Friday, April 11, 2014

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~

Proposed Changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard: Where Things Stand
The Renewable Fuel Standard (or RFS) program was created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and established the first renewable fuel volume mandate in the United States. The alternative fuel-use mandate was updated by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. In November 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed changes to the RFS for the 2014 calendar year, marking the first time since the RFS was put in place that EPA suggested that the nation reduce its mandated minimum level of usage. The RFS changes would apply to cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel.

Because the RFS and EPA's proposal to change the standard have broad economic and environmental ramifications, EPA's proposal has been followed closely by agriculture, land use, biofuel, petroleum-based fuel, environmental and food stakeholders, among others (see related articles, below, under "Resource Development").  The demand for those fuels can drive agricultural land use decisions by farmers throughout the U.S., particularly in the Midwestern corn belt states, where plentiful corn and soy can be used as feedstocks for biofuels.   Over 140,000 comments were submitted during the proposal's 60-day comment period. The EPA has said that it intends to complete a review of those comments and make a decision regarding its proposal in June. In anticipation of the agency's decision, we provide an overview of the history and status of the RFS here.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week  

Water Quality -
  • LEAD STORY: EPA Administrator argues that Clean Water Act rule would provide certainty to those whose work encroaches on wetlands, streams http://ow.ly/vvumG
  • Republican agriculture-state senators question EPA Administrator over Clean Water Act rule proposal, priorities http://ow.ly/vC0Dl
  • Fifteen Senate Republicans say that the USEPA is using the wrong legal justification for a proposed Clean Water Act regulation http://ow.ly/vvv1N
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approves bill to prevent EPA from retroactively vetoing Army Corps Clean Water Act permits http://ow.ly/vC17y
  • Illinois Department of Natural Resources to increase inspections of coal-ash ponds in wake of high-profile accidents http://bit.ly/1fRH0ZW
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency seeks comments on Upper Mississippi River water quality improvement report, protection plan http://ow.ly/vyYVj
  • Activist group says Iowa is limiting input on proposed water quality rules http://ow.ly/vC2jq
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
Proposed New Madrid levee system is cited by American
Rivers as one reason for listing (click to enlarge)
  • LEAD STORY: American Rivers places Middle Mississippi River among "America's Most Endangered Rivers for 2014" - threatened by outdated flood management http://ow.ly/vASJ6 (related articles: http://ow.ly/vASM3 http://ow.ly/vASNx)
  • Grassroots effort could revive Grand Kankakee Marsh (Kankakee River Basin) http://ow.ly/vwsHN
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources launches project to study sustainability of groundwater use in three Central areas of the state http://ow.ly/vwpoI
  • MPR: Minnesota  farmers irrigating without permits as groundwater levels drop http://ow.ly/vydat
  • U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday closed the Mississippi River at Sabula, Iowa after a barge struck a railroad bridge http://ow.ly/vAPhf
  • After barge accident in Iowa, Mississippi River traffic may reopen Friday http://ow.ly/vDxTF
  • Speakers blast Ameren plan for ash landfill in Missouri River floodplain http://ow.ly/vC2Aq
  • Report: Louisiana leads country in domestic maritime industry due to proximity to Lower Mississippi River http://ow.ly/vDxd0
  • Corps of Engineers: Missouri River runoff higher than average, but not concerning http://ow.ly/vDyM6
  • Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduces four bills designed to encourage use of and improve water efficiency measures http://ow.ly/vDGew
Agriculture -
  • Last winter, U.S. beekeeping industry lost nearly half of its bee colonies, and the numbers keep falling - why Congress should care http://ow.ly/vy7gP
  • The five states with largest share of farm bill direct payments and crop insurance payouts over the 2004-2013 crop years http://ow.ly/vG0cj
  • Farmers, ranchers can sign-up for USDA farm bill disaster assistance programs beginning April 15 http://ow.ly/vy6Wb
  • 28 national groups urge House, Senate Agriculture appropriators to oppose cuts to farm conservation programs http://ow.ly/vvrvV
  • Wildlife and environmental groups are claiming victory for conservation practices in the new farm bill http://ow.ly/vvt3h
  • Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) wants U.S. Department of Agriculture to designate Lower Mississippi River Valley as Critical Conservation Area http://ow.ly/vvtsZ
One-month drought change map
(click to enlarge)
Climate and Weather -
  • United States drought grew slightly in March, endangering more crops and creating Dust Bowl-like conditions http://ow.ly/vB5xP
  • NOAA/NWS weekly drought monitor update: improvements in Midwest drought; expansion in Plains http://ow.ly/q3w3u
  • Windy, dry conditions prompt National Weather Service to issue "critical fire danger" warning across parts of Midwest ow.ly/vERnp
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Republican and Democratic divisions over how to update 40-year-old Endangered Species Act surface during hearing http://ow.ly/vB54d
  • Divisive House GOP bill would promote sale of federal lands to fund endangered species habitat improvements http://ow.ly/vDGWf
