Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Organizations Push for Farm Bill Conservation Principles as Congressional Activity on the Bill Looms

Fifty-six conservation, farm, wildlife and environmental groups delivered a summary of what they term "basic principles" and "priority recommendations for the conservation sections of the new farm bill" to Capitol Hill this morning, anticipating increasing Congressional activity on the farm bill later this month. Called the “Conservation Community’s Principles And Recommendations For Strengthening The Farm Bill Conservation Title,” the organizations stressed a need to "maintain robust conservation funding," the “harmonizing" of crop subsidies and conservation (including adopting a nationwide ‘sodsaver’ provision, and providing a definition of "acceptable conservation practices and activities within crop insurance law"), focusing conservation resources where the opportunities for environmental outcomes are greatest, and supporting the USDA's NRCS "conservation delivery streamlining initiative."

It is highly expected that work on the farm bill will accelerate later this month.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has committed to completing work on a Senate version of the Farm Bill in May.  And on the House side, Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) has set May 15 as the date that his Committee will markup its farm bill.

In a message accompanying the principles' release, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition stated, "In the face of continuing strong production pressure, now more than ever we need to preserve and enhance farm bill conservation policies and programs. Nothing is more important to our long-term food security, both in the near term and for generations to come, then to protect and improve our natural resource base. In light of the upcoming committee markups for the farm bill and the floor debates that hopefully will follow, members of the conservation community have gathered over the past months for an historic consensus-building process to re-affirm some basic principles and to forge agreement on priority recommendations for the conservation sections of the new farm bill.

"These principles and recommendations will serve as the benchmark by which we will measure and assess the conservation provisions as the farm bill reauthorization process moves forward.

"We are delighted to share the consensus statement with you today. The farm, conservation, wildlife, and environmental organizations signing this statement . . . will be happy to entertain your questions and comments on the attached principles and priority recommendations in the days and weeks ahead."

At the time of the statement's release, the following organizations had signed the document in support of its contents:
  • American Farmland Trust
  • American Rivers
  • Audubon
  • Audubon Minnesota
  • California Climate and Agriculture Network
  • Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
  • C.A.S.A del Llano
  • Center for Rural Affairs
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Dakota Rural Action
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Ecological Farming Association
  • Environmental Working Group
  • Friends of the Mississippi River
  • Grassworks
  • Gulf Restoration Network
  • Illinois Stewardship Alliance
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • Iowa Environmental Council
  • Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
  • The Izaak Walton League of America
  • Kansas Rural Center
  • Kentucky Waterways Alliance
  • Land Stewardship Project
  • Lower Mississippi River Foundation
  • Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper
  • Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
  • Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance
  • Midwest Environmental Advocates
  • Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service
  • Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
  • The Mississippi River Traveler
  • Missouri Coalition for the Environment
  • National Association of State Conservation Agencies (NASCA)
  • National Catholic Rural Life Conference
  • National Center for Appropriate Technology
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society
  • New England Farmers Union
  • Northeast Organic Dairy Producer Alliance
  • Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
  • Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides
  • Oregon Tilth
  • Organic Valley Family of Farms
  • Pesticide Action Network North America
  • Practical Farmers of Iowa
  • Pollinator Partnership
  • Soil and Water Conservation Society
  • Tennessee Clean Water Network
  • Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Virginia Association for Biological Farming
  • The Wetlands Initiative
  • Women Food and Agriculture Network
  • World Wildlife Fund

Friday, April 26, 2013

Army Corps, IL DNR, USGS Release New North America Asian Carp Distribution Maps

Bighead Carp
On April 26, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Geological Survey  released new maps depicting "Asian Carp Distribution in North America" for bighead carp and silver carp. The maps display current information on the presence of those invasive Asian carp species at all of their life stages in the Mississippi River, Ohio River and Great Lakes.

"The intent of this succinct, graphical documentation of locations of Asian carp individual captures, as well as areas with established populations, is to be a ‘living resource’ for ACRCC partners, decision makers and the public to access specific, timely information," said USACE Fish Biologist and eDNA Program Manager Kelly Baerwaldt, in a media release announcing the map release.  "The ACRCC continues to take the threat of Asian carp as very real and to conduct intensive monitoring to help determine the threat of this invasive fish," added Baerwaldt.

Silver Carp
Data were collected from responses provided by federal, state, academic, private-consulting and non-governmental organization biologists to an Asian carp questionnaire. Additional data were obtained from the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee Monitoring and Response Work Group, which include data collected since 2009 in detail for the Chicago Area Waterway System and a majority of the Illinois Waterway; and from the USGS’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database.

Capitol Hill Briefing Highlights Lessons Learned from Ongoing Agriculture Conservation Projects

Click to Enlarge
On April 26, Deanna Osmond (Ph.D., North Carolina State University) briefed Congressional staff, and policy and agriculture professionals on the results of a synthesis and multi-year evaluation of the effects of cropland and pastureland conservation practices on spatial and temporal trends in water quality at the watershed scale.  The briefing summarized findings first released last November, concurrent with the release of the "Synthesis Report: CEAP-NIFA Competitive Grant Watershed Studies" (link to the report and related resources here).  Osmond was the principal investigator for the study.

As part of the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) Watershed Assessment Studies, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and NRCS jointly funded an evaluation of 13 (mostly retrospective) projects  from 2004 to 2011.  A synthesis project designed to discover common themes among the 13 studies was led by North Carolina State University (NCSU) in conjunction with five other institutions and organizations. Osmond was principal investigator for the synthesis study.

