Friday, December 19, 2014

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

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

Happy Holidays!
There will be no Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News edition next week.  The Weekly News summary will return on the first Friday of 2015.

This Week and Next (Year)
There was significant news in the water resource arena this week. The White House Council on Environmental Quality released a finalized version of Interagency Guidelines, which "lay out the detailed methodology for conducting implementation studies, clarifying terminology as well as the applicability of and analysis called for under implementation" of the "Principles, Requirements and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies."  The draft Guidelines, (accompanied by the final Principles and Requirements) were initially released in March 2013 for public comment.  In other water news, a large number of environmental groups, and local and state leaders sent letters to the USEPA requesting that it utilize an infrequently-used Clean Water Act provision to veto the contentious Army Corps of Engineers' St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project.  And the Army Corps released its Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam closure draft environmental assessment.  It will accept public comments on the draft assessment through January 23.

The U.S. Senate officially adjourned this week, following a last-minute push to pass a comprehensive fiscal year 2015 spending bill, and confirm over 50 Obama judicial and executive branch nominees (which did not include several high-profile U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nominees, including Ken Kopocis to be Assistant Administrator for water). Before leaving, the Senate also overwhelmingly passed and sent on to the President H.R. 5771 (the "Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014"), which is a legislative package that included a one-year renewal of expired tax provisions and a 9-cent increase in the diesel fuel tax that supports the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.  That Fund is used to pay for inland waterways infrastructure projects' design and construction.