  • Kentucky officials have called a retreat in their five-year battle to contain the invasive emerald ash borer http://ow.ly/vwqi2 
    Alligator Snapping Turtle
  • Wisconsin wildlife officials want to give the state's invasive species list its first overhaul http://ow.ly/vws5e
  • Bald eagles continue their comeback in Twin Cities stretch of the Mississippi River, with at least 48 nesting pairs http://ow.ly/vG2js
  • Alligator snapping turtles are at risk in Mississippi River, other rivers draining into the northern Gulf of Mexico http://ow.ly/vG2Gd
  • New USGS-developed DNA Tool Helps Scientists Identify Invasive Species of Aquatic Plants ow.ly/vESjs
  • Three environmental groups plan to sue Interior Department to force stronger protections for lesser prairie chicken ow.ly/vER60
  • Upper Arkansas River fishing is better than ever before, after nearly 30 years of work ow.ly/vDQLD
In the Cities -
  • LEAD STORY: Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative mayors meet with decision-makers in Washington to push River environmental and economic sustainability http://ow.ly/vB0f5
  • LEAD STORY: Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative mayors' 2014 federal policy platform: http://ow.ly/vB2cQ (PDF file)
  • In  search for water and money, Wichita City Council looks for new water sources and ways to pay for it http://ow.ly/vz12K
  • Editorial: No perfect water supply solutions presented at Tuesday’s Wichita City council workshop, but solution needed http://ow.ly/vDyjx
  • Park restoration is changing Minnehaha Creek (Twin Cities Metro area - Minnesota) http://ow.ly/vDy5a
  • Some costs, funding for Tusa's Arkansas River stormwater projects still uncertain http://ow.ly/vG2Zp
Louisiana Coastal Region-
  • Louisiana State Legislators urged to drop legislation prohibiting levee authorities from filing wetland damage suits http://ow.ly/vwqJb
  • Louisiana regulators suing oil, gas companies propose waiving fees due from companies if they agree to begin settlement negotiations http://ow.ly/vC1sY
  • Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) says she doesn't support a south Louisiana levee authority's lawsuit against oil and gas companies http://ow.ly/vARAt
Forestry -
  • Senate Agriculture Committee approves bill to designate 20,000 acres of wilderness in Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest http://ow.ly/vAQS0  (see bill here: http://ow.ly/vARaZ)
Resource Development -
  • Advanced biofuels supporters tell Senate Agriculture Committee to stick with advanced, cellulosic biofuels Renewable Fuels Standard http://ow.ly/vAPGb
  • Biofuels proponents find sympathetic ears among agriculture senators during Renewable Fuel Standard proposal hearing http://ow.ly/vB4EO
  • Biofuel executive says Obama administration has halted investments in advanced biofuels plants http://ow.ly/vAQ9W
  • State bill would delay Minnesota's soybean-fuel mandate http://ow.ly/vwru3
  • NRDC: Fracking in the Bakken threatens Missouri River watershed health http://ow.ly/vDxKh
Federal Budget -
  • House passes Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) federal fiscal year 2015 budget in a tight 219 to 205 vote ow.ly/vEnsZ
  • Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.): good chance that Congress will reduce administration’s proposed Army Corps of Engineers budget cut http://ow.ly/vATmg
  • Testimony of EPA Administrator before Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee http://ow.ly/vBZV6
Events -  Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar (here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • Association of State Wetland Managers Wetland Mapping Consortium webinar April 16, 3 PM ET http://ow.ly/vDuAo
  • Arkansas River Basin Water Forum set for April 22; Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado http://ow.ly/vDxv2
  • Lower Mississippi River Waterway Safety Advisory Committee will meet on April 23 in New Orleans re: navigation safety http://ow.ly/vydC3
  • 2014 Cooperative Extension Centennial Convocation; May 7-8, Washington, DC http://ow.ly/vBZtg
  • Conference: How large-scale restoration can stimulate sustainable development; May 29-30, Washington D.C. ow.ly/vEf6w
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Waterfront Bulletin for April 2014 http://ow.ly/vzPCG
  • Pennsylvania Environmental Council Spring 2014 "Forum" e-newsletter http://ow.ly/vBcD0
  • Basin Alliance for the Lower Mississippi in Minnesota (BALMM) "Currents" e-newsletter http://ow.ly/vBZ1x
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy April 8 TUWaterWays edition http://ow.ly/vDv0A (PDF file)
  • Montana Watershed Coordination Council's Watershed News: April 10 ow.ly/vEQia
Other news-
  • Pennsylvania Environmental Council and and Dominion honor local groups at Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards http://ow.ly/vBcjL
  • Center for American Progress: The Economic Case for Restoring Coastal Ecosystems http://ow.ly/vDwU9
  • Barren River Area Development District says the Green River (Kentucky) hasn't been living up to its tourism potential http://ow.ly/vDyCN
  • Interior Secretary unveils new landscape-level mitigation strategy across millions of acres of federal land ow.ly/vEQHI
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues its fiscal year (FY) 2014 to 2018 Strategic Plan ow.ly/vEeE4
Politics and People-
  • Businessman Aaron Miller selected by GOP delegates to challenge U.S. House incumbent Democratic Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN-1) http://goo.gl/HsoGSv
  • Eight members selected by USDA to serve on National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board http://ow.ly/vyYhV
Last Word -
Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, first published on April 10, 1925 by Charles Scribner's Sons.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Proposed Changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard: Status and Background