According to Osmond, the consistent themes throughout and lessons learned from the NIFA watershed studies include:
  • The need to assess and plan conservation implementation at the watershed scale (in addition to the field and farm scales) in order to realize "more effective water quality outcomes."
  • The desirability of identifying pollutants of concern and their sources before selecting conservation practices. The prioritization and placement conservation practices in critical watershed areas (i.e., those areas generating the most pollution) to ensure the most effective use of resources.
  • The need to select and apply practices that will actually be adopted and maintained on the landscape; not simply those that might be effective at mitigating pollutant loading.
  • Tracking conservation practice implementation and land management activities to adaptively manage the process is important (i.e., assess accomplishments and the need for additional or altered conservation treatments).
  • The importance of establishing water quality monitoring protocols designed to evaluate water quality changes resulting from conservation treatment on the land.
Osmond is a Professor and Extension Specialist in the Soil Science Department at the North Carolina State University.  Her integrated research and extension program works at the interface of nutrient management, conservation practices, and water quality, both within the state of North Carolina and nationally.

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~

Up Next
Congressional members will be in recess next week, but look for some significant Mississippi River Basin-related legislative activity to happen in the two weeks following their return to Capitol Hill.  The Senate is expected to begin debate on the Water Resources Development Act that passed out of its Environment and Public Works Committee as soon as members return from next week's recess, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).  Reid also has committed to completing work on a Senate version of the Farm Bill in May.  On the House side, Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) has said that "May 15 is a go" for his Committee’s markup of the Farm Bill (see article links, below).

Instead of linking below (under "Water Resource Management") to the very many news articles published this past week on Mississippi River Basin flooding , you can follow this link to see a news summary (updated periodically).  And for real-time river stage, and flood reporting and forecasting information from the National Weather Service, check out these on-line resources:
Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • USEPA plans to "align" two long-awaited rules on coal-fired power plant ash and electrical generation water pollution http://ow.ly/kiBPd
  • Appeals Court strikes down Army Corps nationwide permit allowing valley filling of mining waste into US streams http://ow.ly/kjfhi
  • Court upholds agreement between U.S. EPA and environmental groups on new wastewater standards at power plants  http://ow.ly/kn5eh
  • Appeals Court rules USEPA had the Clean Water Act authority to retroactively veto Army Corps' permit for coal mine http://ow.ly/kn5xn and http://ow.ly/kn8o7
  • Federal appeals court backs Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate mountaintop removal mining http://ow.ly/kntMO
  • More articles on federal appeals court ruling re: EPA veto of West Virginia mountaintop-removal mining permit here: ow.ly/knuq3
  • Clean up set for superfund site threatening Opossum Creek, a tributary of the Great Miami River (Ohio River basin) http://ow.ly/knjZz
  • 105 million gallons per day of raw sewage run directly into Mississippi River as two large St. Louis lift pumps fail http://ow.ly/knrSv
  • Concerns grow about endocrine disruptors in Wisconsin lakes, streams and groundwater http://ow.ly/knsEH
  • EPA: Many artificial ponds for storing coal mining sludge have dangerously weak walls because of poor construction ow.ly/kpKmk
  • GOP senators skeptical at hearing about drones USEPA used to search for pollution and survey animal feedlots ow.ly/kpJld
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Senate expected to begin debate on Water Resources Development Act as soon as members return from next week's recess http://ow.ly/krY7Z
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Chair: Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to get Senate floor time in early May http://ow.ly/kn8TI
  • Two key Senate Democrats press Boxer to 'strike or revise' WRDA streamlining language ow.ly/kpwGq
  • Supporters hope to add Sen. Casey's RIVER Act as amendment to Water Resources Development Act when it comes to floor http://ow.ly/ki8Ci
  • Archived webinar: National Academies' Levees and National Flood Insurance Program: Improving Policies and Practices http://ow.ly/kibzR
  • FEMA solicits input on flood hazard mapping, risk assessment tools and Hazard Mitigation Planning; deadline April 30 http://ow.ly/kic8v
  • Op-ed by president of the Reinsurance Association of America: "How Can Government Help Prepare for Mother Nature?" http://ow.ly/kn65D
  • Desirability of Mississippi River view has trumped permanent flood protection in some communities north of St. Louis http://ow.ly/kneFV
  • Supreme Court dives into fight over Texas' right to draw water from Oklahoma under 1980 interstate compact http://ow.ly/kntk0
  • For the second time in less than a week, a Mississippi River bridge has been struck by a barge ow.ly/kqvxg
  • Lewis & Clark Regional Water System considers how to complete Missouri River-sourced water project with less funding http://ow.ly/krTZI
Farm Bill-
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): Senate will take up five-year farm bill in May http://ow.ly/krSmE
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) commits to completing work on farm bill in May http://ow.ly/krYn7
  • House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK): “May 15 is a go" for Committee markup of Farm Bill ow.ly/kpAR8
  • New Ranking Senate Agriculture Committee Republican Cochran (MS) could be wild card in writing new farm bill http://ow.ly/kiif7
  • Izaak Walton League, SD conservation, agriculture leaders to discuss linking federal farm payments and conservation http://ow.ly/kn9oT
Agriculture -
  • USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service may fund repair of conservation practice damage from rains and flooding http://ow.ly/knbwY
  • Energy Department to invest over $10.5 million in two Iowa companies to spur advanced biofuels development http://ow.ly/knkCd
  • Sens. Begich, Stabenow, Coons, Heitkamp, Johnson, Pryor and Tester participating in Democrats' 2nd Rural Summit today ow.ly/kpCmk
  • Bipartisan groups of senators introduce "Sodsaver Prairie Protection Act" aimed at protecting native prairies ow.ly/kpEMF
  • Bipartisan, bicameral "Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act" introduced in U.S. Senate and House http://ow.ly/krSMA
Climate and Weather -
Click to enlarge
In the States -
  • Kentucky drafting statewide plan to control pollution causing algae blooms and Gulf's oxygen-depleted "dead zone" http://ow.ly/kiAOm
  • Arkansas oil spill probe falls to understaffed agency with close industry ties http://ow.ly/kiDb0
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • USDA Radio News - "Don't let unwanted invasives become evasive" ow.ly/klT7p
Resource Extraction -
  • Study: Mountaintop removal has frequently-overlooked impacts on forests, biodiversity, climate and public health http://ow.ly/kiA1M
  • National Commission on the Health Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining report recommends moratorium on new mining http://ow.ly/kn72t
  • EPA on the State Department’s draft review of proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline route: “"insufficient" ow.ly/kkB1s
  • Illinois state fracking bill that had broad political, industry, environmental, labor buy-in is stalled in committee http://ow.ly/kn7wK
Federal Budget -
  • Prospect of a spring Federal budget deal in Congress seem as equally elusive as was the gun legislation http://ow.ly/kim3i
  • White House supports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s proposal to "turn off" the sequester ow.ly/kpLIW
Events -  Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar on this Blog page and here as a stand-alone calendar
  • May 6 RFF Seminar: Responding to Ecological Loss: The Promise and Limits of Ingenuity http://ow.ly/kicFD (attend in person in Washington, DC or on-line)
  • Garlic Mustard (Invasive Species) "pull" - May 18 Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin and Hopper Lakes (IL) http://ow.ly/kn4G8
  • Free EPA Webinar re: forthcoming national stormwater regulations; April 30; 1:00 - 2:30 pm EDT ow.ly/kpNQP
  • Free State Level Nutrient Reduction Strategies Webinar: What Drives Successful Nutrient Reduction? May 1; 11 AM EDT ow.ly/kpMQw
  • Annual Grassland Restoration Network Workshop; Columbia, Missouri; July 16-18 ow.ly/kpH60
  • USDA NRCS May 7 webinar: Exploring the Environmental and Economic Opportunities and Challenges of Cover Crops http://ow.ly/krQLr
e-Newsletters, Publications and Journals -
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy's April 23 and archived WaterWays e-newsletter links here: ow.ly/klTzd
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's River Connections for April 2013 ow.ly/klTkD
  • The Horinko Group's monthly "Sustainabulletin" e-newsletter ow.ly/klSIH including a look at the Mississippi barge industry
  • Weekly "Water Headlines" Newsletter from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water ow.ly/klSkH
  • American Farmland Trust April E-Newsletter http://ow.ly/krQrS
Other news-
  • Across Kentucky, Indiana and beyond, religious groups seek to model earth-friendly land uses http://ow.ly/kiCNW
  • As CO2 concentrations near portentous 400 parts per million level, daily updates begin on Scripps Institution website http://ow.ly/kncBW
  • Rep. Luetkemeyer (R-MO), colleagues seek Missouri, Mississippi river economic corridor designations to boost trade ow.ly/kqvSs
  • International River Symposium's River Management Young Achievers Award - Applications Due July 5 ow.ly/kpHNF
  • 2012 Namekagon Paddle and the St. Croix River Association are highlighted in American Profile magazine http://ow.ly/krPLX
  • MN DNR invites public input on Minnesota River State Trail master plan – Franklin to Le Sueur http://ow.ly/krUon
Political Scene -
  • Further evidence of never-ending federal election cycle: in western MN GOP makes Rep. Collin Peterson an early target ow.ly/kij0P
  • US Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to retire rather than seek re-election in 2014 ow.ly/klRK8
  • Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) considering a run for retiring Sen. Max Baucus's (D-MT) seat ow.ly/klS5l
  • Iowa Lieutenant Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) won't make a bid to become the state's first female U.S. senator http://ow.ly/knq6r
  • NY Times: "Slow Start on Environment in Second Obama Term" ow.ly/kpIpQ
  • After three weeks on campaign trail Sona Mehring (D) decides she will not challenge Rep. John Kline (R-MN) in 2014 ow.ly/kpA3z
Last Words -
"Without sounding braggadocios, I'm indispensable in this effort to secure for Louisiana a significant and reliable string of revenue to save our coast." - U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in an interview reported by the NOLA Media Group