Even before the Congressional lights were turned out, the Washington policy focus had shifted to 2015, when fiscal year 2016 appropriations, the Keystone XL pipeline, immigration, and filling Executive Branch nominee vacancies (or not) promise to appear early and often on the Congressional agenda.  It's unlikely that passage of the 2016 spending bills will proceed smoothly. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear that the Republican-controlled Congress will seek to roll back administration environmental and energy policies by attaching policy riders to the annual spending measures.  And barring Congressional action, strict spending caps (prompted by a sequestration mandate) will be back in effect for fiscal year 2016.  Despite Republican intentions, Democrats’ views on these issues will still matter, since the GOP will lack a 60-vote, filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Links to more information on all of these items, and others, are found below.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • Despite stiff opposition, EPA is moving ahead with plans to finalize proposed Clean Water Act
    Click to enlarge
    rule by spring 2015 http://ow.ly/G2srI
  • Environmental groups sue U.S. EPA for failing to strengthen regulations preventing pollution from storm water runoff as required by 2003 court order http://ow.ly/Gaj88
  • Alpha Natural Resources Inc. agrees to address water pollution concerns at four West Virginia mountaintop-removal coal mines http://ow.ly/FYcV3
  • Grand jury indicts six executives of Freedom Industries Inc. for violating the Clean Water Act http://ow.ly/G74ce (Elk River spill in West Virginia) (also see: http://ow.ly/G6ksT)
  • Farm groups: U.S. EPA's recent proposal to update reporting requirements for water pollution permits is inconsistent with other related policy http://ow.ly/FYhou
  • USGS report: "Urban Stream Contamination Increasing Rapidly Due to Road Salt" http://ow.ly/FYHLl (news story: http://ow.ly/FYHRe)
  • Environmental groups announce intent to sue over water pollution from Patriot Coal operations in Boone County, West Virginia http://ow.ly/FYIUz
  • Iowa's nitrate reduction strategy based on voluntary monitoring is questioned as levels in Des Moines area rivers increase http://ow.ly/G2PyV
  • Upper Missouri River Waterkeeper files notice of intent to sue U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act for failing to make a decision on proposed water quality rules in Montana http://ow.ly/G4anA
  • Federal agencies, private partners announce challenge to spur development of  water monitoring nutrient sensors http://ow.ly/G6hip (related graphic, above)
  • Saving money and the Twin Cities lakes, streams and groundwater from the effects of salt http://ow.ly/Gav2P
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Obama administration finalizes Interagency Guidelines portion of "Principles, Requirements
    USGS Report abstract link
    and Guidelines" to guide federal water resource investments Interagency Guidelines: http://ow.ly/G6iGj (Principles, Requirements and Guidelines web site: http://ow.ly/G6iP2)
  • News article on the Administration's release of the finalized Interagency Guidelines http://ow.ly/G6jyf
  • Army Corps releases Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam closure draft environmental assessment for public comment through January 23 http://ow.ly/GafDh (related Federal Register notice: http://ow.ly/GagsZ)
  • Environmental groups, local officials send letter asking U.S. EPA to veto St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project using obscure Clean Water Act provision http://ow.ly/G2jI8 (letter here: http://ow.ly/G2knn) (related article below)
  • Environmental groups, local officials urge EPA to nix Mississippi River levee extension http://ow.ly/G2kZs
  • Universities of Iowa and Buffalo partner in roll out of new CrowdHydrology water resource crowdsourcing effort http://ow.ly/FYjFs
  • Senate passes package including a 9-cent increase in fuel tax that supports the Inland Waterways Trust Fund  http://ow.ly/G30ly
  • New USGS report: "High Plains Aquifer Groundwater Levels Continue to Decline" http://ow.ly/G6pjn
Agriculture -
  • North Dakota agricultural groups pressure USDA to stop using conservation organizations as contractors in offices regulating wetland compliance http://ow.ly/G2T37
  • Farmers in the Midwest are increasingly turning to land-based, indoor fish farms http://ow.ly/FYnLa
  • NSAC provides an overview of what the final federal $1.1 trillion spending bill means for agricultural conservation http://ow.ly/FYpXF
  • Report: The health of agriculture in the U.S. Midwest depends significantly on  immigration reform http://ow.ly/G6qYl
  • USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack: Cuba deal a boon for U.S. farmers http://ow.ly/G6uKL
  • Easing of Cuba restrictions creates opportunity for Upper Midwest agriculture http://ow.ly/GajVz
  • Farmers are poised to lower plantings of corn and soybean in 2015 http://ow.ly/GacFi
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Invasive mussels prompt South Dakota fisheries officials to consider to modifying invasive species management plans http://ow.ly/FYhRs
  • House Natural Resources Committee Republicans raise concerns about Endangered Species Act peer review process ow.ly/FYfHP
  • Southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming study: success of greater sage grouse nesting is strongly related to the height of the grass around the nests http://ow.ly/G2lLd
In the Cities -
  • Dubuque plans to convert approximately 240 alleys to “green alleys” over the course of new 20-year project http://ow.ly/G6sKz
  • Three promising pathways to finance sustainable cities http://ow.ly/G6u84
In the States-
  • West Virginia regulators told by state appeals board to improve program to protect against falsification of coal company water samples http://ow.ly/FNoIh