The Renewable Fuel Standard (or RFS) program was created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and established the first renewable fuel volume mandate in the United States. The alternative fuel-use mandate was updated by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. In November 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed changes to the RFS for the 2014 calendar year, marking the first time since the RFS was put in place that EPA suggested that the nation reduce its mandated minimum level of usage. The RFS changes would apply to cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel.

The RFS and EPA's proposal to change the standards have broad economic and environmental ramifications.  The demand for those fuels can drive agricultural land use decisions by farmers throughout the U.S., particularly in the Midwestern corn belt states, where plentiful corn and soy can be used as feedstocks for biofuels.  EPA's proposal has been followed closely by agriculture, land use, biofuel, petroleum-based fuel, environmental and food stakeholders, among others. Over 140,000 comments were submitted during the proposal's 60-day comment period. The EPA has said that it intends to complete a review of those comments and make a decision regarding its proposal in June. This summary of the history and status of the RFS is provided in anticipation of the agency's decision.

Background
The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (Pub.L. 110-140; originally called the Clean Energy Act of 2007), among other things, mandated that 35 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent biofuels and 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel be consumed in the United States by 2022 (the RFS - a subtitle of the Energy Independence and Security Act). The 2022 RFS goal, along with intermediate annual goals, were established based on a belief that biofuels offered a viable alternative to petroleum-based fuels, which would increase national fuel security, and potentially lower petroleum-based fuel prices.[1]

2014 RFS Proposal
In November, 2013, the EPA proposed to reduce the 2014 requirements for ethanol and advanced biofuel under the RFS.  The EPA did so in an attempt to address what it calls the “practical realities in the marketplace” more evident in 2013 than in 2007, when the Energy Independence and Security Act was enacted.  The proposed cuts marked the first time since the RFS was put in place that EPA suggested that the nation reduce its mandated minimum level of usage. Specifically, EPA proposed new “volume requirements and associated percentage standards that would apply under the RFS2 program in calendar year 2014 for cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel [2], and total renewable fuel.”

In proposing the reduction, the EPA cited an "inadequate domestic supply" of biofuels, its concerns regarding the amount of ethanol that can be used in modern fueling infrastructure and in automobiles, and the agency’s low confidence that the U.S. could produce a substantial amount of next-generation biofuels (such as those derived from cellulosic feedstocks) in 2014. The high cost of producing cellulosic biofuels (compared to petroleum-based fuels) added to the advanced biofuel market ambiguity underlying the EPA proposal.

Under the proposed rule, EPA would cut ethanol and advanced biofuel usage in 2014 by 16 percent, compared with the level set out in the Energy Independence and Security Act. The agency proposed to mandate 13 billion gallons of conventional ethanol (1.4 billion gallons below what the Act requires), and 2 billion gallons of advanced biofuels made from feedstocks other than cornstarch (a reduction of 1.75 billion gallons below the goal set by the act).