"The graveyards are full of indispensable men." - often attributed to the French general Charles de Gaulle

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mississippi River Basin Flooding Resources and Latest News - Updated Continuously

Below is a listing of the latest news articles published on the flooding along the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers and other areas in the Upper Mississippi River Basin for the week beginning April 21.

For real-time river stage, and flood reporting and forecasting information from the National Weather Service, check out:
Articles are sorted by their publication date, below.  The list will be updated as new information is obtained. (Last updated April 26, 2013; 1:36 PM EDT)

  • Weekend Midwestern flood updates ow.ly/kfy1D ow.ly/kfy1R ow.ly/kfy2h ow.ly/kfy7w ow.ly/kfy7S
  • Check out this Midwestern Regional Climate Center plot of rainfall the past 7 days ow.ly/kijPw 
  • Illinois Governor Quinn declares 44 counties disaster areas in response to torrential rain and widespread flooding ow.ly/kjinI
  • Heavy rains force diversion of sewage-laden Chicago runoff from usual Mississippi basin route into Lake Michigan http://ow.ly/kizDc
  • Heavy rains and melting snow threaten to keep rivers uncomfortably high this week in six Mississippi basin states http://ow.ly/kikHJ
  • At least 100 barges broke loose from moorings in the Mississippi River Saturday night in St. Louis; four hit bridge http://ow.ly/kiE5b
  • Heavy rains forecast for tonight and Tuesday throughout large areas of Midwest fuel Mississippi basin flood concern http://ow.ly/kiYic 
  • National Weather Service: Flooding will continue for several days in the Midwest http://ow.ly/kijiT 
  • Residents sandbag as Illinois River continues to rise http://ow.ly/kixSi
  • Mississippi River crests; begins to recede at some hard-hit Illinois, Iowa and Missouri towns ow.ly/kiye5
  • Some Mississippi River towns see crests, but worrisome rain and snow melt keep concerns high http://ow.ly/kiysc
  • Flooding increases trash making its way to the River in the Quad Cities region http://ow.ly/knkiY
  • In Granite Falls, the Minnesota River holding steady; little risk of flooding http://ow.ly/krUeD 
  • Mississippi River cresting, topping a few levees in Missouri, but with more rain forecast ow.ly/kkBDr
  • Mississippi River at St. Louis expected to crest today (Tuesday) at 35 feet, well below record set in 1993 ow.ly/kkH6a
  • Rising Mississippi River not expected to severely impact Tennessee ow.ly/kkC7w
  • Upper Illinois River Region dodged storm's worst; river flood warnings still in effect http://ow.ly/knjhn
  • Mississippi River towns weather annual rite of spring; chance of flood is receding http://ow.ly/knirz
  • More rain looms for already swollen Midwest rivers as communities work to hold back flooding http://ow.ly/knkZ9
  • Floods to sideline Mississippi River barges at least another week http://ow.ly/knyFy 
  • Des Plaines River communities on long road to flood recovery (Illinois River basin) http://ow.ly/knzho
  • National Weather Service: many Midwestern waterways to remain high into May, straining levees during slow descent http://ow.ly/kn9Xj
  • Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division assesses Mississippi basin flood damage ow.ly/knqM0
  • Mississippi River expected to crest today in St. Louis, Missouri http://ow.ly/knA7X
  • Rivers across midwestern states cresting at record-high levels as firefighters fear fuel leaks; secondary disaster http://ow.ly/knAr5
  • Levee districts and Army Corps of Engineers "battle" the Illinois River http://ow.ly/knEYG
  • Midwest awaits retreat of floods, bloated rivers http://ow.ly/knFuy
  • Rivers Rise to Historic Levels along Illinois River (news video) http://ow.ly/kpsbW
  • Missouri town-under siege by the flooding Mississippi River-seeks a government buyout http://ow.ly/kpssj
  • As rivers rise in the Midwest, Illinois neighbors battle about levee-diverted water http://ow.ly/kpBvm
  • Wall Street Journal Video: Peoria Heights, IL resident describes struggles of keeping spring flood waters out of his home as rivers rise http://ow.ly/kpBNN
  • Midwestern floodwaters show little sign of receding, as rainfall continues http://ow.ly/kpLc5
  • US midsection severe flooding has forced evacuations, slowed Mississippi River barges and submerged farm fields http://ow.ly/krTcG

