mississippi River oil spill
  • Research: Bisphenol-A may enter into Missouri streams via atmospheric deposition
  • Also see "In the States," below
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Ameren and Franklin County join to block legal challenges to coal ash landfill in Missouri River floodplain
  • Army Corps commander urges waterway infrastructure work; Rock Island District backlog discussed
  • Construction of new Chickamauga lock in Chattanooga, Tennessee may be revived under Army Corps spending bill approved by Senate Appropriation subcommittee
  • Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District will ask for $10 million in Federal money to help with levee repairs
  • Supreme Court asks Army Corps to respond to company's second attempt to convince Court to review wetland jurisdiction case; also see this related news article:
  • USGS: New digital flood inundation maps and an updated flood warning system for parts of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers can help with flood preparation
  • Walter Mondale leads conversation about the future of the St. Croix River
  • USGS publishes report entitled, "The Water-Energy Nexus:  An Earth Science Perspective"
  • Obama administration urges Supreme Court against reviewing Mississippi claims that Tennessee is stealing groundwater
  • Flooding South Platte River diverted into Nebraska irrigation canals to help minimize flooding and recharge aquifers
  • National Weather Service in Wichita issues flood warning for the Arkansas River at Arkansas City
  • Arkansas River Valley experiences highest water levels in years
Agriculture -
  • Wisconsin outpaced its neighboring states in the growth of farmland property values last year
  • New iPhone and Android app allows Nebraska farmers to map treatment strip research; coordinate with University researchers
  • USDA reminds farmers to certify conservation compliance by June 1 deadline
Climate and Weather -
  • National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center looks for widespread drought improvement across the Plains through the summer
  • Dartmouth-led study finds that climate change's future impact on Midwest water cycle is
    Click to enlarge
  • USDA-NRCS to provide $21 million in farm bill conservation assistance to areas experiencing exceptional or extreme drought, including Kansas and Oklahoma in the Mississippi River Basin
  • Large El Niño becoming more likely in 2015; news article and NOAA analysis
  • US drought update: storminess reduced drought’s footprint across U.S. mid-section
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology releases draft Community Resilience Guide for public feedback; comments due June 26
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • New genetic analysis of freshwater mussels suggests that they aren't as bad off as previously
    Photo: Gerald Herbert—AP
    thought; study:; news article:
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA propose major changes in Endangered Species Act listing process
  • White-nose syndrome spreading in Wisconsin bats
  • House approves Defense bill amendment #38 to prohibit Lesser Prairie Chicken's endangered species act listing until 2021, and delist the American Burying Beetle as threatened or endangered (229-190 vote) (see related articles below)
  • House acts to de-list prairie chicken, bar grouse listing
  • Attempt to circumvent sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken protections is part of House GOP push to roll back environmental regulations
  • Obama administration announces the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators
  • Fish and Wildlife Service study looks at paddlefish in Lake Sharpe (Missouri River)
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources working to keep invasive species out of state's most popular state parks, including Itasca State Park
  • South Dakota Department of Agriculture is using biocontrol agents to treat infestations of Purple Loosestrife along state water bodies
  • Journal of Endangered Species Research: Endangered river fish: threats and conservation options
  • Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service propose new rules changing the petition process by which the public can request they list species as threatened or endangered
  • Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to remove protections for the Louisiana black bear, because the species has recovered (related article:
  • Center for Biological Diversity urges West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and Army Corps to scrutinize impacts of proposed strip mine on Big Sandy crayfish and northern long-eared bat
In the Cities -
  • Kansas City Council will vote on May 21 on ordinance requiring large buildings to assess,
    Source: WWLTV, New Orleans
    report energy and water use
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa residents eligible for up to $2000 reimbursement to implement Stormwater Best Management Practices
  • Cedar Rapids kicks off Middle Cedar Partnership Project to improve water quality, with help from USDA matching grant
  • New  "Trade District" neighborhood along the New Orleans Mississippi River front a possibility
  • Minneapolis and St. Paul tied for the top spot in a national Trust for Public Land ranking of large U.S. cities' parks
In the States-
  • Clock runs out on Minnesota's 2015 Legislature with some funding bills left in limbo, including $540 million omnibus legacy bill; however, funding was approved for environment,
    States in the News This Week
    natural resource and agriculture (see related articles below)
  • New Minnesota law beefs up waterway buffers somewhat, but final funding is not yet a done deal
  • Minnesota House re-passes $540 million omnibus legacy bill; Senate does not (funds clean water, outdoor heritage, parks, more)
  • Minnesota Governor Dayton indicates that legacy bill that cleared the House could be taken up in a special session
  • Environmental groups want Gov. Mark Dayton to reject a Minnesota spending bill for agriculture and the environment
  • Proposed revisions to Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act open for public comment (governs how DNR seeks and considers public input and evaluates and discloses the environmental impacts of pending projects)
  • Priorities for Wisconsin water quality protection set through 2017