Reaction to the EPA Proposal
The proposal, leaked to the public in draft form ahead of its official, late November release, has been very controversial. The proposed RFS change generated over 140,000 written public comments (6,000 of which are unique) before the 60-day comment period ended on January 28. Hundreds of the comments were over 100 pages long. EPA has set a goal of finalizing the rule by midnight June 20.

The oil, livestock and food industries generally have contended that the EPA should cut the RFS even deeper than proposed by the agency. Refiners argue that they have been hurt by the RFS due to the limits placed on the amount of ethanol that can be used in fueling infrastructure.

Biofuel producers and farmers have generally opposed the RFS cut from the opposite perspective, arguing that EPA has no legal basis for proposing the deep reductions. They contend that cutting the standard would hurt the domestic ethanol industry and stymie investment in advanced biofuels. Advanced biofuel producer comments have centered on the effects that the EPA proposal would have on next-generation fuel investment (i.e., those that do not use corn starch as a feedstock). Many Midwestern congressional members have echoed these sentiments, suggesting that EPA’s proposal would stifle rural economies and chill investment in the development of next-generation biofuels.


[1] The RFS program was first created under the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005, and that earlier standard is sometimes referred to as “RFS1” (with the 2007 standard called “RFS2”)
[2] “Advanced biofuels” or “second generation biofuels” are fuels that can be manufactured from various types of biomass other than “first generation biofuels” (which include sugars and vegetable oils).  Second generation biofuels are made from lignocellulosic biomass or woody crops, and agricultural residues or waste.

UPDATED: Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

Below are the U.S. House and Senate activities currently scheduled for the week ahead that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources.  Links are provided to the relevant committee pages on the Internet, and, where appropriate, to pieces of legislation. Many Congressional proceedings are webcast live, and these should be, as well (follow the appropriate link).  All times are Eastern.

Monday
  • None currently scheduled
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
  • None currently scheduled

Friday, April 4, 2014

April 11 Capitol Hill Briefing: Trends in Nutrients and Pesticides in the Nation’s Rivers

Friday, April 11, 2014
10:00 to 11:30 AM

Capitol Visitors Center Congressional Meeting Room South


The Northeast Midwest Institute and Water Environment Federation (WEF) invite you to a briefing on the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program’s findings of trends in nutrients and pesticides in streams and rivers. The briefing will primarily focus on the Mississippi River Basin, which covers about 40% of the nation and represents a wide range of important climatic, agricultural, and urban influences that are present throughout the country.  Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA-8) are sponsoring the event.  Rep. Kind is is founder and co-chair of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Congressional Task Force, and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on the Mississippi River.

As Congress debates federal activities and funding for water-quality protection and restoration efforts, it is critical to know how conditions are actually changing over time and to understand why changes have occurred. Have governmental actions been effective or are other influences causing the changes? For example, from NAWQA monitoring, we now know that nitrate loadings from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico increased 14 percent from 1980 to 2010 despite extensive efforts to improve and expand the use of urban and agricultural management
Regional Assessments of Nutrient Sources and
Transport to Streams, Reservoirs, and Estuaries
practices during the period. Why? From its analyses of the data, NAWQA has determined that pesticide concentrations in streams and rivers change as chemical use changes, as regulations controlling use are issued, and as new or improved products become available.

The briefing will also include information about efforts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) to trace the health of the Nation’s valuable estuaries and will explain how information learned from NAWQA’s monitoring and assessments make estuarine protection more effective.

Speakers for this event include:
  • Alan Vicory, Principal, Stantec Consulting and Chair, WEF Government Affairs Committee, Moderator 
  • Lori Sprague, NAWQA Surface-Water Trends Coordinator 
  • Suzanne Bricker, NOAA Coastal and Oceanographical Assessment Status and Trends Branch 
Following presentations by the two speakers, there will be time for questions and discussion from the audience.

This briefing is held in cooperation with the USGS Office of Water Quality and the National Water-Quality Assessment Program and is free and open to the public.

Please RSVP to cbarbour@usgs.gov. If you do not respond, you must show a picture ID at the Capitol Visitors Center.  For more information, contact Bill Wilber at cbarbour@usgs.gov or 703-648-6878.