Monday, April 22, 2013

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

While many eyes in the Mississippi River Basin are turned toward the rising rivers and threats of flooding, here are the activities currently scheduled this week in the U.S. House and Senate that bear watching, as well.  They could have an impact - for better or not - on the sustainability of the Mississippi River Basin's natural and built resources. Where available, links are provided to the relevant Committee and legislation pages on the Internet. Many of the proceedings are webcast live (follow the appropriate link).  All times are Eastern.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~
Two Mississippi River Basin Rivers Are Among the Year's Ten "Most Endangered"
On April 17, the river conservation organization American Rivers released its annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers list, "a list of ten rivers facing urgent threats that call for our immediate, decisive action." In the Mississippi River Basin, the Little Plover River (in Wisconsin) and Niobrara River (in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming) were highlighted among the top-ten threatened rivers. The over-used and drought-depleted Colorado River topped the list.  To read more about the reasons for those streams' listing, and about the entire list, you can go to this American Rivers web site, or see our earlier blog summary.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week
Water Quality -
  • EPA releases Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories for Clean Water Act 319 grants http://ow.ly/k4dSO
  • Both WV chambers pass bill to create new, likely more lenient selenium standard for regulating waterways discharges http://ow.ly/k4k1Z
  • Mississippi's state nutrient limits for wastewater treatment plants delayed; implementation still unclear http://ow.ly/k4rDt
  • World Resources Institute: Can Nutrient Trading Shrink the Gulf of Mexico's Dead Zone? http://t.co/MMzB1ZM333
  • National Geographic Magazine: "The Curse of Fertilizer-If we don’t watch out, agriculture could destroy our planet" http://bit.ly/11ebdvS
  • EPA "success spotlight" shines on Minnesota's removal of the Credit River from its list of impaired waters in 2012 http://1.usa.gov/XPFzbd
  • Grain Processing Corporation of Muscatine, Iowa, agrees to pay $129,000 for Clean Water Act violations http://ow.ly/kc0H4
  • Tennessee Valley Authority being sued by Alabama Dept of Environmental Management over Tennessee River pollution http://ow.ly/kc2yV
  • Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet works on plan to control pollution that affects Gulf of Mexico dead zone http://ow.ly/keCXt
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Mississippi River locks 16-22 to close due to flooding according to Army Corps of Engineers http://ow.ly/kcw2D
  • West Central Illinois residents along Illinois River should be wary of minor to moderate springtime flooding http://ow.ly/k4DyG
  • Rain prompts Mississippi River basin flood worries in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa http://ow.ly/kcesO
  • Davenport, Iowa residents and businesses start in earnest to prepare for yearly Mississippi River flooding http://ow.ly/k4ExP
  • Quad-City (IL-IA) officials keep close eye on Mississippi River as it moves toward flood stage http://bit.ly/ZXJFIv
  • Swollen Missouri River expected to hit just over 23 feet in Jefferson City, MO ow.ly/keDen
  • Photo series: Illinois River flooding forces evacuation of Marseilles residents http://ow.ly/keDAy
  • Barge damages Illinois River lock floods close 3 others http://ow.ly/keDSv
  • Flood-fighting intensifies on Mississippi River http://ow.ly/keE7w
Other News
  • Arkansas water supplier to ask ExxonMobil for plan to move oil pipeline from Little Rock area from drinking water source http://ow.ly/k0fpj
  • State wetlands and floodplains groups oppose WRDA streamlining provisions; news coverage http://ow.ly/k4e8D
  • State water and floodplain associations submit letter to Senate requesting major WRDA  bill modifications http://ow.ly/k48ty (PDF file of letter)
  • Webinar recording available: Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization: Implementing the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 http://ow.ly/k490G
  • South Dakota officials urge Army Corps of Engineers to conserve water in Missouri River reservoirs http://ow.ly/k4dv0
  • Army Corps' Morganza-to-Gulf hurricane protection system plan receives Mississippi River Commission recommendation http://ow.ly/k4E0H
  • Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District considers last-ditch proposal to save a struggling rural water system http://ow.ly/k4hMR
  • Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) getting swamped with advice as he drafts new WRDA bill to fund nationwide water projects http://bit.ly/10gd5Jb
  • Army Corps project costs and red tape are issues as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee starts its work on WRDA http://bit.ly/XQZk1T
  • Bismarck Tribune Editorial: Re-calibrate Missouri River purpose http://bit.ly/XQYPFa
  • Los Angeles Times Op-Ed: US needs a better disaster plan: use federal money for prevention, not just clean-up http://ow.ly/kbZ2U
  • Corps of Engineers awards $614.8 million contract for permanent pump stations at mouths of New Orleans canals http://ow.ly/kc2ZJ
Farm Bill-
  • House Agriculture Committee Chair will move ahead a farm bill markup May 15 despite calls to delay http://ow.ly/keCtS
Agriculture -
  • Farm belt’s soils recharged by melted snow and spring rains; farmers anxious to start working fields and planting seed http://ow.ly/k4fWp
  • New manure-spreading methods on Wisconsin farms are a conflict flashpoint among farmers, neighbors, environmentalists http://ow.ly/k4jDP
  • USDA Secretary Vilsack: climate research; drought mitigation and adaptation will be agency priorities http://bit.ly/XQZMxj
Climate and Weather -  
    Midwest Drought Monitor Map