  • Iowa DNR has released the most recent draft of the state’s impaired waters list
  • Farmers and ranchers who open their property to tourists could be shielded from certain lawsuits under new Nebraska bill; link to bill:
  • Wyoming doesn’t want people to know how much cow poop is in its water, under a  controversial and confusing new law
  • Missouri state legislature logjam killed scores of bills, made session one of the least productive in recent memory
  • Missouri House passes Senate-amended bill changing the definition of “waters of the state”
  • Kentucky Division of Water unveils new water health portal (link to portal:
Photo: NASA Aqua satellite
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Decade-old oil leak off of Louisiana Gulf Coast shows little signs of abating
  • Louisiana Chenier Ronquille Island barrier island restoration project builds on pre-BP spill work
  • NOAA issues call for proposals under federal funding opportunity for new Regional Coastal Resilience Grants Program
  • Environmental Assessments and Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Draft Phase IV Early Restoration Plan available for comment; June public meetings set
Forestry -
  • House Ag Committee Approves National Forest Foundation Reauthorization Act (the National Forest Foundation Act established a National Forest Foundation to benefit the activities of the U.S. Forest Service by encouraging, accepting, and administering private gifts of money and property)
Resource Development -
  • Iowa landowners rally at the state capitol to support tougher restrictions on eminent domain, oppose oil pipeline through state
Federal Budget - (You can follow the status of all of the fiscal year 2016 appropriation bills on this web page)
  • Senate Appropriations Committee votes along party lines to approve spending caps for its 12 subcommittees; allocating $30.01 billion of its $1.017 trillion budget to the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment to distribute among Interior Department, Forest Service and EPA programs in its fiscal 2016 spending bill, and $20.5 billion for the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration subcommittee
  • House Appropriations Committee passes FY 2016 spending bill cutting $274 million from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's budget (article:
  • Senate Appropriation Committee approves fiscal year 2016 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill funding Army Corps (link to bill web page:
  • Senate Appropriations subcommittee markup of annual interior and environment spending bill is planned for June 16
Events - Information on all past and future events listed here each week can be viewed in the on-line calendar, located above and to the right (and here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • American Wetlands Month National Webinar: The Ramsar Treaty/Convention on Wetlands May 27, 2-4 PM EDT
  • Webcast: "Community Based Public-Private Partnerships and Alternative Market-Based Tools for Integrated Green Stormwater Infrastructure: A Guide for Local Governments"  May 28, 1-2:30pm (EDT)
  • Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Dakotas Resource Advisory Council meeting, June 9, Deadwood, South Dakota
  • The Wetlands Initiative's Dixon Waterfowl Refuge BioBlitz, Hennepin and Hopper Lakes, near Hennepin, Illinois, June 13-14
  • 2015 Gulf of Mexico Alliance All Hands Meeting, June 16-18, IP Hotel & Casino, Biloxi, MS
  • Meeting: Army Corps' Chief of Engineers Environmental Advisory Board, 9 AM-noon, June 23,  Alexandria, VA (open to public)
  • Ohio Environmental Council's new home Open House, 1145 Chesapeake Ave. Suite I, Columbus, Ohio, June 25, 4-6 pm
  • Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, January 24 - 27, 2016, Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Grand Rapids, Michigan (call for workshops open)
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
Other news-
  • Obama administration unveils semiannual regulatory agenda detailing rules that agencies will make top priorities in next year
  • Bipartisan alliance of 38 mayors call on Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • Nijmegen, Netherlands makes room for the River Waal and takes on a new identity
  • 2015 Chi-Cal Rivers Fund Request for Proposals will be available June 15 at (Chicago/Calumet watershed, part of Illinois River basin) - informational webinar June 22; register:
  • Wichita Eagle lists some of the best of an estimated 2,000 miles of Kansas' land and water trails
  • Lewis and Clark Museum at Great Falls attracts almost 50,000 visitors annually
  • Rain Garden smartphone app is now multi-state; includes plant, sizing and soils information for 13 states, including Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania in the Mississippi River Basin
  • From July 10 through July 14, the Coast Guard is proposing to cut down on Ohio River boat traffic in Cincinnati where the MLB All-Star Game will be held; public has until June 1 to comment
  • Job opening: Minnesota DNR seeks to fill a Long Term Resource Monitoring, Mississippi River Coordinator position
  • Fish and Wildlife Service plans to survey nearly 9,000 people to help define the role of nature and the outdoors in U.S. society
  • Leaders from 34 countries meet in Memphis for 10th Annual Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Rural Development Conference
  • USDA releases new Regional Development Priority policy
  • Minnesota River stakeholders continue to move closer to forming an entity that will serve as basin organizing hub
  • Several witnesses tell Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee that  bill designed to improve transparency and accountability of EPA's scientific advisory process needs more work
  • Great River Road National Scenic Byway from Minnesota through Louisiana is lauded as one of America's best waterside drives
Politics and People-
  • Former Rep. Baron Hill (D) announces that he will run for Indiana's open U.S. Senate seat in 2016
  • In both the U.S. House and Senate, men outnumber women in senior staffer positions
  • A vicious Republican gubernatorial primary in Kentucky ends in a virtual tie; outcome won't be decided for days
  • State Attorney General Jack Conway secures the Kentucky Democratic Party's gubernatorial nomination
Your Moment of Zen -
Photograph: Tony Margiocchi / Barcroft Media