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~

Capitol Hill Next Week - What to Watch For
For the second of a rare three-week consecutive run, Congress will be in session next week, and we
have compiled a list of the U.S. House and Senate activities currently scheduled for the week that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources. In a turn from recent practice, a majority of the hearings listed do not pertain to the fiscal year 2015 budget. They include a hearing on House bills designed to amend the Endangered Species Act, a Senate committee hearing on advanced biofuels, and a hearing on healthy forests and rural jobs. You can find all of the relevant details here.

Implementing the New Farm Bill - What's Up Next for Conservation
NRCS Conservation Landscapes
The Agricultural Act of 2014 (also known as the “farm bill”) was enacted on February 7, establishing and reauthorizing a suite of new and existing conservation programs that benefit both agricultural producers and the environment. USDA has tallied 430-plus actions that it believes it needs to take in order to implement all of the measures called for in the new farm bill. Based on a series of meetings over the past month with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller, we have prepared a summary of USDA’s plans for implementing key conservation initiatives under the provisions of the 2014 farm bill.  The top priorities for the NRCS include getting assistance out as soon as possible this spring; moving from 23 to 13 conservation programs and increasing efficiency and productivity in the process; the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program; the 10 million-acre-per-year Conservation Stewardship Program; the $250 million-per-year authorized for the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program; and smoothly and quickly implementing new conservation compliance rules. You can find additional conservation implementation details and links to associated USDA web pages here.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week
Water Quality -
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee expects vote "soon" on bill to limit USEPA's Clean Water Act permit veto power http://bit.ly/1fs3W5b
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency opens draft Industrial Stormwater Multi-Sector General Permit for comment http://ow.ly/vdfop
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sets goal of a 25 percent reduction in sediment in the Minnesota River by 2020 http://bit.ly/1i4nUQF
  • Thaw threatens Wisconsin water supplies with manure runoff http://bit.ly/1mEyWTP
  • Snake River (Minnesota) water quality report calls for protecting and restoring lakes and streams http://bit.ly/1pG58n3
  • EPA Awarding Close to $13 Million to Assist Small Drinking Water and Wastewater Systems Across the United States http://1.usa.gov/1pX9ckR
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Survey: Water-related challenges, costs are concerns for many Fortune 500 companies; not enough to make them change related practices http://bit.ly/1mHQoqv
  • Diverting Missouri River to the Red River Valley would be a huge challenge and cost between $800 million and $1.1 billion http://bit.ly/1kig8p4
  • FBI investigating FEMA over "unusual" changes in federal flood insurance maps benefiting oceanfront building owners http://nbcnews.to/1dxyNPu
  • Critics worry Ameren’s preferred coal ash disposal site  in the Missouri River floodplain invites an environmental catastrophe http://bit.ly/1dKeJtl
  • Army Corps to host meetings on Missouri River operation throughout watershed http://bit.ly/1lDY8d3
  • Four-state MINK (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas) regional group holds meeting to discuss Missouri River port development http://bit.ly/1pVxXvG
  • U.S. vessel owners, operators and mariners visit Capitol Hill offices during American Waterways Operators' annual "Barge-In" bit.ly/1hEJBuj
  • Officials: Ice in Mississippi River delays barge traffic http://bit.ly/1lFwbSa
Agriculture -
  • LEAD ARTICLE: "Plowed Under" - Massive shift underway in Northern Plains, with ramifications for water quality, food, and long-term farm viability http://bit.ly/1h2zbWw
  • Timeline for Farm Bill program implementation beginning to take shape http://bit.ly/PmnqhZ
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Announces Progress on 2014 Farm Bill Implementation http://1.usa.gov/1pW5qrO
  • USDA: growers intend to plant 91.7 million acres of corn in 2014, down 4 percent from 2013; should be a record-high soybean acreage year http://1.usa.gov/1pHBldw
  • Illinois farmers explore what "future may hold for corn production if current nutrient management practices are unchanged" http://bit.ly/1fMFBUl
Climate and Weather -
April 1 U.S. Drought Monitor Map
(click to enlarge)
  • LEAD ARTICLE: UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is among most sobering yet; predicting worst is yet to come http://ow.ly/vdmGo
  • April 1 NOAA/NWS national drought update: Midwest mostly unchanged with some drought southern Illinois and southeastern Missouri; Severe Drought (D2) pushed eastward in Plains http://ow.ly/q3w3u 
  • NOAA Climate Prediction Center April monthly drought outlook: improvement and/or drought removal predicted for lower Great Plains, Upper (and especially Middle) Mississippi Valley  http://ow.ly/q3yAx
  • American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP) connects leading professionals from a variety of sectors working to increase climate resilience across the United States http://bit.ly/QIkqO6
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Seven central Wisconsin counties declare April 2014 as “Celebration of Grasslands Month” http://mnhne.ws/1gXNxr7