  • Drought update: Storm system brought beneficial moisture to parts of central Plains; western Corn Belt last week http://ow.ly/ken68
  • Federal study: Last year's Plains' drought was natural aberration not caused by human-induced climate change http://ow.ly/k0eJe
  • Scientists predict busy Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season http://ow.ly/k4cXF
  • Agricultural meteorologist: the lack of moisture in lower levels of soils is leaving mid-US crop yields vulnerable http://ow.ly/k4ged
In the States -
  • Tennessee Clean Water Network releases it's 3rd TDEC Division of Water Resources report on enforcement http://bit.ly/17k7LSh
  • Minnesota State House passes bill to monitor groundwater; fight aquatic invasive species http://ow.ly/keCEA
In the Cities -
  • Green Infrastructure Pilot Provides Valuable Lessons for Kansas City, MO in its effort to control stormwater overflows http://bit.ly/XQXnmf
  • Nashville, TN prepares for largest and possibly lengthiest stormwater and sanitary sewer infrastructure overhaul in its history; local jobs eyed http://tnne.ws/11gCKga
Forestry -
  • U.S. Forest Service FY 2014 Urban and Community Forestry Challenge Cost Share grant program http://ow.ly/kbX4o
  • PNAS paper: Planting crops more closely could raise costs of forest conservation http://ow.ly/1VbjHc
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • BBC video and narrative of jumping invasive Asian Carp in the Illinois River; great close-up and slow motion video http://ow.ly/k4f5E
  • Wisconsin DNR urged not to remove Blanding’s turtle from endangered species list http://ow.ly/k4hdl
  • Groups explore using culverts to alleviate flooding, protect human safety, and provide fish and wildlife corridors http://ow.ly/k4taW
  • Invading fig buttercup plant takes over Beargrass Creek flood plain in Kentucky http://cjky.it/11haU3m
Gulf Coastal Region- 
  • New Mississippi River diversion project later this year may move more freshwater through Barataria Basin http://ow.ly/k4hCT
  • New research indicates Mississippi River diversions to rebuild Louisiana wetlands could actually harm the marshland http://ow.ly/k4diN
  • Louisiana coastal scientists say criticism of plans to build large sediment diversions is unfounded http://ow.ly/kc2OD
  • Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality performing dye testing on Bayou Lafourche to study contaminant flows http://ow.ly/k4F7V
Resource Extraction -
  • Drillers back out of Ohio amid flagging Utica Shale oil prospects http://bloom.bg/12mfzDK
  • Ohio, Texas and Utah officials tell Congress that Federal hydraulic fracturing rules aren't needed http://ow.ly/kc23r 
  • Surveyed experts agree on the priority environmental risks related to shale gas development http://ow.ly/kerqZ
Federal Budget - 
  • Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) may move this week to create a House-Senate budget conference committee http://ow.ly/k49ir
  • There’s no prospect of appointing a House-Senate conference to try to resolve Congress's $91 billion budget gap http://politi.co/15cvVBk
  • The Senate on Monday evening sent its 2014 budget resolution to the House for consideration http://bit.ly/1701RaG
Events -  Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar on this Blog page and here as a stand-alone calendar
  • To celebrate April 20-28 National Park Week, volunteers sought at various St. Croix National Scenic Riverway locations http://bit.ly/11hcORN
  • EPA, USDA, state partners to discuss priority Mississippi River Basin water pollution Issues; April 18-19 http://1.usa.gov/11hbQEZ
  • Northeast Nebraska volunteers sought to help remove trash, debris from Missouri River banks, sandbars http://bit.ly/XQYXEK
  • Webinar: A Study in Collaboration: Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts; April 30; noon CDT http://t.co/NHslegDtfY
  • Water infrastructure Summit re: the need to reinvest In US water infrastructure http://bit.ly/13anNBo
e-Newsletters, Publications and Journals -
  • The Nature Conservancy's April Great Rivers Partnership E-newsletter, including Mississippi River coverage http://ow.ly/k49EL
  • Weekly Newsletter from the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Water Headlines" http://conta.cc/XPEQqm
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy's latest (April 16) and archived WaterWays e-newsletter links here: http://ow.ly/jcEII
Other news- 
  • Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition finally has a headquarters (near Yankton, SD) after 12 years in existence http://ow.ly/k4tKs
  • Illinois Gov.; Louisiana Lt. Gov. call on nation to set a course to sustain the Mississippi River http://ow.ly/kbV6R
  • Scientific American: part 1 of a 2-part series on limits of human economic growth on Earth highlights food-water issues http://bit.ly/17oljw8
  • Scientific American: part 2 of a 2-part series on limits of human economic growth on Earth highlights food-water issues http://ow.ly/kbWdq
  • A look at the Science Museum of Minnesota's St. Croix Watershed Research Station and its work http://bit.ly/10gjJPF
  • Ramsey County, MN purchases largest Superfund site in state for $28 million: Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant http://bit.ly/10gcyqp
  • Has Wisconsin's proud pro-environment tradition faded? http://bit.ly/10gaRtk
  • Worldwatch Institute annual report: "State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?" http://bit.ly/12m9as2
  • Grants available to Wisconsin and Missouri teachers for field trips focusing on Upper Mississippi River; its resources http://bit.ly/XQXRsC
Political Scene -
  • "Bipartisanship" is still largely a pipe dream in both chambers of the U.S. Congress http://ow.ly/k4xZy
  • Iowa Lt. Gov. Reynolds continues to hint at her Republican run to fill retiring Sen. Harkin's US Senate seat http://bit.ly/15cubbu
Last Word
The most regular thing about ‘regular order’ in Congress these days may be the regularity of its disarray." - Reporter David Rogers in an April 16, 2013 Politico article