What We Learned This Week - End Game

As dictated by the state constitution, the clock ran out on Minnesota's 2015 Legislature with natural resource legacy funding left in limbo; however, environment, natural resource and agriculture funding was approved. The Minnesota agriculture spending bill included stream buffer requirements, with more flexibility built in than originally proposed. Some environmental groups like that; some don't.  Iowa released its most recent draft of the state’s impaired waters. Bisphenol-A may be entering Missouri streams by way of atmospheric deposition. The Missouri state Legislature passed a bill changing the definition of “waters of the state.” The "Waters of the United States" rule debate persisted through another week. As the end to the rulemaking process draws nigh, organizations are streaming to the White House in large numbers to make their voices heard. Most voters think that Congress should allow the rule to move forward. But that public attitude isn't reflected in the opinions of many members of Congress. Speaking of regulations, the Obama administration unveiled its semiannual regulatory agenda on Thursday, detailing the rules that agencies will make top priorities next year. decade-old oil leak off of Louisiana Gulf Coast may last ten decades longer. Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota parks are the best of those in large U.S. cities. Climate change's future impact on the water cycle in the Midwest is less than certain. Storminess reduced the drought’s footprint across the U.S. mid-section. It's becoming more certain that a large El Niño event will emerge this year. Endangered freshwater mussels may not be as bad off as previously thought. The U.S. House wants to make sure that the Lesser Prairie Chicken doesn't officially become labeled as "endangered." And last but not least, Fish and Wildlife Service officer Matt Belew is a hero to scores of Oklahoma boy scouts.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For (UPDATED)

This week is the last that Congress is in session until June 1, and lawmakers have packed the middle of the week with committee and floor activities they want to complete before leaving for greener pastures. The House is scheduled to be off starting Friday. And while the Senate is technically in session on Friday, unless pressing legislation demands otherwise (highway laws and key PATRIOT Act provisions expire on May 31), most Senators will be gone by Thursday evening, as well.