  • Gov. Brownback’s steep tax cuts not set in stone as Kansas faces $7 billion budget shortfall through 2019 http://ow.ly/FYmxo
  • Ohio Controlling Board approves funding for separate efforts to monitor streams for toxic algae, invasive Asian carp http://ow.ly/FZmcP
  • District court judge dismisses lawsuit seeking to stop Iowa from enacting rules governing large livestock facilities http://ow.ly/G3amZ
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources concedes that lapsed rules didn’t adequately protect streams from pollution, then allows more frac sand mining http://ow.ly/G48DC
  • Wisconsin governor wants to keep hunting, fishing fee receipts designated to support those activities http://ow.ly/Gadhx
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • BP appeals federal district court's ruling that it was grossly negligent in actions leading up to 2010 Gulf oil spill http://ow.ly/FO7LG
  • After over four years of closure since BP spill, waters around Elmer's and Grand Terre islands off Louisiana coast now open for commercial fishing http://ow.ly/G6q1G
  • WWLTV Investigation: "Tainted Legacy: Legislature's fixes create obstacles to oil and gas cleanup" (Louisiana Coast) http://ow.ly/G7bMC (also see these other segments of the investigative report: http://ow.ly/G7cl4 and http://ow.ly/G7cl5)
Resource Development -
Click to enlarge
  • North Dakota oilfield waste with elevated levels of radioactivity can be disposed in state landfills instead trucked out of state, under proposed rules http://ow.ly/FNmNW
  • Oklahoma group plans peaceful protest in Norman over environmental concerns about water, oil and natural gas drilling http://ow.ly/FYJKL
  • Five public hearings set on Sandpiper Pipeline Plan through northern Minnesota; map: http://ow.ly/i/7XCXR story: http://ow.ly/FZnYQ
  • Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.): Keystone XL pipeline will be 2015 GOP Senate's first order of business  http://ow.ly/G2nrF
  • Bipartisan Policy Center publishes report outlining 40 different options that it says could improve U.S. ethanol mandate http://ow.ly/G2rVy
Federal Budget -
(click to enlarge)
Climate and Weather -
  • US weekly drought update: dry conditions expanded across much of northern Louisiana; but for most of the Mississippi River Basin, it was status quo http://ow.ly/wmTdv
  • Globally, sea levels have risen in the past 50 years, in some places by a foot or more http://ow.ly/FYbrk (part 4 of Reuters series) (related chart to the right)
Other news-
  • EPA enforcement actions decline again; agency blames shutdown, budget woes ow.ly/G7QTF (also see - from EPA: US EPA releases annual enforcement results for Fiscal Year 2014 http://ow.ly/G7keu)
  • Missouri Coalition for the Environment seeks to fill opening for Clean Water Policy Coordinator; deadline January 9 http://ow.ly/FZ4FS
  • Montana Watershed Coordination Council seeks to fill Executive Director position http://ow.ly/G6l2W
  • Minnesota woman, and owner of "Moo-seum," seeks Guinness Book record for cow memorabilia http://ow.ly/G2wZh
  • In 2014 in the Mississippi River Basin, there were a corndog spill near Shreveport, La., Bud Light spill in North Dakota, and food-coloring spill in Kentucky http://ow.ly/G38sI
  • Britain who paddled the Mississippi River solo releases a video of his journey http://ow.ly/G3biZ
  • Tennessee Valley Authority says it is in the final stages of cleaning up site of large, 2008 Tennessee coal ash spill http://ow.ly/G7RnL
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)
  • 2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit; Feb. 18-19, 2015, Arrowwood Resort, Alexandria, Minn. http://ow.ly/G2U4W
  • Save-the Date: StormCon - North American Surface Water Quality Conference & Expo; August 2-6, 2015, Austin, Texas http://ow.ly/G6tFv
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
  • U.S. Global Change Research Program December 2014 newsletter http://ow.ly/FYqlA
  • National Great Rivers Research and Education Center's Fall River Education newsletter http://ow.ly/G2q6o
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Watershed Network News for December 17 http://ow.ly/G2SlJ
  • Lower Mississippi River Dispatch; No 269, Dec 17 “I Saw Three Canoes Come Sailing In…” http://ow.ly/G6gdV
  • Gulf Restoration Network's December 18 Gulfwaves e-newsletter issue http://ow.ly/G7SkF
  • The Horinko Group's Fourth Quarter 2014 "Sustainabulletin" http://ow.ly/G7RLd
  • Montana Watershed Coordination Council December 18 Watershed News http://ow.ly/GadKJ
Politics and People-
  • High-profile nominees for USEPA positions were not among those approved in last-minute Senate confirmation push.  These include: Ken Kopocis to be assistant administrator for water; Victoria Wassmer to be chief financial officer; Tom Burke to be assistant administrator for the Office of Research and Development; Janet McCabe to be assistant administrator for air; Ann Dunkin to be assistant administrator for environmental information; and Jane Nishida to be assistant administrator for international affairs.  You can see who was confirmed here: http://ow.ly/G2Bq3
  • Kentucky's secretary of state threatens to block Rand Paul (R-KY) from running both for president and U.S. Senate in 2016 http://ow.ly/G70JS
  • The U.S. Senate's 2015 calendar will features fuller weeks and fewer breaks http://ow.ly/G6VDc
  • Senate Republicans announce committee assignments for the 114th Congress, majority gains them extra committee seats http://ow.ly/FYdpl
  • Senate Democrats announce their committee spots for the 114th Congress http://ow.ly/FYkrm
  • 2015 Senate Agriculture Committee assignments finalized, new members include Iowa’s Joni Ernst, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse http://ow.ly/FY9Ku
  • New House Oversight and Government Affairs Interior subcommittee to oversee EPA, Interior Dept, Energy Dept, USDA http://ow.ly/G7Q2N
  • One of the most unproductive and least popular Congresses in history has ended http://ow.ly/G2mRW
Your Moment of Zen -
Photograph: Mike Groll/AP

