Friday, December 3, 2010

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week (Mega Post-holiday edition)

NRC Highly Critical of Obama Administration's Principles and Guidelines Update

On December 2 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its highly-anticipated report on the draft Principles and Standards proposed last year by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).  In the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA) Congress directed the Secretary of the Army to revise the Principles and Guidelines (P&G) that had guided water resources project planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority since the early 1980s.  The Obama Administration is seeking to update and to expand the scope of the P&G (i.e., to cover all federal agencies that undertake water resource projects, not just the four agencies currently subject to the P&G).   As part of that effort, the CEQ released its "Proposed National Objectives, Principles and Standards for Water and Related Resources Implementation Studies" in December, 2009 (see CEQ's web page here).

The NAS report from the National Research Council (NRC) is a review of that 2009 document (a review directed by Congress in WRDA 2007).  A link to the entire NRC report, along with supporting materials, can be found here.   The NRC is highly critical of CEQ's effort in its report, finding, in part, that "the 2009 proposed revisions lack clarity and consistency in several respects. Given that the 2009 document represents only a partial revision to the P&G document, and given several areas of ambiguity and incompleteness in the 2009 proposed revisions, detailed advice on specific planning procedures at this point would be premature. As CEQ proceeds with further revisions to the P&G document, clarification and specification in these areas detailed (herein) will be necessary for the document to be of value to CEQ and the federal agencies that will use the document in decision making."

USDA Announces Three Key Mississippi River Basin Funding Initiatives for Fiscal Year 2011

During this past week, the USDA made three announcements that focus on Mississippi River Basin clean water initiatives under the agency's purview.  These included a Fiscal Year 2011 Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (or MRBI) Request for Proposals, a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program funding announcement, and an announcement of continued funding for existing water quality improvement projects in the Mississippi River Basin under the MRBI. 

A press release was issued on Monday, announcing that USDA will fund 70 existing conservation projects in 41 eligible watersheds in 12 states during the 2011 Fiscal Year as a continuing part of its MRBI.  (the 12 states are Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin).

Also on Monday, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) published a Federal Register notice (PDF file here) announcing a request for proposals (RFP) for 2011 Fiscal Year MRBI Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI; $15 million) and Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP; $25 million) funding.  NRCS will provide assistance for projects in 43 designated watershed focus areas (8-digit HUCs) in 13 states (Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).  Proposals are due by January 28, 2011. 

On Tuesday, NRCS published the 2011 Fiscal Year CIG funding announcement on its web site, calling for special CIG emphases in the Chesapeake Bay and Mississippi River watersheds. The actual notice (PDF file) is here. Under CIG, Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds (an anticipated $25 million in Fiscal Year 2011) are used to award competitive grants to non-Federal governmental or non-governmental organizations, Tribes, or individuals.  For the Mississippi River Basin, according to the NRCS announcement, "only pre-proposals that demonstrate the use of innovative technologies and/or approaches to address at least one bulleted topic specific to and within the Mississippi River Basin and address the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) objectives to manage and optimize nutrient management, reduce downstream nutrient loads, maintain agricultural productivity, and enhance wildlife and other ecosystem services will be considered."  Applications for the pre-proposal phase must be received at the NRCS National Headquarters by 4 p.m. EST, on December 28; selected pre-proposal applications will be announced by January 17.  Full proposal packages will be due by March 4.

Input on National Flood Insurance Program Reform Alternatives Sought

The Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") is involved in an effort to identify options for reforming the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and has, for over a decade, sought input and conducted internal assessments on NFIP and its management by FEMA.  This effort has culminated in a three-phase thorough evaluation, the first two of which were completed in 2009 and the first part of 2010.  Those first two phases involved (1) capturing stakeholder concerns and recommendations from a November 2009 NFIP Listening Session, and (2) creating an NFIP Reform Working Group to conduct additional analyses of stakeholder feedback and develop NFIP evaluation criteria (see this FEMA NFIP reform page for more background information).   The third and final phase has now begun (creating a portfolio of public policy options and evaluating them using the criteria developed in Phase II).