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Two Mississippi River Basin Waterways Included on American Rivers "Most Endangered Rivers" List

Earlier today (April 17), the river conservation organization American Rivers released its annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers list, "a list of ten rivers facing urgent threats that call for our immediate, decisive action." In the Mississippi River Basin, the Little Plover River (in Wisconsin) and Niobrara River (in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming) were highlighted among the top-ten threatened rivers. The over-used and drought-depleted Colorado River topped the list.

Little Plover River
The Little Plover River is a relatively short (six-mile) but highly-valued trout stream and tributary to the Wisconsin River. American Rivers cites "dramatic increases in groundwater withdrawals" in the River basin for reduced Little Plover River flows; decreases that "threaten the persistence of fish populations." Models indicate that groundwater withdrawal by high capacity irrigation and municipal water supply wells had historically reduced the River's flow by more than half its baseline flow by 2006.  American Rivers stresses that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) could mitigate this condition by enforcing public flow orders already developed for the Little Plover River, and goes on to note that DNR should "develop and implement management plans for maintaining adequate water flows and regulate High Capacity Wells throughout the state in order to protect other water users and the environment from overuse."

Flooding Niobrara River
The Niobrara River is a major tributary of the Missouri River, the lower portion of which is designated as a federal Wild and Scenic River under provisions of the national Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. American Rivers selected the River as endangered because of sediment build-up that "is raising the level of the Niobrara and threatening local communities with flooding." American Rivers calls upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve its sediment management within the Missouri River watershed and prioritize funding in its fiscal year 2015 budget to allow for that to happen.

A primary consideration in developing the list each year is American River's determination whether there is a major decision regarding a selected waterway that the public can help influence in the coming year. In announcing this year's listing, American Rivers noted that the report annually highlights "urgent threats to rivers and has spurred the public to take action. Through the report, we have helped sound the alarm on hundreds of rivers, saving them from threats like pollution and new dams."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

Mississippi River Basin Congressional
Here are the activities currently scheduled this week in the U.S. House and Senate that could have a significant impact on the sustainability of the Mississippi River Basin's natural and built resources. Where available, links are provided to the relevant Committee and legislation pages on the Internet. Many of the proceedings are webcast live (follow the appropriate link).  All times are Eastern.

Tuesday, April 16
Wednesday, April 17
Thursday, April 18

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~
Congressional Schedules on Major Water-Related Legislation Slip
Water Resources Development Act
The Senate's attention turned decidedly toward gun control this week, and the week's rumored floor activity on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) failed to materialize. Senate floor action on the bill that passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee in March has yet to be scheduled by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Since Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have not  reached agreement laying out gun debate conditions, that activity could take up considerable floor time, and push Senate WRDA action into May. On the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has scheduled its first formal hearing on WRDA for next Tuesday (April 16) after holding a "roundtable" on Army Corps inland waterways' issues this week.

Farm Bill
Both the the Senate and House Agriculture Committees expressed desires earlier in the month to hold Farm Bill mark-up sessions in April. However, a more realistic target for work in both committees is May, especially in light of this past Monday’s presentation to Congress of newly revised Farm Bureau Federation Farm Bill proposal (PDF file copy available here), which the committees are now taking under consideration.  Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) has indicated that the Committee may mark up a House bill as early as the week of May 6, possibly preceding any action in the Senate Committee.

Obama Budget Reprises Past Themes - - Broad  Strokes and Fine Points
Normally an inside-the-beltway, drama-filled event, this year's late release by  President Obama of his federal budget proposal has registered only a slight blip thus far on the Washington, DC political radar screen, coming as it has two months late, and following passage of both Republican House and Democratic Senate budgets.   The Administration's budget includes familiar themes from past years' plans (made before without success), including curbing farm subsidies and increased spending for infrastructure projects  White House officials say the budget is an attempt at compromise; trying to strike a balance between the House and Senate versions. The plan repeats deficit reduction overtures made during December 2012 White House negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH); negotiations that Boehner walked away from over his opposition to higher taxes on the wealthy.