Below are the House and Senate activities currently scheduled this week that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources. Key among those activities are Tuesday's legislative hearing on a Senate bill that would require the Obama Administration to restart its "Waters of the United States" rulemaking process, and a Wednesday House committee hearing regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Surface Mining stream protection rule.

Links are provided to the relevant committee web pages, and, where applicable, to pieces of legislation. Many Congressional proceedings are webcast live, and these should be, as well (follow the appropriate link). All times are Eastern. This page will be updated as warranted. 

  • Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife legislative hearing on  “S. 1140, The Federal Water Quality Protection Act” (a bill from Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) that would direct the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. EPA to re-propose the Waters of the United States rule); 10:00 AM, room 406 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing on "Empowering State Management of Greater Sage Grouse;" 10:00 AM, room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.
  • House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies hearing to examine "DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Engagement with Academia and Industry;" 10:00 AM, room 311 Cannon House Office Building (among other duties, that directorate works to improve "the nation’s preparedness for natural and man-made catastrophes").
  • Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing to examine proposed environmental regulation's impacts on America's small businesses (this hearing will focus primarily on the proposed Waters of the United States rule); 2:00 PM, room 428A Russell Senate Office Building.
  • Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee meeting to mark up the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2016; 2:30 PM, room 138 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittees on Federal Lands and Water, Power and Oceans joint hearing: "To protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting, and for other purposes;" 9:30 AM, room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee oversight hearing "to examine scientific advisory panels and processes at the Environmental Protection Agency," including consideration of S. 543, the "EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2015;" 9:30 AM, room 406 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2016 funding request, budget justification, and oversight of programs administered by the Bureau of Land Management; 10:00 AM, room 124 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
  • House Agriculture Committee meeting to consider, among other items,  the National Forest Foundation Reauthorization Act of 2015 (the National Forest Foundation Act established a National Forest Foundation to benefit the activities of the U.S. Forest Service by encouraging, accepting, and administering private gifts of money and property); 10:00 AM, room 1300 Longworth House Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources legislative hearing on H.R. 2295, the  “National Energy Security Corridors Act” (which would "designate National Energy Security Corridors for the construction of natural gas pipelines on Federal land"); 10:00 AM, room 1334 Longworth House Office Building.
  • House Appropriations Committee meeting to mark up the fiscal year 2016 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill, which, among other things, would cut the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by $274 million and increase funding for the National Science Foundation by $50 million; 10:30 AM, room 2359 Rayburn House Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations oversight hearing on "State Perspectives on the Status of Cooperating Agencies for the Office of Surface Mining's Stream Protection Rule;" 2:00 PM, room 1334 Longworth House Office Building.
  • NEW TIME - Senate Appropriations Committee meeting to mark up the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (which would fund the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies); 11:00 AM, room 216 Hart Senate Office Building.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Most of the Water News - None of the Spin~

"Waters of the U.S." Debate Continues
On May 12, the U.S. House passed a bill that would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw a controversial proposed "Waters of the United States" (or "WOTUS") rule, and then consult with state and local officials on how to address the Clean Water Act jurisdiction issue while preparing a new rule. The “Regulatory Integrity Protection Act” (H.R. 1732) passed easily on a 261 – 155 roll call vote that was largely along party lines.  Twenty-four Democrats joined with all of the Republican members in voting for the measure.  Mississippi River state Democrats supporting the bill included Reps. Cheri Bustos (IL), Jim Cooper (TN), Robin Kelly (IL), Collin Peterson (MN), Cedric Richmond (LA) and Tim Walz (MN).  The 261-vote total for passage would not be enough to overcome a threatened White House veto, should the House bill be passed by the Senate.  However, its fate in the Senate is less than certain, since the Senate’s own WOTUS bill (S. 1140) differs considerably from the House measure, and Senate leaders may not wish to complicate debate on its bill by considering the House bill on its own merits.

