Friday, May 28, 2010

Assistance, Quality, and Affordability Act of 2010 Passes out of House Committee

On May 26, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the “Assistance, Quality, and Affordability Act of 2010,” a water infrastructure bill (H.R. 5320); however the measure was passed out of Committee to the full House with significant cuts to its overall cost and with changes to the bill’s chemical testing protocol. The bill would reauthorize the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and otherwise amend the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) (the Committee passed the measure by a 45 – 1 vote; see Committee web page summary here).

Section 10 (“Authorization of Appropriations”) as proposed by co-sponsors by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (CA-30) and Committee member Rep. Ed Markey (MA-7), would have authorized a total of $12.7 billion on an increasing, sliding scale from fiscal years 2011 through 2015. However, the bill as passed would reauthorize the SRF for $4.8 billion cumulatively over the next three years.

Section 16 of the bill (“Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program”) would have changed EPA’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program by requiring EPA to test no fewer than 100 substances found in drinking water sources to which a “substantial population” may be exposed to determine (a) if they are endocrine disruptors and if so, (b) how the substances might affect human health. Section 16 also would require EPA to develop and implement a process whereby (a) substances would be selected for testing, (b) new testing technologies and scientific developments would be developed, (c) substances would be accelerated through the program, and (d) information about the program would be made public.

With respect to those Section 16 provisions, the phrase “scientifically relevant information” proved to be problematic regarding its use in making decisions under that section. House Republicans objected to the vagueness of the term, and instead proposing to amend the language to assure use of "minimum criteria for relevant and valid scientific information." In the final version, language establishing qualifiers on the type of science EPA can use to decide what chemicals are tested was included, satisfying both Republican and Democratic Committee members.

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

A group of Iowa farmers and agricultural leaders will travel to Mississippi later this week to learn more about efforts to reduce pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. The trip constitutes the first half of an “Iowa-Mississippi Farmer to Farmer Exchange,” a project focused on addressing hypoxia in the Gulf by increasing understanding among stakeholders and expanding the use of conservation practices in both states. Read more in these news articles here and here.

The Environmental Protection Agency, National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, and Lewis and Clark Community College are co-sponsoring a July 29 workshop based on EPA’s workshop: "Getting In Step – A Guide for Conducting Watershed Outreach Campaigns." The workshop will run from 9 AM to 4 PM in Godfrey, Illinois, and will review the basic building blocks for developing effective outreach campaigns through social marketing techniques. . Current examples of successful campaigns and outreach materials will be provided throughout the day. Interactive group exercises will jump start your own outreach campaign. Download a copy of the Getting in Step Guide at this web site.  To register for the workshop contact Vera Bojic at (618) 468-4870 or  There is a registration fee of $15.

The 65th International Soil and Water Conservation Society Annual Conference will be held in St. Louis, Missouri. Primary conference dates are July 18-21, 2010. The headquarters hotel is the Hilton at the Ballpark. The conference will include workshops, concurrent sessions, symposia, posters, plenary sessions, and technical tours designed to raise the awareness of conference participants to recent developments in the science and art of natural resource conservation and environmental management. Additional conference information and registration links can be found here. The Soil and Water Conservation Society is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization founded in 1943 to foster the "science and art of natural resources conservation and environmental management on working land."

In honor of the International Year of Biodiversity, Conservation Biology has compiled and published three virtual issues of 10-15 of its previously published articles. These virtual issues focus on three key subject areas: Conservation Social Science, Connectivity and Corridors, and Climate Change.  Access to the articles is available free of charge on the web.

Notable @UpperMiss tweets for the week:

Can You Hear Them Now?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of accompanying John Peter Thompson, President of the nonprofit "National Agricultural Research Alliance- Beltsville" and Rachel Dawson, like me, a Policy Analyst from the Northeast-Midwest Institute, on a tour of a very small portion of the USDA's "Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center" in Beltsville, Maryland.  You can see some photos of our eight-hour tour here

At over 7,000 acres, the ARS Beltsville research center is the largest and most diversified agricultural research complex in the world. And although its history of accomplishments and ongoing research have made it an international leader in agriculture research, its international reputation sadly dwarfs the degree to which it is valued here in the U.S.

The breadth and quality of research that has already been undertaken over the facility's 100 years of work has certainly brought value to the world's agricultural enterprises, but it is certainly equally true that much of what the Center accomplishes is never fully recognized, valued and put into practice, to the detriment of agriculture and all things connected (water, soil, air, animals, plants, economy, towns, cities, oceans, you, me . . . you get the picture).