If it is nothing else, the annual release of the budget proposal is a political statement.  And while no Administration's budget stands any realistic chance of being reflected en masse in any subsequent Congressional appropriation's bill, the annual rite does play one role: it reflects Presidential priorities at that moment in time. With that in mind, here is a link to an overview that includes details of the Obama team's water resource priorities (broken out by agency: EPA, USDA, Corps of Engineers, Interior and NOAA).  Links are also provided to each agency's detailed budget document.  To read a more broad perspective of the Obama budget proposal and how it may play out on the political playing field, see here.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • Tennessee Environmental Council and Rediscover East sue PSC Metals over alleged metals' water pollution http://ow.ly/jQxEd
  • Living on Earth report: media access to federal-Exxon Arkansas oil spill cleanup info gets routed through official Exxon channels http://ow.ly/jQykx
  • Two persons file federal lawsuit against Exxon Mobil for Arkansas oil spill from pipeline burst http://ow.ly/jT0Ch
  • Iowa's proposed strategy to reduce nutrient water pollution may impact many Northwest Iowa farmers http://ow.ly/jQCj1
  • EPA report: Oklahoma’s 2012 efforts to curb nonpoint source water pollution outpaced those in all other states http://ow.ly/jQDGr
  • City of Vicksburg, MS cited by the US EPA for raw sewage flowing into Mississippi River between 2007 and 2012 http://ow.ly/jYKV1
  • Midwestern universities seek grant for nutrient management center addressing farm runoff; Gulf of Mexico dead zone http://ow.ly/jXE9L
  • Environmental groups oppose new selenium water pollution rules for Kentucky ow.ly/jYlKJ
  • U.S. Water Alliance convenes first of four meetings of agriculture, water, and environmental leaders in Minneapolis http://ow.ly/jZRdZ
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Natural river diversion at Mardi Gras Pass south of New Orleans gains support from political, commercial interests http://ow.ly/jQtZ2
  • Waterways Council, Inc.’s Executive Committee endorses two waterways bills introduced by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) http://ow.ly/jYKDJ
  • Competition heats up among U.S. ports as they prepare for post-Panama Canal-expansion realities http://ow.ly/jQLDk
  • Army Corps of Engineers holding public meetings this week on its water management plans for the Missouri River basin http://ow.ly/jR8jA
  • Cairo, Illinois Mayor to Army Corps: halt reconstruction of Bird's Point Levee; it will promote floodplain development http://ow.ly/jSZAm
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee confronts Army Corps inland waterways issues during roundtable http://ow.ly/jY4d8
  • After gun control, Senate set to take up Water Resources Development Act next, as environmental concerns remain http://ow.ly/jVkcB
  • Congressional Budget Office says Senate's Water Resources Development Act would cost $12.5 billion over next decade http://ow.ly/jVnXv
  • Georgia may take centuries-old resource-state line battle with Tennessee over the Tennessee River to Supreme Court http://ow.ly/jYA4E
  • House Members introduce bill to take fish and wildlife projects off Army Corps' authorized Missouri River activity list http://ow.ly/jYDde
  • Water levels in Wisconsin River reservoirs vary depending on if they are in north or south http://ow.ly/jZSvz
  • Shifting the government's climbing flood risk exposure to private insurers is not as easy as it sounds http://ow.ly/k02kH
Farm Bill-
  • American Farm Bureau Federation sends Congress its revamped five-year farm bill proposal  http://ow.ly/jT3gz
  • House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders would like to move farm bill soon, but common sticking points remain http://ow.ly/jVlvz
  • Tough Farm Bill negotiating remains, especially if committees have to trim spending more than they did in 2012 http://ow.ly/jVlPp
Agriculture -
  • New York Times editorial board: ag-gag laws guarantee increased distrust of American farmers and food supply http://ow.ly/jVmcH
  • Dozen or so state legislatures have proposed or enacted bills making it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms http://ow.ly/jQvTr
  • New paper contends Congress should increase US agricultural research budget threefold to reverse decades of neglect http://ow.ly/jT88Y
Climate and Weather -
Drought Monitor Map
(click to enlarge)
  • NOAA: beneficial, soaking rains finally fall; providing some badly-needed drought relief in Plains states http://ow.ly/jYqli
  • Earth Networks: Summer 2013 is going to be a hot one across large stretches of the U.S. http://ow.ly/jMfun
  • Weather, now fluctuating on a grand scale, is becoming increasingly hard to forecast long-term http://ow.ly/jQB8y
  • Midwest drought eases but persistent dry conditions in western Plains states could still limit Mississippi River flow http://ow.ly/jT8V8
  • Quad-City, IA-IL area "officially" over drought; remainder of Iowa still abnormally dry, or in some stage of drought http://ow.ly/k05qK
  • Drought conditions persist in Missouri River basin; Army Corps enacts drought water conservation measures http://ow.ly/jTa10
  • Professionals name floods, drought, water quality, climate as major environmental; economic concerns at conference http://ow.ly/jVxXJ
  • New NOAA Drought Task Force report examines the causes of 2012 Great Plains drought http://ow.ly/jYjqn
  • Upper reaches of the Minnesota River Watershed may see Spring flooding materialize this week http://ow.ly/jYDOS
In the States -
In the Cities -
  • Strict US city planning regulations driven by property owners protecting own interests, not quality of life considerations http://ow.ly/jT7wk
  • St. Cloud, MN mayor highlights city's long connection to Mississippi River at annual State of the City event http://ow.ly/jVpcC
  • St. Paul, MN City Council adopts its Great River Passage Master Plan focused on the Mississippi riverfront http://ow.ly/jYKo1
Forestry -
  • Opportunity exists to set good precedents and protocols for using social teamwork in US National Forests' management http://ow.ly/jT20f
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Study: No DNA Evidence of Asian Carp in the St. Croix River; Scientists Urge Continued Action http://ow.ly/jMFp7
  • Midwestern Governors Association observes Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month by launching  LinkedIn group http://ow.ly/jR6hX
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Federal appeals court to review ruling that Gulf Coast landowners can sue companies over greenhouse gas emissions http://ow.ly/jQJMz
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy looks at the RESTORE Act and what it means for the Gulf Coast and its communities http://bit.ly/14SzoVz (PDF file)
  • As third anniversary of BP oil spill nears, Mississippi River delta wetlands' restoration advocated http://ow.ly/jVN9i
Resource Extraction -
  • Southern Illinois counties see first of fracking oil  and gas land rush, start to rake in fees http://ow.ly/jQxcd
  • Advances in fracking, crippling drought and depleted Ogallala Aquifer intensify longstanding water-drilling debates http://ow.ly/jQByQ
  • Oklahoma's oil and gas producers get little opposition over use of hydraulic fracking from the public http://ow.ly/jQBTP
  • South Dakota state scientists search for Black Hills sands suitable for oil-and-gas fracking http://ow.ly/jQDpA
  • Minnesota Public Radio: Minnesota companies eager to mine frac sand http://ow.ly/jVMIZ
Federal Budget-
  • Washington Post interactive visual exploring President's proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2014: income and revenue http://ow.ly/k0cgR
Events -  Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar on this Blog page and here as a stand-alone calendar
  • Kayaker Janet Moreland to embark on 3-1/2 month long historic trip down Missouri River from Montana to St. Louis http://ow.ly/jMkMU
  • 18th Int'l Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species; April 21-25; Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada http://ow.ly/jR7eG
  • Adaptive Management for Conservation  Success, June 10-21, Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, Front Royal, VA http://ow.ly/jVhXh
  • The Wetlands Initiative lists its April events targeting wetland resources' restoration in the Midwest http://ow.ly/jVjwK
  • Migratory Bird Festival; North Utica, IL; Saturday, May 4 http://ow.ly/jYkli
e-Newsletters, Publications and Journals -
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's "Waterfront Bulletin" for April 2013 http://ow.ly/jMjiC
  • Tennessee Clean Water Network's April 4, e-newsletter http://ow.ly/jMO4o
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy's April 9 WaterWays e-newsletter link here: http://ow.ly/jcEII
  • Weekly Newsletter from the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Water Headlines" http://bit.ly/YJofTA
  • U.S. Water Alliance "News and Waves" April newsletter http://ow.ly/jZRsE
  • Here is the 1 Mississippi Campaign's April newsletter link: http://ow.ly/jXC8G
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Watershed Network News for April 11 http://ow.ly/jYJs7
Other news-
  • Natchez Democrat op-ed: "Let's engage with entire Mississippi River" http://ow.ly/jT9mj
  • Brewers start to sign on to Natural Resources Defense Council's "Brewers for Clean Water" campaign http://ow.ly/jTpS9
  • EPA designates Center of Excellence for Watershed Management at Mississippi State University - a resource for universities across state http://1.usa.gov/YJnNVw
  • U.S. Appeals Court clears path for property owner 'rails to trails' takings lawsuits against the government http://ow.ly/jZSQT (PDF file of ruling)
  • State preparing to promote recreation, development along Kansas River; news: http://ow.ly/jZZeo Kansas web site: http://ow.ly/jZZaT
Political Scene -
  • Democrat Jim Mowrer all but certain to run for US House seat held by GOP Rep. Steve King (R-IA-4) http://ow.ly/jQv4O
  • U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA-13) officially kicks off her 2014 campaign for Pennsylvania Governor http://ow.ly/jTb6a
  • Democrat Robin Kelly easily wins race to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL-2) http://ow.ly/jVkW2
  • Minnesota’s 6th District US House race-Michele Bachmann (R) vs Jim Graves (D)-is one of top 2014 races to watch http://ow.ly/jXDpx
  • Louisville Courier Journal animated editorial cartoon on Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY) and Democratic rivals' relationship http://ow.ly/k07AZ (embedded below)
Last Word -
The timeline between the submission of a president’s budget and someone saying the phrase ‘dead on arrival’ is the shortest measure of time in Washington.”  - Tony Fratto, a spokesperson for George W. Bush’s Treasury Department and later the Bush White House, told to Yahoo News.