The final version of the proposed WOTUS rule was sent by the EPA and Army Corps for review by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on April 6.  The OMB review is typically the last step before final rule publication.  Normally, the OMB review process would take 90 days at the most to complete, with reviews generally completed sometime between 40 and 60 days.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week  

Water Quality -
  • The Hill: House votes to overturn an Obama administration water jurisdiction rule
  • Iowa farmers ponder effects of Des Moines Water Works water quality lawsuit
    Photo: Dan Charles/NPR
  • State continues to monitor water quality near North Dakota train derailment site
  • Pipeline spill of 63,000 gallons of highly concentrated saltwater is more bad news for North Dakota’s oil industry
  • Washington state pollution settlement called "important precedent holding mega-dairy factories responsible for the environmental and human health impacts of their waste"  (link to court settlement here: and see related op-ed immediately below)
  • Op-ed: Coming federal court action likely to be large regulatory intrusion, as "Minnesota faces looming nitrate wars"
  • Study looks at toxicity of chemical released into West Virginia streams during January 2104 Freedom Industries spill
  • Wetlands created 20 years ago between tile-drained agricultural fields and the Embarras River continue to remove nitrate from water
  • New water quality and weather monitoring buoys being deployed in Upper Mississippi River Navigation Pool 8
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial: How long will it be before drought-stricken stretches of the United States come looking for our water?
  • USDA Press Release: Ogallala aquifer "is being depleted at an unsustainable rate"- USDA Invests $6.5 Million to Help Conserve Water, Improve Water Quality in Ogallala Aquifer Region  (also see this news article:
  • White House Federal Flood Risk Management Standard for new government-funded projects generates controversy (link to FEMA's Standard web site:
  • New Orleans considers joining 2005 St. Bernard Parish lawsuit over damages blamed on Mississippi River Gulf Outlet
  • Construction of BNSF Railway line through La Crosse River marsh could be largely completed before lawsuit is decided
  • Drought expected to persist in upper Missouri River basin into foreseeable future; flood control remains Army Corps' "primary consideration"
  • USDA: flood control structures built in three Nebraska counties helped prevent over $3 million in flooding damages
  • Complaint alleges improper Army Corps' Marseilles lock, dam, and pool management, resulting in severe Marseilles, Illinois area flooding (Illinois River)
  • Army Corps to investigate deepening, maintaining Mississippi River Ship Channel from Gulf of Mexico to Baton Rouge from 45 to up to 50 feet deep; announces open houses, public scoping meetings
Photo: Benjamin Krain
  • South Platte River flooding persists after weekend storms
  • Illinois River at Watts, Oklahoma sets an all time record flood stage at 28 feet following five days of heavy precipitation
  • Arkansas River high and fast; three locks closed, barges held up
Agriculture -
  • Ongoing cuts in USDA conservation funding are putting success of voluntary conservation strategy at risk
  • Number of Wisconsin dairy farm operations falls below 10,000, while number of milking cows
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    reaches a record high
  • USDA: South Dakota is defying a downward national farm trend to become an "agricultural powerhouse"
  • FAA gives U.S. farmers approval to spray crops from drones
  • Grist editorial: to avoid future wars over phosphorus and potassium, we need to stop "flushing those elements down the drain"
  • The Week: America is running out of soil
Climate and Weather -
  • U.S. Drought Update: Rain and snows improved conditions in northwest Iowa, western Minnesota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and much of Kansas; slight improvement in Nebraska
  • Deputy Agriculture Secretary Harden encourages greater collaboration between farmers and policy makers to deal with climate change
  • Montana Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee is looking for May rain to turn unusually dry spring around
  • Kansas-based research study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests global warming will cut U.S. wheat yields (Washington Post article:
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Missouri Department of Conservation lake sturgeon program aims to re-establish giant fish
    Photo: Dave Tunge/Dakota Aerials
  • Invasive species began appearing in Minnesota's lakes and rivers about 150 years; they're still a problem today
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources efforts to save walleye pay off in all but one of the 10 large lakes with historically big populations
  • Army Corps Missouri River scientists use computer flow models to explore cost-effective ways to build sandbar bird habitat