The troubling thing is, the ARS BARC, as it is known, is actually little-known in the Washington, DC area, in Maryland, and across the nation. And it is even less valued.  Its budget is chronically tight and becoming tighter, despite the increasing need for its services in the face of growing demand for safe, affordable and quality food worldwide; despite the central role that agriculture plays in the economic and ecological sustainability of the region, nation and world.  In an era when the immediate and instant garner attention, the long-term view and thoughtful research approach of ARS and the scientists at BARC is little more than an afterthought.

Do yourself and all of the rest of us a favor; take a tour of the facility in person if at all possible (by the way, there is an open house on June 5 in celebration of BARC's 100 years of work).  Speak to the people dedicated to the work of sustaining agriculture and the Earth and its peoples.  Spend some time touring the facility's web site and becoming acquainted with BARC's mission, projects and people.  I think you'll come away, as I did, impressed as to what is happening there; who is working for us there.  You might even start giving some second thoughts about what our priorities should be when it comes to putting our money where our food lies.

The good people at the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center have been speaking.  Can you hear them now?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Northeast-Midwest Institute Mississippi River Basin Issues May Update

Here is the link to the May Update from the Northeast-Midwest Institute on Mississippi River Basin issues: Update.  This month’s Update contains these items:

Publications and Articles
  • USDA ERS Conservation Reserve Program Analysis
  • EDF Delta Dispatches
Conference, Event and Meeting Announcements

Federal Legislative Updates
  • WRDA 2010
  • Assistance, Quality and Affordability Act
  • Climate and Energy Legislation
  • 2012 Farm Bill
  • Clean Water Restoration Legislation
  • Atrazine Developments
Federal Budget and Appropriations

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week (last week)

The "Assistance, Quality, and Affordability Act of 2010" (H.R. 5320), sponsored by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), passed out of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee on May 19 by a vote of 18-13. The bill would reauthorize the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and otherwise amend the Safe Drinking Water Act. A press release and links to the bill and bill summaries can be found here.  You can track progress on the bill at this Library of Congress web site.

This issue is so cross-cutting among all of the natural resource arenas that the news deserves widespread notice and has implications throughout the Mississippi River basin: a new suite of three National Research Council (National Academies) reports requested by Congress conclude (in the words of the National Academies) that "strong evidence on climate change underscores need for action" (National Academies' web page with reports and press release here).

Daniel Hellerstein (USDA ERS) has written an article in the June 2010 edition of Amber Waves entitled, “Challenges Facing USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program," in which Hellerstein notes that improved targeting of benefits, encouragement of better conservation practices, and heightened competition among bidders could hold promise for increasing the environmental benefits and lowering the cost of the Conservation Reserve Program. The full article can be found here.

EPA's National Water Program has released the final FY 2011 National Water Program Guidance. According to an EPA news release, "this Guidance describes water program priorities and strategies, including the suite of water performance measures and their targets, for the coming fiscal year."  The final Guidance is available at this EPA web site.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District Regulatory Branch will hold a stream bank stabilization workshop August 2-4, at the Polk County Conservation Board's Chichaqua Longhouse, which is located at 8700 NE 126th Ave., Maxwell, Iowa. Space is limited to the first 60 people who register. Contact Al Forhlich, for more information, at: Regulatory Branch; Rock Island District; 309/794-5859

A map to the location can be found by following this link.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Are We There Yet?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back inside the beltway, this from Politico: D.C. is about to become more divided and nasty, if you can believe it. Regardless of who wins, the Pennsylvania senator will not be a centrist like Specter; Utah won't have Bob Bennett brokering quiet deals; and Rand Paul, if he wins, will give us another Jim DeMint.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Washington, DC will be showcasing its reactive best this week, as five congressional hearings are scheduled related to the Gulf of Mexico BP oil rig disaster. For those interested in following the hearings, here they are (all times are Eastern):

Today (Senate):
Hearing on oil spill response
Homeland Security
02:30 PM, 342 Dirksen

Tuesday (Senate):
Hearing on offshore drilling
Energy and Natural Resources
11:00 AM, 325 Dirksen

Hearing on oil spill response
02:30 PM, 253 Russell

Hearing on Gulf oil spill
Environment and Public Works
02:30 PM, 406 Dirksen

Wednesday (House):
Hearing on Gulf oil spill
Transportation and Infrastructure
10:00 AM, 2167 Rayburn

Friday, May 14, 2010

"King Corn" and "Big River"

For our followers in the Washington DC metro area, there will be exclusive screenings of two thought-provoking and entertaining documentaries exploring the environmental, health, economic and social implications of corn-based agriculture. The films will be shown on the evening of Friday, June 11 (7:00 PM) at the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, Alexandria, VA (directions here). The screenings include the 2007 film, "King Corn," and the area premier of the follow-up film, "Big River." Here are the descriptions of the films provided by the producers (with links to the film websites, where you can find more information and view movie trailers). We hope to see you there!