  • American bald eagle makes comeback along Pittsburgh's three rivers http://fxn.ws/1jR54n6
  • Water released into Nebraska's Platte River for rare whooping cranes http://bit.ly/1jFjfZW
  • Kansas Secretary of State wants aggressive response to federal designation of  lesser prairie chicken as threatened http://bit.ly/1pVmUml
  • Rarely-observed shovel nose sturgeon seen in Arkansas River by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation http://bit.ly/1gRK6Br
  • Farms investing in habitat for bees see return on investment in less than 4 years http://t.co/jDCjE64zWW
In the Cities -
In the States-
  • Community, environmental groups propose state bill  to amend the Illinois Livestock Management Facilities Act http://ow.ly/vdo5O
  • Environmental groups worry that Iowa House proposal would restrict access to water quality, land-use practice information http://ow.ly/vdouX (also see: http://dmreg.co/1jrhCyW)
  • In spill's aftermath, and after weeks of study and debate, West Virginia finally has new law regulating aboveground chemical storage tanks http://bit.ly/1dV0RMy
  • State budget puts fate of advisory Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission "in limbo" http://cjky.it/1i4iMw6
Louisiana Coastal Region-
  • Report: Louisiana $50 billion coastal restoration plan would inject billions more into economy http://bit.ly/1loXsbc
  • Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study begins to reveal complexities of  rebuilding Louisiana delta http://bit.ly/1maFRks
  • U.S. Geological Survey releases coastal Louisiana marshes map, detailing habitats and vegetation types http://bit.ly/1hsFJMY
  • As miles of Louisiana coast disappear, Vermilion Parish residents fear they’re losing their way of life, economy base http://alj.am/1jF6233
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation approves $144.5 million for Caminada Headland barrier island restoration http://bit.ly/1gtgW6X
Resource Development -
  • Satellite imagery:  U.S. Corn Belt during growing season is most productive area in world for converting carbon dioxide, sunlight into usable energy http://bit.ly/1hh87NC
  • Report describes significant places, drinking water sources and natural areas threatened by tar sands pipeline expansion http://bit.ly/1s2DBQC
Federal Budget -
  • Lawmakers agree that Administration's fiscal year 2015 budget: doesn't provide enough money for Army Corps of Engineers http://bit.ly/1i4kv4p
  • Sens. Landrieu and Feinstein want more candid testimony from Army Corps on budget shortfalls http://bit.ly/1gRLLaa
  • Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveils Federal budget that proposes to cut $5.1 trillion over a decade http://bit.ly/1ia8GLk
  • GOP lawmakers say Ryan budget plan will pass the House http://bit.ly/PlWqPD
Events -  Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar (here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • St. Croix River Association Upcoming Events for April - June http://bit.ly/1pOVhv0
  • EPA Webcast on April 7 (1 PM EDT) on waters of the U.S. proposed rule (to clarify protection under Clean Water Act for streams, wetlands) http://1.usa.gov/1lKTEwA
  • The Economic Case for Restoring Coastal Ecosystems; April 9, 9:30 - 11:30 AM ET; webcast or in person (Washington, DC) http://bit.ly/1mNjzsj
  • University of South Dakota's Missouri River Institute annual Research Symposium; April 10; USD campus in Vermillion bit.ly/1s7r0LZ
  • NRC Committee meeting: Beneficial Use of Graywater and Stormwater: An Assessment of Risks, Costs, and Benefits; April 16-17; Washington, DC http://bit.ly/OfCHjH
  • National Hydropower Association Annual Conference; April 28 - 30, Washington D.C. http://bit.ly/1mI9j4B
  • Great Connections 2014 (stormwater) Conference; April 29 – May 1, Radisson Quad City Plaza; Davenport, Iowa http://bit.ly/OdfUF7
  • The State of Water Conference 2014: Minnesotans Protecting Our Lakes and Rivers; May 1-2, Brainerd, MN http://bit.ly/N32Fat
  • USFWS Aquatic Nuisance Task Force meeting May 7 and May 8, Arlington, VA (Washington DC metro area).  Open to public http://bit.ly/1jvslbu
  • "Ensuring Water Quality in Your Watershed" workshop (Pennsylvania watersheds - statewide); Erie, Pa, June 12 http://bit.ly/1dQrNx7
  • National Conference on Mining-Influenced Waters: Approaches for Characterization, Source Control and Treatment, Albuquerque, NM, August 12-14 http://1.usa.gov/1mv22lH
  • 3rd International Conference on Sustainable Remediation 2014, Ferrara, Italy, September 17-19, 2014 http://www.sustrem2014.com/
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
Other news-
  • USDA ERS: number of people living in nonmetropolitan counties stood at 46.2 million in 2013; nearly 15% of US residents http://1.usa.gov/1dQUNV9
  • MN DNR Commissioner Landwehr tells Mississippi Headwaters Board saving waters and forests reaps economic gains http://bit.ly/1pWGAYI
  • National Geographic Society’s geotourism website will show tourists the experiences the Mississippi River can offer http://strib.mn/1i72qCX
Politics and People-
  • Fishers and Farmers Partnership for the Upper Mississippi names Steve Sodeman and Jack Lauer as its new Co-Chairs http://bit.ly/1gnAUQm
  • Former state Sen. Gordon Howie - an independent candidate - is jumping into the South Dakota U.S. Senate race http://bit.ly/1dXBBFt
  • State Sen. Glenn Grothman will challenge incumbent Rep. Tom Petri in Wisconsin's 6th district GOP U.S. House primary http://bit.ly/1j9uIQq
Boy Scout Picnic
Last Word - "In South Central Nebraska, the drought of 2014 makes the drought of 2012 look like a Boy Scout picnic." - Adams County, Nebraska farmer.
April 1 Nebraska Drought Monitor Map