What We Learned This Week - "Si Change"

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead with plans to finalize a proposed Clean Water Act rule by next spring, despite significant opposition.  The Tennessee Valley Authority reported that it is nearing the end of its cleanup of a massive 2008 coal ash spill.  Road salt is rapidly increasing U.S. urban stream contamination. Groups criticized Iowa's voluntary-based nitrate reduction strategy, as levels in Des Moines-area rivers increase. Dubuque, Iowa plans to "green" about 240 of its alleys by 2034. The thawing of U.S. relations with Cuba may be a boon for U.S. and Upper Midwest agriculture.  The Army Corps of Engineers says that the imminent closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis will not adversely impact the environment.  The Obama administration finalized Interagency Guidelines as part of a policy package meant to direct how Federal agencies evaluate proposed water resource development projects.  Environmental groups and local and officials sent letters asking the EPA to block a controversial St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project on the Mississippi River. One of the most unproductive and least popular Congresses in history ended.  In a flurry of activity before adjourning, the Senate passed a $1.1 Trillion federal funding bill and bill that included a nine-cent increase in a fuel tax that supports the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The 114th Congress begins in 18 days. One of the first things on the agenda for next year's Senate will be a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline.  And last but not least, among the Mississippi River Basin's 2014 spills were a corndog spill near Shreveport, Louisiana, a Bud Light spill in North Dakota, and food-coloring spill in Kentucky.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fiscal Year 2015 Spending Package and How It Relates to the Mississippi River Basin

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
By a vote of 56 - 40 on December 13, the Senate passed a 1,603-page spending package to fund most of the government through next September and the Department of Homeland Security through February, and sent the measure on to the President, who signed the bill without fanfare (the House previously passed the measure on December 11).  Dubbed the “cromnibus,” the spending package encompasses 11 appropriations bills that cover most of the government for the rest of fiscal 2015 and one continuing resolution (CR) that funds Homeland Security. The $1.012 trillion bill abides by the caps agreed to under last December’s budget agreement, which relieves lawmakers of the requirement to implement mandatory sequestration for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

Below are various funding and policy provisions of the spending package that are particularly relevant to natural resources within the Mississippi River Basin.