  • Army Corps hopes to provide better understanding of and appreciation for Mississippi River land management challenges and opportunities at Alton, Illinois meeting (for historical background, see: “'Slumlord' of the Flood Plain Cabins on Public Land Are Hard to Dislodge;" St. Louis Post Dispatch, 1994
  • Tennessee Valley Authority agrees to pay some costs of running three federal fish hatcheries, representing a "permanent funding fix"
  • Fish and Wildlife Service will contribute $3.8 million to 27 North and South America migratory bird conservation projects
  • New South Dakota fishing and boating rules in effect to help slow the spread of aquatic invasive species in state water bodies
  • U.S. beekeepers report that 42 percent of the honeybees they managed last year died, the second-highest percentage since USDA surveying began (also see this related E and E article:
  • House Agriculture subcommittee holds hearing on the federal coordination and response regarding pollinator health
  • Over 2,000 pounds of caviar from paddlefish are harvested in North Dakota each year in the waters where the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers meet
  • Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing multi-year plan for evaluating need to protect about 650 plants and animals under Endangered Species Act
  • Proposed House Defense authorization bill amendment "reverses and prohibits the further listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened or endangered species until 2021" (amendment #119).  House scheduled to finish debate on the bill and vote on that amendment this morning (Friday).
In the Cities -
  • Op-ed: Feel-good stories are nice, but there's a role for academia in bringing scientific rigor to changes in local government performance
In the States-
  • Pennsylvania Builders Association unhappy with the way DEP is implementing 2014 
    States in the news this week
    amendments to state's Clean Streams Law with respect to riparian buffers
  • Inspector General: No evidence Ohio Gov. Kasich unduly influenced coal permits or pushed out staffer at Ohio EPA
  • Five Indiana counties to address sediment and logjam issues in lakes and rivers with $320,900 in state DNR grant funding
  • Minnesota House passes omnibus agriculture policy bill that promotes agritourism; increases Best Management Practices Loan Program maximum
  • Minnesota Senate passes omnibus agriculture bill language scaling back bee protection legislation passed last year
  • Biggest discrepancy between Minnesota Senate and House legacy bills is in Clean Water Fund appropriations
  • Joint Wisconsin House-Senate Committee agrees to continue to support matching grant, farmer-led watershed initiative
  • Wisconsin could lose as many as 80 County Extension agents under Governor's proposed $300 million University of Wisconsin system cut
  • Illinois Environmental Protection Agency refers May 2, South Fork River train spill enforcement action to state Attorney General
  • Iowa Department of Agriculture statewide cost-share available for farming water quality conservation practices
  • Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to report 725 impaired water bodies to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this summer
  • Kentucky Division of Water opens 60-day comment period (through July 13) on draft 2014 list of impaired waters
  • Missouri House passes bill that "changes the definition of 'waters of the state'" on a 118-32 vote, eliminating a reference to "waters of the United States lying within the state"
  • Drive gains momentum for vote to overturn North Dakota Legislature's decision to loosen state's ban against corporate farming
  • Kansas River and Missouri River regional differences and similarities are topics of Kansas Water Vision Team meetings
  • $1 billion more is needed to make Louisiana's state budget work
  • Many states expect to meet, exceed revenue forecasts for the current fiscal year, due to unexpected April tax windfalls
  • 22 states are projecting budget shortfalls based on information compiled by Associated Press  including Illinois (FY2016), $6 billion; Kansas (FY2016), $800 million; Louisiana (FY2016), $1.6 billion; Oklahoma (FY2016), $611 million; Pennsylvania (FY2016), $2 billion; West Virginia (FY2016), $195 million; Wisconsin (FY2016 and FY2017), $650 million combined from Mississippi River Basin; article: and list:
  • Data on state legislature elections show incumbents winning at record rates (96.5 percent in 2014)
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Ducks Unlimited has been awarded five grants to restore more than 21,800 acres of coastal prairies and marshes in Texas and Louisiana
  • Center for Data Innovation calls on Congress to create a robust national coastal mapping information platform to allow for coordination among federal agencies (see page 6)
  • As part of RESTORE Act Science Program final plan, NOAA announces 10 long-term Gulf of Mexico research priorities
Forestry -
  • Ruffed Grouse Society petitions Forest Service to intensively log more eastern and southern forestland (Regions 8 and 9) for habitat creation