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Implementing the New Farm Bill - What's Up Next for Conservation

The Agricultural Act of 2014 (commonly known as the “farm bill”) was enacted on February 7, 2014, establishing and reauthorizing, respectively, a suite of new and existing conservation programs that benefit both agricultural producers and the environment. USDA has tallied 430-plus actions that it believes it needs to take in order to implement all of the measures called for in the new farm bill (and has documented these steps in an internal, 35-page implementation framework). Based on a series of meetings over the past month with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller, this post summarizes USDA’s plans for implementing key conservation initiatives under the provisions of the 2014 farm bill.

Implementation Priorities
Secretary Vilsack and NRCS Chief Weller have both stressed the “all hands on deck” and “hit the ground running” approaches that they are taking to expedite the numerous steps to implement the farm bill as quickly as possible. New farm bill measures that are particular priorities for the NRCS include:
  1. Getting assistance out as soon as possible this spring. Especially important to USDA is the task of getting disaster assistance out as soon as possible to farmers, ranchers and landowners suffering from the effects of past natural disasters.  One specific group of people awaiting disaster relief are Great Plains ranchers who lost cattle during a particularly potent and unusually early winter blizzard in 2014. NRCS intends to provide disaster assistance (and assistance under a variety of conservation programs)  under existing rules whenever they can (i.e., promulgated under previous versions of the farm bill), as long as those rules “comport” with the new law.  At the same time, USDA intends to follow a parallel track of promulgating new rules through the regular rulemaking process. 
  2. Moving from 23 to 13 conservation programs will provide NRCS the opportunity to (a) do some program and resource “trimming” in the name of gaining efficiency, and (b) make its conservation programs as simple and user-friendly as possible for both the NRCS implementers and the program users (i.e., partners, farmers, ranchers and landowners).
  3. The new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is one of NRCS’s flagship 2014 farm bill programs, and the USDA is moving to ensure that the program is up and running quickly. NRCS believes that the RCPP will be “bigger and bolder” than past, similar programs, putting partners and partnerships “in the driver’s seat.” The agency’s plan is to draw from experiences gained while implementing the now-eliminated Cooperative Conservation Partnership
    NRCS Landscape Conservation Initiatives
    (click to enlarge)
    Initiative (CCPI). The CCPI, along with the NRCS’s Chesapeake Bay watershed Initiative and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, are being merged into the RCPP under provisions of the farm bill. NRCS’s objective is to have RCPP agreements with project partners in place by the end of the 2014 fiscal year, and to have projects begin in the field next spring (2015). That schedule would require that Requests for Proposals (or RFPs) be published by the NRCS by the end of May, 2014. Beyond the above-mentioned Chesapeake Bay watershed and Great Lakes basin programs, NRCS intends that its other existing landscape conservation initiatives, such as the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), will fit seamlessly with the new RCPP, complimenting, rather than competing with, the new RCPP provisions and projects. NRCS Chief Weller envisions that “one or two” of the existing landscapes could be incorporated into one or more of the (up to) eight critical conservation areas of the RCPP (35 percent of the funds and acres to RCPP projects is to be targeted toward critical conservation areas designated under section 1271(F) of the farm bill). Those critical conservation areas will be named by USDA this spring.
  4. The 10 million-acre-per-year Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) enrollment will be implemented with only a few minor changes to the existing CSP rules. NRCS is planning on having this year’s new enrollments for the program in place by the late summer, 2014.
  5. The $250 million-per-year authorized for the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program is also a high NRCS priority, and the program’s funding will be targeted toward projects that rehabilitate unsafe dams in small watersheds nearing the end of their 50-year design life. 
