Friday, July 15, 2011

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

NRCS to Host Mississippi River Basin Initiative Briefing
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will host a briefing and dialogue session on the progress and activities of the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) on Tuesday, August 9, from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (EDT) in Washington, DC (in person) and remotely via a webinar. The meeting will be hosted by NRCS Chief Dave White at the USDA Whitten Building, Room 104-A, located at 12th Street, SW and Jefferson Drive.

NRCS has indicated that a number of topics will be covered during the briefing including progress made on MRBI projects approved in fiscal year 2010, newly approved fiscal year 2011 projects, monitoring and evaluation, and adaptive nutrient management.

Those planning to attend in person should notify Executive Assistant Michael Coates by email ( before noon (EDT) August 5.  A conference call number is available to access the audio portion of the webinar for those who cannot attend in person (call-in number 1-888-566-7824; participant code 6848397). For those interested in viewing the PowerPoint presentations during the briefing, the following link can be used: (Conference Number: PW5520251; Audience Passcode is the same as the phone participant code: 6848397).

House Science Subcommittee Approves Algal Bloom and Dead Zone Research Bill
Yesterday (July 14) the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment unanimously approved on a voice vote H.R. 2484, the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2011, sending the measure on to the full committee for consideration. The legislation authorizes a targeted research plan to improve efforts to monitor, prevent, mitigate and control both marine and fresh water algal blooms and hypoxia.

Among the bill's provisions is one that would establish an Inter-Agency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia consisting of representatives from various Federal agencies and offices. The bill calls for the Task Force to prepare and submit to Congress within two years a comprehensive research plan and action strategy to address marine and freshwater harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. The "Freshwater Program" established under the measure would carry out research on the ecology of freshwater harmful algal blooms, monitor and respond to freshwater harmful algal blooms in lakes, rivers, estuaries and reservoirs, and mitigate and control freshwater harmful algal blooms.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Passes Three Water and Wildlife Bills
On July 13 by voice vote the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved three water and wildlife bills that relate to Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico coastal ecosystem conservation and restoration. The three bills are:
  • S. 1313, the Clean Estuaries Act of 2011, which would amend the Clean Water Act to reauthorize the National Estuary Program, revise the purpose of management conferences convened to guide voluntary estuary restoration efforts, and expand requirements governing comprehensive conservation and management plans prepared by estuary programs. It also seeks to improve the National Estuary Program's accountability by requiring regular evaluations to determine if the goals of improving water quality and habitat are being met.
  • S. 899, the Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2011 that would reauthorize a nutria eradication program and require the Secretary of the Department of Interior to continue a long-term nutria control or eradication program in Louisiana and Maryland (and extend the program to new states, including Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington).
  • S. 538, a bill to amend and reauthorize the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act that would reauthorize a grant's program to promote the conservation of migratory birds in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. 
House Passes Controversial "Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act"
On July 13 the full House handily passed a controversial "Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act" (H.R. 2018) that would significantly restrict EPA's ability to issue revised or new water quality standards without a state's permission (see prior story on the bill here). The bill passed on a 239-184 roll call vote, gaining the support of all but 13 Republicans as well as Democrats from Appalachia, where the coal industry had been lobbying consistently to shift more of EPA's regulatory power to the states. There is little chance of the bill becoming law, however. No similar measure has been introduced in the Senate. And on July 12, the White House Office of Management and Budget released a veto threat within a strongly-worded statement opposing the measure. You can read more on the bill here.

House Passes Flood Insurance Reform Act
The full House on July 12 passed H.R. 1309, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011 to extend the authorization of the fiscally-nonviable National Flood Insurance Program until September 2016 and add a measure to pay down its nearly $18 billion debt through a series of annual rate increases for policyholders (the bill passed on a vote of 406-22; roll call here). An amendment was also approved to reduce the number of flood insurance policies directly managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency to no more than 10 percent of the total number of flood insurance policies in place nationally. Both the Obama administration and various national insurance associations have endorsed the House bill. A related bill (S. 1284) has been introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

House Appropriations Committee Passes Fiscal Year 2012 Interior and Environment Spending Bill
The full House Appropriations Committee on July 12 passed its Fiscal Year 2012 Interior and Environment spending bill on a vote of 28-18, sending it on to the full House for consideration (expected the week of July 25).  The bill provides $27.5 billion in funding for the US EPA and Department of Interior – a reduction of $2.1 billion below last year’s (Fiscal Year 2011) level and $3.8 billion below the President’s 2012 budget request. Among the legislation's more significant cuts are:
  • Interior's land acquisition funding reduced by $239 million
  • EPA's municipal water and wastewater infrastructure project funding (know as Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds) reduced by $967 million
  • Climate change programs cut by a total of $83 million
You can read the Committee's press release on the bill's passage and link to the bill and its accompanying report language here.