Energy and Water Title
The Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5.5 billion, an increase of $15 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted levels.  Some of the spending line items in that title include funding for the following Mississippi River Basin projects (note: this is not an inclusive list, to see the full project breakdown, go to this link):

Mississippi River Basin Investigations (Feasibility Studies)
  • Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration- Mississippi River Hydrology, LA $50,000 (the administration had requested $2,500,000)
  • Illinois River Basin Restoration, IL $400,000
  • Interbasin Control of Great Lakes-Mississippi River Aquatic Nuisance Species, IL, IN, OH, WI $500,000
  • Minnesota River Watershed Study, MN, SD (Minnesota River Authority) $600,000
  • Missouri River Degradation, MO $593,000
Mississippi River and Tributaries Construction, Operation and Maintenance, and other items “Remaining Items”) $302,000,000 ($57,000,000 more than the administration’s request), including:

Construction
  • Upper Mississippi River Restoration, IL, IA, MN, MO, WI $33,170,000
  • Olmsted Locks And Dam, Ohio River, IL, KY $160,000,000
  • Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Recovery, IA, KS, MO, MT, NE, ND, SD $48,771,000
  • Mississippi River Levees (construction) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN 18,947,000
  • Channel improvement (construction) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN $40,861,000
Operation and Maintenance
  • Channel Improvement (operation and maintenance) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN $65,739,000
  • Mississippi River Levees (operation and maintenance) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN $8,890,000
Additional Funding For Ongoing Work

The legislation directs that these funds be used by the Army Corps "for flood control, navigation, water supply, ground water protection, waterfowl management, bank stabilization, erosion and sedimentation control, and environmental restoration work. The intent of these funds is for ongoing work primarily along the Mississippi River tributaries that either was not included in the Administration's request or was inadequately budgeted."
  • Dredging $6,400,000
  • Flood Control $29,600,000
  • Other Authorized Project Purposes $21,000,000
Other spending line items that relate to but fund activities beyond the Mississippi River Basin include:
  • $1.1 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, for harbor maintenance, construction, and operations activities (a $100 million increase over 2014 enacted levels); 
  • $281 million (including the full amount of anticipated revenues into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund) for construction and rehabilitation of the nation’s inland waterways infrastructure; and
  • $29 million for the Asian carp dispersal barrier project on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  Funding is provided for the continued construction, operation, and maintenance of the electric barrier system. No funding is provided for construction of hydrologic separation measures. 
Interior and Environment Title
This title funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at $8.1 billion, which would be $60 million less than the EPA received in fiscal year 2014, although $250 million more than the Obama Administration requested in its 2015 budget request. Overall, EPA funding has been reduced by $2.2 billion (21 percent) since 2010.  In addition, the bill continues a trend of reducing the number of EPA staff, bringing staffing to the lowest number since 1989, according to the House Appropriations Committee press release.   EPA had just over 14,000 employees in 1989.

The Department of the Interior is funded at $1.1 billion; $27 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. 

This title of the bill provides for:
  • $2.35 billion in grants to states to help them fund local drinking water and sewer construction projects through the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds; and
  • $1.4 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service; $12 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.
Agriculture Title
This title provides $20.6 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Agriculture (USDA), $305 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level, including:
  • $5.1 billion for the Forest Service
  • $2.7 billion for agriculture research programs with Agricultural Research Service seeing virtually the same level of funding as in 2014;
  • $1.5 billion for the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which oversees commodity programs, biomass energy efforts, the Conservation Reserve Program and emergency drought measures. That funding level is $22 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level;
  • $1.35 billion for Rural Energy for America Program loan guarantees
  • $859 million in discretionary funding for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a $33 million increase over the 2014 enacted level, including $12 million for dam rehabilitation;
  • cuts of about $200 million to some of USDA's mandatory programs under the 2014 farm bill (primarily from the NRCS's Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program, but also from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (FSA), Watershed Rehabilitation Program (NRCS), and Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program (Rural Development)).
Several environmental and conservation policy riders were successfully attached to the spending package, including provisions that would:
  • Require the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw a rule that outlines numerous exemptions to the Clean Water Act for farmers. That rule (the "U.S. Environmental Protection  Agency and the U.S. Department of the Army Interpretive Rule Regarding the Applicability of the Clean Water Act Section 404(f)(1)(A)" or "interpretive rule") was signed on March 25, 2014;
  • Prohibit funding for the EPA to regulate the lead content in ammunition or fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act;
  • Prohibit the use of funds for an Army Corps of Engineers' study of the Missouri River and its tributaries known as the Missouri River Ecosystem Recovery Plan, authorized by the Water Resources Development Act of 2007;
  • Prohibit the use of funds for the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue further rules to place the greater sage-grouse (a rare bird found in several Western states) on the Endangered Species List; 
  • Prohibit the use of funds for the Army Corps of Engineers to change the definition of the terms "fill material" or "discharge of fill material" for the purposes of the Clean Water Act; and
  • Prohibit the use of funds by the Army Corps of Engineers "to develop or implement rules or guidance to support implementation of the final Principles and Requirements for Federal Investments in Water Resources released in March 2013."