  • Government Accountability Office report: Restoring forests on a landscape scale has both benefits and challenges
Resource Development -
  • Poll: environmental degradation and water contamination are most prevalent reasons for people to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline
  • Resistance to pipeline bigger than Keystone XL thwarts Enbridge, Inc. plans in Wisconsin
  • Landowners near Nebraska site of proposed oil field waste injection well file lawsuit in attempt to stop the project
Federal Budget -
  • House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee approves by voice vote Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill that cuts National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by $274 million, increases National Science Foundation by $50 million
  • Over 130 farm, conservation and wildlife organizations urge Congressional appropriators in letter to support Farm Bill conservation program funding
Events - Information on all past and future events listed here each week can be viewed in the on-line calendar, located above and to the right (and here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • Free National Conference of State Legislatures webinar: The Guests That Won't Leave: How States Are Dealing with Invasive Species; 1 PM ET, May 15
  • Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District public meeting re: cottage site leases, May 18, 6 PM CT, Alton, Illinois (see here for definition of "cottage site"
  • Association of State Wetland Managers Webinar: Prairie Pothole Wetland Restoration; 3 PM ET, May 19
  • Wetland Mapping Consortium Webinar: Minnesota GIS driven “Restorable Wetland Prioritization Tool” May 20, 3:00 PM ET
  • Water Resources in the United States: Science Briefing, May 21, 10:30 AM-1 PM ET, US Capitol Visitors Center
  • South Dakota Kayak Challenge, 72 miles on Missouri River between Yankton, S.D. and South Sioux City, Neb., May 23-24
  • Quad Cities Pollinator Conference, June 10-11, Jumer’s Casino and Hotel, Rock Island, IL
  • USDA NRCS State Technical Committee meeting, June 30, 8:30 AM-Noon, University of Missouri Bradford Research and Extension Center
  • May 19 Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board meeting canceled; next scheduled Board meeting is June 23
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
  • National Water Quality Monitoring Council's "National Water Monitoring News" Spring 2015 e-newsletter (Volume 10)
  • America's Watershed Initiative May 2015 "America's Watershed Update"
  • Green Lands Blue Waters May 8 update, highlighting Mississippi River Basin Continuous Living Cover efforts
  • Montana Watershed Coordination Council's May 8 Watershed News
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy's May 13 TUWaterWays e-newsletter
Other news-
  • New federal rail safety rules may make it harder for the public to know about Bakken oil trains moving through their cities
  • The Nature Conservancy’s Missouri Chapter seeks to fill “Watershed Restoration Specialist” position
  • Wilson State Park Switchgrass Trail named "Most Popular Mountain Bike Trail" in Kansas (full U.S. list here, by state
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is accepting applications for 2015 "Growing Greener Plus" Watershed Protection and Restoration Grants
  • Several states' positions change in League of American Bicyclists' Bicycle Friendly State ranking: Minnesota maintains second place; Wisconsin drops six spots; Illinois down three; Pennsylvania moves up seven; National group blames Wisconsin slide on Governor Walker's cuts
  • Brookings Institution: Three U.S. infrastructure bad habits that need correcting: overemphasized federal role; fiscal austerity and political gridlock; funding-driven prioritization
Politics and People-
  • Guardian investigation: FBI breached own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against
    the Keystone XL pipeline
  • President to nominate former US EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks as EPA's Assistant Administrator for Administration and Resources Management
  • Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) announces intent to challenge Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in 2016 Senate race
  • Stymied by Washington, DC gridlock, the lobbying industry expands rapidly in the states
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has emerged as one of the most disliked members among his Senate peers
  • Billionaire coal mine owner James Justice announces he is running for West Virginia governor as a Democrat
  • None of 13 candidates win special election outright for open U.S. House seat in Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District; resulting in a June 2 runoff
  • First Republican presidential debate (and traditional end to election-time Congressional productivity) on track for August 6
  • Wisconsin State Sen. Tom Tiffany admits he asked Governor for DNR scientist job cuts, due to excessive focus on climate change
  • Nearly 200 Iowa scientists and academics want presidential hopefuls coming to state to answer climate change questions
Your Moment of Zen - 
Photograph: Toby Melville /Reuters