EPA's proposed "Mississippi River Basin Initiative" would not be funded under terms of the bill.  The President's 2012 budget proposal had requested $6 million for the initiative.

One of the more controversial riders attached to the bill would block EPA from using any funds "to carry out, implement, administer, or enforce" changes to Clean Water Act jurisdiction put into place since the last guidance on the matter (issued during the George W. Bush administration).

Although certain to be challenged by President Obama and Senate Democrats, House Democrats and Republicans alike said following the bill's passage out of Committee that much of what had been passed may survive into a final bill, given the political realities of the current fiscal year.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:

Agriculture -
  • Research: cellulosic miscanthus & switchgrass show economic & environmental promise as US corn replacements
  • American Enterprise Institute sponsored series of academic papers on "Fixing the 2012 Farm Bill" -
  • OK Assn of Conservation Districts President: water quality alerts show need to address nonpoint source pollution (PDF)
  • July 19 briefing - Farm Bill Energy Title: Rural Energy for America Program; Washington DC
  • China buys more US corn & ethanol plants exceed livestock as main consumer; so US corn stocks languish near 15-yr lows
  • US drought map dire & expected to worsen. NY Times: & Official drought map:
  • National Cotton Council VP: “This farm bill is going to be one where the budget will dictate policy"
  • Soybean & corn growers: let House & Senate Agriculture Committees make USDA budget cuts in Farm Bill; not appropriators
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
  • Iowa's governor urging 3 downstream states to withdraw from Missouri River Assoc to form their own group
  • 2011 flood should spark unified approach to Missouri River management
  • Widening Missouri River, reducing risk, keys to flood control 
  • Political time is right to bring change to Missouri River management
(The last three links are to articles in a St Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial series)

Current Flooding -
  • USDA Secretary Vilsack criticizes Army Corps of Engineers on management of Missouri River flooding
Water Quality-
  • 1st of 3 summer Texas A&M Univ cruise's research results: Gulf of Mexico dead zone already larger than Delaware
  • House Science Subcommittee Approves Algal Bloom and Dead Zone Research Bill
In the States -
  • Iowa State University to check state lakes to get handle on blue-green algae blooms
  • MN Public Radio - latest news on the MN state government shutdown and deal to end it:
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Report: 1 in 10 species could die out by the end of century due to climate change
  • Invasive Stink Bug expected to cause big problems for Wisconsin farmers & homeowners
  • Minnesota's war on invasive Water Milfoil shuts down along with state government
  • Senate Environment & Public Works Committee passes Clean Estuaries, Neotropical Bird & Nutria Eradication bills
  • Study looks to "un-reverse" the Chicago river to stop spread of aquatic invasive species
  • IN Gov candidate: closing canal linking Great Lakes & Mississippi River system "would have devastating effect" on jobs
Federal Budget -
Gulf Coastal Area-
  • Obama administration lists Gulf of Mexico's rare largetooth sawfish as endangered species
  • Senate Environment & Public Works Committee passes Clean Estuaries, Neotropical Bird & Nutria Eradication bills
  • Louisiana officials seek to stop "lake-destroying" invasive giant salvinia plant
  • House Rules Committee blocks vote on a proposal to give Gulf states 80% of BP spill Clean Water Act fines
  • New federal (NOAA) policy aiming to expand US fish farming in coastal waters sparks both support & concern
Events -
  • National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration final speakers list announced; Baltimore, MD, August 2-5
  • Early Bird registration closes July 31 for 2011 Water Resources Summit; U of MD College Park
  • July 19 briefing - Farm Bill Energy Title: Rural Energy for America Program; Washington DC
e-Newsletters and Journals -
Other news-
Political Scene -
  • U of Wisconsin Badger Poll: 59 % of Wisconsinites disapprove of Gov. Walker’s job performance
  • US House Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) raising more $ for an increasingly likely US Senate bid
Last Word -"We can't talk about that right now. I don't want to tell you or anyone else what our priorities are going to be." - House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) in answering a question regarding what GOP priorities might be - spending cuts or policy riders - if the 2012 Interior and Environment spending bill goes to a House-Senate Conference Committee to be resolved.

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