Friday, December 12, 2014

What We Learned This Week - "Omnishambles"


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is fighting a U.S District judge's ruling that the agency needs to make a Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" rulemaking decision.  The White House sided with Republican leaders . . . the House passed the cromnibus . . . the Senate will soon . . . the government won't shut down.  The Army Corps of Engineers' commander general suggests that we not rely upon Congress to fund repair of the nation's failing inland water infrastructure.  Scientists are exploring a correlation between ALS (Lou Gehrig disease) and blue-green algal blooms.  The Des Moines Water Works was left with no alternative but to activate its expensive nitrate removal facility in the face of record high concentrations.  Organic crops could become more attractive to farmers who are faced with low corn and soybean prices, which isn't all good news for the agency that monitors the U.S. organic food system.  A Wisconsin-based watchdog says it has the aerial photos of large scale livestock operations to prove fraud in the organic food production industry.  The roles and number of women working on farms continue to grow, but USDA doesn't always count them.   They have counted Christmas trees and farms, however, and their numbers have dwindled.  Coal is king in Kentucky, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. A House-passed Ohio water-quality bill has stalled in state senate after being weighed down with numerous amendments.  A related, federal water quality bill that was prompted by Ohio events passed the Senate but never saw House floor action.  And last but not least,  Rep. Bill Cassidy easily ousted incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu in a Saturday Senate runoff, as green groups said "good riddance."

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

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

The Fiscal Year 2015 Spending Package and the Mississippi River Basin 
By a vote of 219 - 206 on Thursday, the House passed a 1,603-page spending package to fund most of the government through next September and the Department of Homeland Security through
"Cromnibus" spending legislation package
February, and sent the measure on to the Senate, which is expected to follow suit by Monday (the House and Senate both passed a two-day stop-gap funding bill, avoiding a government shutdown starting at midnight, Thursday).  Dubbed the “cromnibus,” the House-passed package encompasses 11 appropriations bills that cover most of the government for the rest of fiscal 2015 and one continuing resolution (CR) that funds Homeland Security. The $1.012 trillion bill abides by the caps agreed to under last December’s budget agreement, which relieves lawmakers of the requirement to implement mandatory sequestration for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Here is a link to our summary of the various funding and policy provisions in the spending package that are particularly relevant to water resources within the Mississippi River Basin.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week  