On December 2, FEMA hosted a meeting in Washington, D.C. to describe, update and explain the public policy options being presented for consideration and to hear comments from interested stakeholders (a second similar meeting will be held on December 9, in Denver, CO).  At the December 2 meeting FEMA (photos here)   presented four policy "themes" and two to four alternatives for moving forward with reform within each of the four theme areas.  The four policy theme areas (and links to PDF files for further descriptions) are:

    * Privatization of the National Flood Insurance Program
    * Community-Based Flood Insurance Options
    * Federal Assistance Options
    * National Flood Insurance Program Optimization

After the alternatives have been refined and vetted (taking into account public feedback from the two December meetings and comments provided online (see below)), the NFIP Reform Working Group will evaluate the proposed policy alternatives and score them using the evaluation and weighting criteria developed during Phase II. The policy alternative with the highest score, or a combination of high-scoring elements from several of the alternatives, will become the recommended NFIP Reform policy that will be developed into a full NFIP Reform package (including any proposed legislative, regulations and policy. The package will then be submitted to senior management in FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security leadership for consideration.

FEMA continues to solicit input from stakeholders on their NFIP reform effort and related policy alternatives. Comments can be submitted through Friday, December 31, to the NFIP Reform Working Group here.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week: 

In the States -
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
Agriculture -
  • New USDA rule on Wildlife Habitat Incentive Prog adds priority for wildlife habitat restoration & enhancement
  • Newswise: Seeds of Gulf Dead Zones Are Draining from U.S. Farms
  • North Country PR: Are farmers hurting the Gulf of Mexico more than BP?
  • Bipartisan group of Senators calls for end to tariff on ethanol imports & subsidies to ethanol blenders
  • Biipartisan group House reps urge Ag Comm Chair Peterson & Ranking Member Lucas to move on farm bill in 2011
  • U.S. farm supports would be cut 10 % under proposal made Wednesday by presidential panel on balancing budget
  • BREAKING: Obama's fiscal commission fails to adopt sweeping plan for managing federal budget deficit
  • Expiring ethanol tax credits extension could hitch a ride on possible omnibus appropriations package 
  • Commodity & land prices spiking in recent weeks in Iowa spark talk of an agricultural bubble
Wastewater and Stormwater-
  • Only 1/3 of utilities dealing with combined sewer overflows recover mitigation costs through user fees
Events -
  • EPA Webcast December 9: "Designing LID to Work: Lessons Learned from North Carolina"
  • AZ State U to host Resilience 2011: international conference on dynamics of social-ecological systems March 11-16, 2011
  • International Conference on modeling of urban water systems, Feb 24-25 2011, Toronto ON
  • "Troubled Waters" documentary on Mississippi River showing Dec 7 in St. Peter, MN
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
Other news-
  • NASA: World's lakes getting hotter, more than the air
  • Latest issue of EDF's Delta Dispatches with news on coastal Louisiana restoration is now available online
  • Duke University study finds elevated coal ash threat to groundwater
  • Clean Water America Alliance releases national dialogue summary report : "Managing One Water"
  • Job opening: Research Associate II-Outreach Coordinator, U of TN Knoxville. Dept of Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries
Political scene -
  • Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe vows to block natural resources/great waters omnibus bill
  • Last-minute water, lands, wildlife bill a "Frankenstein omnibus"- Rep. Hastings (R-WA)
  • New Republican rules would prohibit new increase in spending unless fully offset by equal cut in current spending
  • Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) defying his party on an earmark ban 
  • Senate on Tuesday voted against a tea party-backed proposal to ban earmarks 
  • RT @MinnesotaNews: Dayton campaign says lead nearly 9,000 in MN Governor's recount 
  • GOP prepared to invoke congressional review over EPA rules

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