King Corn” (
The Peabody Award-winning King Corn is a 2007 feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm. Run-time 50 minutes.

Big River” (
Following up on their Peabody winning documentary, the King Corn boys are back. For Big River (2009), best friends Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis have returned to Iowa with a new mission: to investigate the environmental impact their acre of corn has sent to the people and places downstream. In a journey that spans from the heartland to the Gulf of Mexico, Ian and Curt trade their combine for a canoe––and set out to see the big world their little acre of corn has touched. On their trip, flashbacks to the pesticides they sprayed, the fertilizers they injected, and the soil they plowed now lead to new questions, explored by new experts in new places. Half of Iowa’s topsoil, they learn, has been washed out to sea. Fertilizer runoff has spawned a hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf. And back at their acre, the herbicides they used are blamed for a cancer cluster that reaches all too close to home. This will be the DC area premier of Big River (Run-time: 27 minutes).

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

The biannual National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration (NCER) 2011 will be held in Baltimore, MD at the Marriott Waterfront hotel on August 1-5, 2011. The NCER 2011 Program Committee invites members of the ecosystem restoration community to assist with developing the conference program agenda by proposing and organizing sessions. Proposers should not feel limited to the preliminary topical categories listed on the NCER 2011 web site. Each proposal will be assessed according to individual content, structure and overall relevance. Proposal acceptance will be primarily based on an evaluation of the session's potential for generating useful results, relevance and expected level of interest in the topic. The Northeast-Midwest Institute (Mark Gorman) is on the NCER 2011 Planning Committee.  Please feel free to contact Mark ( with any questions or ideas.

The House Agriculture Committee held the next in a series of hearings on agriculture policy leading up to discussion and debate on the 2012 Farm Bill, on Thursday, May 13. This hearing focused on the testimony and opinions of agriculture economists and academics. For more information on this hearing and on the Farm Bill-related hearing schedule throughout the remainder of May, visit this Committee web site.

On May 7, Rep. Barney Frank (MA-4th) introduced the Stable Flood Insurance Authorization Act of 2010, to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. The wording of the legislation recognizes that “long-term authorization and significant reforms are needed to further improve the financial outlook of the National Flood Insurance Program,” and states that the bill’s intent is to provide “reliable, annual authorization of the program” “while such comprehensive reforms are considered.” The measure currently has three cosponsors. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Financial Services. The text of the bill and related information can be viewed here.

According to results summarized in a TNC and Army Corps of Engineers-sponsored study, greater cooperation is essential to addressing economic and ecological issues currently impacting the Mississippi River basin. Under direction from TNC ("The Nature Conservancy"), through the Great Rivers Partnership, and the Mississippi Valley Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Meridian Institute conducted a series of interviews designed to gather input from key stakeholders representing "regional and sector diversity" in the Mississippi River Basin. Meridian Intsitute's final summary of interviews, findings and recommendations is available here (PDF file).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the availability of USDA's Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) funds that producers can apply for in 2010. CSP offers payments to producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and who agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland and non-industrial forestland. The deadline to be considered for the next ranking and funding period is June 11, 2010. The CSP was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. Producers can find more information about the CSP, and links to the program application here.

On Monday, May 17, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (CA-30th), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Edward J. Markey (MA-7th), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, introduced legislation that would reauthorize and increase funding for the drinking water state revolving fund (SRF) under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Among other things, the bill would gradually increase funding for the drinking water SRF from $1.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2011 to $6 billion in Fiscal Year 2015. The Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the legislation this past Thursday, May 13, in which some Subcommittee members questioned the ability to implement the increased activities proposed within the bill. A press release, and links to the bill and bill summaries can be found here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

An Iowa State University study released on March 30 concludes that if Midwest farmers switched from producing corn to growing produce that is eaten in the Midwest (i.e., fruits and vegetables), they could generate thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars. AP coverage of the story can be seen here, and a summary of the study, with links to the study and a media release, here.