Water Quality - 
  • Senate passes algae water quality bill (S.2785 - Safe and Secure Drinking Water Protection Act of 2014) but House doesn't consider its version before adjourning; bill: ow.ly/FMSCH (article: ow.ly/FMSCI)
  • EPA fighting U.S District judge ruling that it decide on Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone' rulemaking
    2008 Mississippi River spill from train derailment
    http://ow.ly/Fq8U9
  • Des Moines Water Works left with no alternative but to activate nitrate removal facility in face of record high concentrations http://ow.ly/FqbGk
  • Local Ohio group takes on toxic algae in Little Miami River Basin head on http://ow.ly/FBlZS
  • Exxon Mobil Corp. works to clean up release of unidentified substance on the Des Plaines River in Illinois http://ow.ly/FCJpZ
  • Report on Missouri River basin in Minnesota: Few water bodies meet swimmable and fishable standards http://ow.ly/FFUeu
  • West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection commits $1 million to Coal River stream restoration project http://ow.ly/FGvDZ
  • Environmental groups threaten to sue Patriot Coal Corp. over alleged Clean Water Act violations at Hobet mine, W.Va. http://ow.ly/FKwM3
  • Subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Railroad settles Mississippi River 2008 oil spill claim (Iowa and Wisconsin) http://ow.ly/FJPiY
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Reps. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) press appropriators to block funding for new flood risk standard development http://ow.ly/FB1iW
  • Army Corps of Engineers' commander general: U.S. can no longer rely on Congress to repair failing infrastructure http://ow.ly/FKvZq
  • Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) on Wednesday unveiled the first draft of a new state plan http://ow.ly/FKuMO
  • The Ogallala Aquifer: The Nation's Precarious Underground Water Supply http://ow.ly/FJK2U
Agriculture - 
  • USDA allowing North Dakota landowners to enroll 82,800 more acres into two Conservation
    Reserve Program projects http://ow.ly/FByyz
  • USDA seeks public comment on new Environmental Quality Incentives Program rule; press release http://ow.ly/FJRre  December 12 Federal Register notice: http://ow.ly/FMGI6
  • A busy year lies ahead as USDA implements the new farm bill; here is a list of staffers who will be instrumental in that effort http://ow.ly/Fr8NW
  • New Iowa study points to greater need for policy support of cover crops; news story: http://ow.ly/FBnPj (study: http://ow.ly/FBo2F)
  • University of Illinois study: Crop insurance likely adds 4 to 9 percent to farmland values http://ow.ly/FIV7m
  • 2014 oil slump may have come too late to benefit U.S. farmers; prices need to remain lower for months to reduce next season's costs http://ow.ly/FBxMe
  • Indiana Supreme Court to decide which county court will hear lawsuit filed to stop construction of large scale hog farm http://ow.ly/FF5U9
  • Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Tex) announces creation of six new subcommittees for 2015, including Conservation and Forestry panel http://ow.ly/FEV81
  • Organic crops could become more attractive to farmers who are faced with low corn and soybean prices http://ow.ly/FEVBl
  • Organic farming boom stretches the U.S. Agriculture Department’s ability to monitor the system http://ow.ly/FJNtg
  • Wisconsin-based group says organic regulations are not being enforced; files legal complaints against 14 industrial livestock operations http://ow.ly/FMPR0
  • The number of Christmas tree farms has dwindled in Nebraska and elsewhere across the nation http://ow.ly/FF6s3
  • EPA is accepting nominations for Science Advisory Board Agricultural Science Committee candidates; Nominations due January 30, 2015 http://ow.ly/FG1xO
  • Senate passes Coast Guard Reauthorization, with amendment extending permit exemption for small commercial, fishing vessels' discharges http://ow.ly/FH8oe (the House cleared the amended version of the reauthorization Wednesday afternoon, sending the bill on to the President)
  • NPR: The roles and number of women working on farms continue to grow, but USDA doesn't always count them http://ow.ly/FMN75
Climate and Weather -
  • White House releases new water and ecosystems data sets for private sector to use in response to climate change impacts http://ow.ly/FCI1F
  • U.S. Drought Update: abnormal dryness and drought in southern portions of both Louisiana and Mississippi, Southern Plains remain dry http://ow.ly/FKyOs
  • Contiguous U.S. drought coverage declined to 29.13 percent by the beginning of December, the lowest level in three years http://ow.ly/Fr3Yr
  • Scientists look to model how organisms will cope with climate changes' faster, less predictable environmental variation http://ow.ly/FB9yB
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Wisconsin officials shut down the state's wolf hunt after hunters exceed the 150 wolf quota http://ow.ly/Fr9h1
  • More Minnesota landowners are committing to restoring prairie grasslands on their land http://ow.ly/FGvfN
  • Dixon Waterfowl Refuge (Hennepin, Illinois) area expanding to more than 3,000 acres with new parcel purchase http://ow.ly/FMU8e
In the Cities -
  • New York Times Op-ed: High Rises vs. Honky Tonks: Gentrification is Threatening Nashville's Soul http://ow.ly/FIMru
In the States-
  • In Kentucky, where coal is king, both Democrats and Republicans are blocking green policies http://ow.ly/FMOBA
  • Courier-Journal Editorial (Louisville, Kentucky): "Starving the beast" - continued state energy and environment cuts are counterproductive http://ow.ly/FqWP5
  • Wisconsin Assembly Republican lawmakers hope to shield land stewardship program from next round of state budget cuts http://ow.ly/FB41f
  • Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner prepares voters for what he says will be a painful two years sorting out state's financial woes http://ow.ly/FBGI4
  • House-passed Ohio water-quality bill stalls in state senate; story: http://ow.ly/FCeal (bill here: http://ow.ly/FCeG2) (related story below)
  • Heavily amended, Ohio bill dealing with environmental, agricultural and fracking appears to be mired in committee http://ow.ly/FIUzY
  • Missouri bill would help low-income seniors access farmers markets http://ow.ly/FITSS
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Louisiana is trying to restore its coastline with a "a 50-year, $50 billion plan based on science
    Click to enlarge
    that's never been tested and money it doesn't have" http://ow.ly/FBka8
  • Reporting From the Youngest Land in the World http://ow.ly/FBmCZ
  • BP's failed U.S. Supreme Court appeal sends 'clear signal,' sets tone for future Gulf oil spill disputes http://ow.ly/FBDVL
  • Jefferson Parish Council (Louisiana) to ask Treasury Department for $400,000 to develop Restore Act project plan http://ow.ly/FBEAy
  • Environmental groups: Louisiana restoration projects should get top priority with BP oil spill fine money http://ow.ly/FGuIw (also see related links, below)
  • Environmental groups release two reports describing Gulf coastal restoration projects that could bring biggest benefits http://ow.ly/FFbBR and http://ow.ly/FFc4N
  • East bank levee authority, energy firms argue in court over Louisiana law passed to kill wetlands lawsuit http://ow.ly/FJPQA
Forestry - 
  • Experts fear that U.S. forest health will degrade as forest landowners' ages increase while size of parcels shrink http://ow.ly/FB36A
Resource Development -
  • Companies in drought areas look at liquefied petroleum gas gel for hydraulic fracturing to reduce dependence on scarce water supplies http://ow.ly/Fq88j
  • Congressional investigation into the way states regulate fracking waste disposal expands to Ohio and West Virginia http://ow.ly/FGuba
  • Montana regulators seek public comments on the proposed Otter Creek coal mine http://ow.ly/FGQqB and http://ow.ly/FGQvq
  • Lawmakers vent their frustration at Environmental Protection Agency's  repeated delays of the annual ethanol mandate http://ow.ly/FIZRs
Federal Budget -
  • House press release with summary and highlights of FY 2015 budget agreement http://ow.ly/FERkl
  • Summary – Agriculture Appropriations (includes USDA) http://ow.ly/FESeG
  • Summary – Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations (includes NOAA) http://ow.ly/FESnX
  • Summary – Energy and Water Appropriations (includes Army Corps of Engineers) http://ow.ly/FEStE
  • Summary – Interior and Environment Appropriations  (includes USEPA and Interior Department) http://ow.ly/FESEJ
        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
        • Wetland Mapping Consortium webinar:  State Offsite Methods for Prairie Pothole Region wetland determinations December 17, 3 PM ET http://ow.ly/FJ5lA
        e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
        • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency December 8 "BALMM Currents" (Basin Alliance for the Lower Mississippi in Minnesota) http://ow.ly/FBniT
        • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Waterfront Bulletin for December 2014 ow.ly/FFTcm
        • Lower Mississippi River Dispatch, No 268, Saturday, December 6 http://ow.ly/FBz4C
        • December 9 Green Lands Blue Waters Update, highlighting efforts to advance Mississippi River Basin agricultural land Continuous Living Cover http://ow.ly/FCvVu
        • America's Waterway December 2014 "River Currents" e-newsletter http://ow.ly/FFdlG
        • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy's December 9, TUWaterWays e-newsletter http://ow.ly/FGVkW
        • Montana Watershed Coordination Council December 11 Watershed News http://ow.ly/FKu0e
        Other news-
        • House passes bill directing study on the feasibility of incorporating Chief Standing Bear National Historic Trail into National Trail System (Nebraska, Kansas) http://ow.ly/FB60V
        • Senate unanimously approves FOIA Improvement Act, sending information transparency bill to the House http://ow.ly/FBgIv (bill here: http://ow.ly/FBgWa)
        • House Energy and Commerce Committee releases policy paper addressing coal ash disposal http://ow.ly/FJOtT (article: http://ow.ly/FJOCh)
        • Closing in on ALS? Link between lethal disease and blue-green algae being explored http://ow.ly/FJMIM
        Politics and People-
        • Associated Press-GfK poll: most of the public thinks America's political leaders are incapable of cooperation http://ow.ly/FIPUj
        • Joseph Glauber, head of U.S. Agriculture Department's economics office, announces his retirement http://ow.ly/FKvuf
        • Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) easily ousted incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in their Senate runoff on Saturday http://ow.ly/Fuj09
        • POLITICO: "Greens to Landrieu: Good riddance" http://ow.ly/FBp82
        • Incoming House Agriculture Committee chairman announces committee's eight new Republican members http://ow.ly/FB0nB, including Reps. Mike Bost of Illinois, Tom Emmer of Minnesota
        • Republican candidates in Louisiana claim easy Saturday runoff wins in two open-seat House races (Baton Rouge-based 6th District http://ow.ly/FB87V; northeastern 5th District http://ow.ly/FB8lx)
        • Rep. Rodney Davis (R., Il.) named Chairman of House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research for the 114th Congress http://ow.ly/FJ2p5
        • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will be new chair of the Democratic Governors Association, breaking run of four straight  coastal state chairmen http://ow.ly/FBC6T
        • Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) names 12 new Republican Committee members for 2015, including Garret Graves of Louisiana and Todd Rokita of Indiana http://ow.ly/FGPpR
        Your Moment of Zen - 
        Photograph: Jonathan Need/Rex Features