  6. NRCS will work with USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) to put conservation compliance regulations in place, moving the rulemaking process along quickly.  While that process may take some time, NRCS is stressing to farmers and landowners that the effective date for being in compliance with this provision of the farm bill is the date of the farm bill enactment (not when the rulemaking is completed).  The conservation compliance provision of the farm bill requires (a) that all persons who produce agriculture commodities must protect all cropland classified as being highly erodible from excessive erosion, and (b) that producers must certify that they have not produced crops on wetlands converted after December 23, 1985, and did not convert a wetland after November 28, 1990, to make agricultural production possible.  Otherwise, the producers risk losing eligibility for USDA programs, including crop insurance premium subsidies.  NRCS does not believe that the 2014 farm bill conservation compliance provisions will result in significant changes to the way it manages conservation compliance. 
Other Key Milestones
Here are some additional 2014 farm bill implementation milestones that USDA has set:
  • Agricultural land easement obligations under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program met: fall 2014 (with farmer applications received in May). The Agriculture Conservation Easement Program provides financial and technical assistance to Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations to protect working agricultural lands and limit non-agricultural uses of the land.  Under the Wetlands Reserve Easements component of ACEP, NRCS helps to restore, protect and enhance enrolled wetlands. 
  • Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program obligations met: summer 2014.  The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program is a competitive grants program that helps state governments and Indian tribes increase public access to private lands for wildlife-dependent recreation, such as hunting, fishing or hiking.  
  • New provisions for land “transitioning” out of the Conservation Reserve Program in place: winter of 2014-15.  The Conservation Reserve Program is a land conservation program administered by the FSA. In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production, and to plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.
  • Defining (pursuant to Section 1604 of the farm bill) what an “actively engaged” producer means for the purposes of participating in the Price Loss Coverage or Agricultural Risk Coverage programs: end of 2014.  The Price Loss Coverage or Agricultural Risk Coverage programs constitute part of the agricultural “safety net” provided to farmers under the farm bill: risk management options that offer protection when the farmer suffers significant economic losses.
  • Interim rule on native sod (known as the “sodsaver” provision of the farm bill) in place: summer 2014.  Under the new sodsaver provision of the farm bill, producers who choose to till native sod would see their crop insurance premium subsidies reduced and their available yield or revenue guarantee limited during the first four years of crop production on native sod that had not been previously tilled. The sodsaver provision applies only to native sod in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska.
Transitions
Because the new Farm Bill reduces the number of conservation programs from 23 to 13, some older programs have either been effectively de-authorized, or their provisions have been included (along with those of other “old” programs), into new over-arching farm bill programs, such as the RCPP and ACEP mentioned above.  Specifically, the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), and the easement portion of the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) are consolidated into the ACEP.  The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, and Great Lakes Basin Program are consolidated into the RCPP.  And the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) is merged into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

During the transition from the previous to the new farm bill program regime, existing contracts with USDA executed for now-unauthorized programs (such as the GRP, WRP and FRPP) will remain in place and be valid through their respective contract durations. Applications being received now for WRP projects will be accepted and reviewed by the NRCS under the existing (2008 farm bill) rules, and will be rolled into the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program’s Wetlands Reserve component, when the new rules pertaining to that new program are promulgated.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

Below are the U.S. House and Senate activities currently scheduled this week that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources.  As in most of the recent weeks, many of the hearings deal with the President's proposed fiscal year 2015 budget for select agencies, with the exception of Thursday's House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's hearing on disaster mitigation and planning and House Agriculture Committee's hearing on the state of the rural economy. Links are provided to the relevant committee hearing pages, and, if 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.

Wednesday
Thursday
Friday