What We Learned This Week - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"

The House voted to overturn a controversial Obama administration water jurisdiction rule.  A bill quickly moving through the Missouri legislature would remove "waters of the United States" from the definition of state waters. The impacts of a Washington state dairy pollution settlement are poised to ripple across the country.  A recent Federal Flood Risk Management Standard for new government-funded projects generated more controversy.   Construction of a new rail line through a La Crosse River wetland could be largely completed before a lawsuit designed to stop it is decided.  Lobbyists are lobbying more at the state level, after being stymied in Washington, DC.  Many states expect to meet or even exceed revenue forecasts for this fiscal year following unexpected April tax windfalls.  However, seven Mississippi River Basin states are projecting future budget shortfalls. Incumbent state legislators are being re-elected at record rates.  USDA believes that flood control structures built in three Nebraska counties helped prevent over $3 million in damages during recent flooding. Complainants believe that Army Corps lock and dam mismanagement resulted in severe Illinois flooding. Minnesota isn't the only River Basin state where a battle over riparian buffers is brewing. The South Platte River in Colorado and Nebraska, and Illinois River in Oklahoma flooded following heavy rains and mountain snowmelt. South Dakota bucked a downward national trend and to become an "agricultural powerhouse." Global warming will cut wheat yields in Kansas and beyond. "Even at the best time of the year," U.S. honeybee colonies are still dying.  Most knowledgeable campaigners cite environmental degradation and water contamination as their main reasons for opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.  The FBI breached its own rules when it spied on some of those campaigners.  And last but not least, America is running out of soil.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For (UPDATED)

Both the U.S. House and Senate are in session over the next two weeks, before recessing for the Memorial Day holiday week, and below are the activities currently scheduled this week that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources.

In addition to the committee activity listed below, the House should take up H.R. 1732 (the "Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015") on Tuesday. That bill would put a halt to the current "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rulemaking process, by directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the proposed WOTUS rule within 30 days, and then consult with state and local officials on how to address the Clean Water Act jurisdiction issue within three months. Among a handful of amendments to be debated, the House will consider one offered by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD-4).  The Edwards' amendment, proposed in anticipation of the bill's likely passage, would list policy provisions (based on concerns expressed by opponents of the rulemaking) that the Army Corps and U.S. EPA are prohibited from including in a final rule.

The bill should easily pass the lower chamber.  Last year a Republican House majority passed a similar measure with a 262-152 vote, including the support of 35 Democrats. The White House has threatened to veto H.R. 1732.

Links are provided below to the relevant committee web pages, and, where applicable, to pieces of legislation. Many Congressional proceedings are webcast live, and these should be, as well (follow the appropriate link).  All times are Eastern.  This page will be updated as warranted to reflect any committee activity changes.

  • House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing on a discussion draft addressing Hydropower Regulatory Modernization; 10:00 AM, room 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.
  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2016 funding request, budget justification, and oversight of programs administered by the Bureau of Land Management; 10:00 AM, Room 124, Dirksen Senate Office Building.
  • House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency markup session for several bills, including H.R. 1615, the DHS FOIA Efficiency Act of 2015; 10:00 AM, and subsequent days as may be necessary, room 311 Cannon House Office Building.
  • House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research hearing to review the federal coordination and response regarding pollinator health; 1:30 PM, room 1300 Longworth House Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources legislative hearing on H.R. 1644, "To amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to ensure transparency in the development of environmental regulations, and for other purposes. "Supporting Transparent Regulatory and Environmental Actions in Mining Act (STREAM Act);" 10:00 AM, room 1334 Longworth House Office Building.   H.R. 1644 would block the Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement from promulgating a new stream protection rule, while tasking the Board of Earth Sciences and Resources with studying the current stream buffer zone rule.
  • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies mark-up of Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill (including funding for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration); 10:30 AM, room H-140 Capitol Building.
  • NEW -  Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure field hearing entitled, “Providing Necessary Flood Protection to Protect Coastal Communities;” 10:30 AM ET, 9:30 AM CDT; New Orleans Lakefront Airport - Walnut Room.