        Monday, December 8, 2014

        Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

        U.S. Senate Chamber
        There is currently one U.S. House committee hearing and no Senate committee activity scheduled for the week that relates to Mississippi River Basin water resources. Lawmakers, by-and-large, are looking to clear major pieces of legislation ahead of the winter recess scheduled to begin on Friday, when the 113th Congress will effectively be no more (barring the remote need to remain in town to pass a spending bill and prevent a government shutdown). The main piece of pressing legislative business remains passage of a measure to fund the federal government beyond Thursday, when the current spending authorization lapses. No details of the pending spending legislation have been released yet (House leaders plan to reveal the language today some time). Spending bill amendments (or “riders”) that impact environmental programs remain a possibility (see more on this below).

        In addition to the spending measure, there will be some other floor activity in each chamber that relates to the River Basin natural resources or to those in the nation as a whole. Those are listed immediately below, along with relevant committee activity for the week. Further below is an overview of the spending bill negotiations and how environmental riders may or may not be coming into play, for those who want those details. This page will be updated as needed.

        Non-spending Congressional Floor and Committee Activity 
        • On Tuesday evening, December 9, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the confirmations of Virginia Tyler Lodge and Ronald Anderson Walter to be members of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority, each for a term expiring May 18, 2019. 
        • The House Oversight Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements will hold a Wednesday hearing on EPA's management of the renewable fuel standard (9:30 AM EST, in room 2154 Rayburn House Office Building). That hearing will be streamed live at the link included above. 
        • At some point during the week, the Senate will likely vote on a bill ("Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014") reauthorizing the U.S. Coast Guard for 2015. The measure was passed by the House last week, and sent on to the Senate for likely passage there. 
        Spending Bill
        Last week GOP House leaders were effective in advancing the concept of a "cromnibus" spending bill: a hybrid of a long-term omnibus spending measure and a shorter-term continuing resolution (or "CR"). The omnibus portion of the bill would fund most of the federal government from December 11 through the end of the current (2015) fiscal year, which ends next September 30. The omnibus portion of the bill is expected to combine compromise versions of most appropriations bills already drafted by Senate and House appropriations subcommittees (i.e., such as the Interior and Environment bill funding the U.S. EPA and Interior Department, and the Energy and Water Development bill funding the Army Corps of Engineers).

        Legislative language won’t be released until later today, so details are lacking. However, Senate and House appropriators indicate that environmental and energy agencies would largely escape unscathed by the impact of "riders" (or amendments) attached to the year-end spending bill. GOP members in particular sought to attach riders to bills in the past that would block implementation of various U.S. EPA, Army Corps and Interior Department rules. Just before Thanksgiving, 91 House members (all but one Republican) sent a letter to House appropriations leaders asking that the spending bill include a provision from the House-passed Energy and Water Development funding bill that would block implementation of the Obama Administration so-called "Waters of the U.S." rule (the corresponding Senate draft was written rider-free). House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said last Tuesday, "I don't think most of the riders are going to be included."

        Only one federal agency - the Department of Homeland Security - would be excluded from the longer-term portion of the overall spending bill. Homeland Security (as discussions currently stand) would only be funded via a CR into sometime in February or March, when Republicans will control both the House and Senate, and arguably be in a better position to block implementation of President Obama's immigration executive order. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last Thursday he anticipates that some House Democrats will join with Republicans to pass the trillion-dollar spending package. Some Tea Party conservative Republicans continue to resist backing the bill.

        Friday, December 5, 2014

        Capitol Hill Next Week - What to Watch For

        There is currently one U.S. House committee hearing and no Senate committee activity scheduled for next week that relates to Mississippi River Basin water resources. Lawmakers, by-and-large, are looking to clear major pieces of legislation ahead of the winter recess scheduled to begin on Friday, December 12, when the 113th Congress will effectively be no more.  The main piece of pressing legislative business remains passage of a measure to fund the federal government beyond December 11 (when the current spending authorization lapses). No details of the legislation have been released yet (House leaders plan to reveal the spending legislation on Monday).  Spending bill amendments that impact environmental programs remain a possibility (see more on this below).

        In addition to the spending measure, there will likely be some other floor activity in each chamber that relates to the River Basin natural resources or to those in the nation as a whole.  Those are listed, below, along with relevant committee activity for the week.

        Spending Bill
        This week GOP House leaders were effective in advancing the concept of a "cromnibus" spending bill: a hybrid of a long-term omnibus spending measure and a shorter-term continuing resolution (or "CR").  The omnibus portion of the bill would fund most of the federal government from December 11 through the end of the current (2015) fiscal year, which ends next September 30. The omnibus portion of the bill is expected to combine compromise versions of most appropriations bills already drafted by Senate and House appropriations subcommittees (i.e., such as the Interior and Environment bill funding the U.S. EPA and Interior Department, and the Energy and Water Development bill funding the Army Corps of Engineers).

        Legislative language has not been released and details are lacking.  However, Senate and House appropriators indicate that environmental and energy agencies would largely escape unscathed by "riders" (or amendments) attached to the year-end spending bill. GOP members in particular entertained riders in the past that sought to block implementation of various U.S. EPA, Army Corps and Interior Department rules. Just before Thanksgiving, 91 House members (all but one Republican) sent a letter to House Appropriations leaders asking that the cromnibus include a provision from the House-passed Energy and Water Development funding bill that would block implementation of the Obama Administration so-called "Waters of the U.S." rule (the corresponding Senate draft was written rider-free).  House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said on Tuesday, "I don't think most of the riders are going to be included."

        Only one federal agency - the Department of Homeland Security - would be excluded from the longer-term portion of the overall spending bill. Homeland Security (as discussions currently stand) would only be funded via a CR into sometime in February or March, when Republicans will control both the House and Senate, and arguably be in a better position to block implementation of President Obama's immigration executive order. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday he anticipates that some House Democrats will join with Republicans to pass the trillion-dollar spending package next week. Some Tea Party conservative Republicans continue to resist backing the bill.

        Other Congressional Floor and Committee Activity
        In addition to the spending legislation:
        This page will be updated as warranted.