The Society for Wetland Scientists, Restore America’s Estuaries, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Environmental Law Institute are co-hosting a Panel Discussion entitled "Resilient Wetlands = Prosperous Economies; How Restoring and Conserving Wetlands Supports Economic Productivity," on Wednesday, May 19; from 4:00 - 5:30 p.m., in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Room HVC-215. RSVP by May 14 to or (202) 939-3829. For more information, and for a Flyer on the panel, see here (pdf file).  Following the panel discussions, the National Wetlands Awards Ceremony will be held at the same location, from 6-8 p.m. There, the panel hosts "will honor a diverse group of individuals for their extraordinary commitment to conserving wetlands" ( for more information, see

The House Committee on Agriculture has scheduled several new hearings through the remainder of May to discuss issues surrounding the development and discussions of the 2101 Farm Bill (schedule can be found here). Here is a recap of House Agriculture Committee 2012 Farm Bill hearings to date.

In a May 4 media release, the USDA announced that Secretary Tom Vilsack will host a "Summit of Rural America: A Dialogue for Renewing Promise," on June 3 in Hillsboro, Missouri. The purpose of the day-long Summit will be to dialogue with stakeholders and gather information, ideas and opinions that the USDA can use to inform program and policy development and implementation. Read the full media release here.

The National Park Service has announced that it is the recipient of a 2010 America’s Best Idea grant from the National Park Foundation for "In a New Light: Connecting At-Risk Teens to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway through Nature Photography," an innovative partnership project between the Riverway, Northwest Passage, and local arts and educational organizations. The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a unit of the National Park System, was established by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. It is one of a group of eight rivers in the country that first received this recognition. For 255 miles, the St. Croix River and its tributary, the Namekagon, flow through some of the most scenic and least developed country in the Upper Midwest. Read more here.

EPA is hosting a webinar entitled "EPA's Role in Water Resources Management for a Changing Climate" on May 11, from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. EDT. According to the agency, the webinar is intended to "provide an overview of EPA climate change activities in water resources management with an emphasis on adaptation. It is designed to give participants an overview of U.S. regulatory and policy development in the climate change field. Featured speakers include: Joseph Siegel, Attorney and Alternative Dispute Resolution Specialist, Office of Regional Council, U.S. EPA, Region 2; Karen Metchis, Senior Climate Advisor, U.S. EPA's Office of Water; James Goodrich, Senior Environmental Scientist, U.S. EPA's Office of Research and Development." EPA's Climate Change home page is here. To register for the webinar, visit this page.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Irony du Jour

Great Lakes states battle to keep one aquatic invasive species out of the lakes (Asian Carp), and routinely introduce another (Coho Salmon).

Mississippi River Basin News Blurbs of the Day (along with keyboard reactions)

Recent news items posted via our Twitter feed:
Wisconsin Rep. and Appropriation Committee Chair Dave Obey retiresAnd the battle begins for his soon-to-be-empty chair.
Senate Majority Leader Reid to colleagues: Senate might have to shorten August recess to deal with pressing issuesThe August heat in DC can be a mighty strong impetus for getting things done.
Kansas asks US Supreme Court to settle long-running Republican River water withdrawal case vs CO & NEKansas says it isn't getting the water it deserves from upstream; a portent of things to come?
Army Corps reports that Mississippi River will double its flow over the next two weeks from upstream stormsTennessee waters recede and move downstream.
Bloomington MN trying to manage water quality in its storm water pondsGreen and algae-choked now (I'll be in Bloomington in two weeks for an UMRBA meeting and will check it out).
EPA has issued new water infrastructure guidelines. Designed to dissuade sprawl and promote smart growth.  Promoting smartness is smart.
EWG report: Most US farm subsidies go to only 10% of recipients; Reaction to the report hereThe debate continues . . . the point-counterpoint deliberations over who should get how much of limited federal funds is like the song that never ends.
USDA Secretary Vilsack to host Summit of Rural America to inform program and policy discussions: Hillsboro, MO, June 3Listening well is the first rule of wise governing.
Water, conservation programs, bark beetles & dairy topped the agenda at Tuesday's House Ag Committee Farm Bill hearingThe Farm Bill is immense, and so will be the number of topics discussed in the lead-up to its 2012 reprise.
Des Moines Iowa not slowing down livability efforts - after being named best for business and careersThere are some good restaurants there based on my limited experience.
Cumberland River Begins to Recede in TennesseeAnd the water moves on toward the Gulf (see above), which could use some extra River dilution assistance about now.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: Gulf Coast spill could help Senate pass energy billHope springs eternal . . . as does leaking crude.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Irony du Jour

Federal agencies located in Washington, DC contend that they shouldn't be required to pay fees associated with new federally-mandated DC environmental stormwater regulations designed to help restore the Anacostia River.  The dispute apparently hinges on whether the Impervious Area Charge is defined legally as a tax or a fee.   The legal argument actually has national implications, as disputes over stormwater fees are not limited to Washington, DC.  Read more on this story here and here.