Schedules for Congressional Activity on Major Water-Associated Legislation Slip

Water Resources Development Act
The Senate's attention turned decidedly toward gun control this week, and the rumored floor activity on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) failed to materialize.  Senate floor action on the bill that passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee in March has yet to be scheduled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).  Since Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have yet to reach agreement laying out gun debate conditions, that floor action could take up considerable floor time, and push Senate WRDA action into May.  On the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has scheduled its first formal hearing on WRDA for next Tuesday (April 16) after having held a "roundtable" on Army Corps inland waterways' issues this week.

Farm Bill
Both the the Senate and House Agriculture Committees have expressed a strong desire to hold Farm Bill mark-up sessions this month.  However, a more realistic target for work in both committees is May, especially in light of this past Monday’s presentation to Congress of newly revised Farm Bureau Federation Farm Bill proposal (PDF file copy available here), which the committees are now taking under consideration.  Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) has indicated that the Committee may mark up a House bill as early as the week of May 6, possibly preceding any action in the Senate Committee.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Water Resource Priorities as Reflected in the Obama 2014 Budget Proposal

If it is nothing else, the annual release of the President's budget proposal is a political statement. And while no Administration's budget stands any realistic chance of being reflected en masse in any subsequent Congressional appropriation's bill, the annual rite does play one role in that it reflects the priorities of the Administration at the time of the budget's release. With that in mind, here an overview of what the Obama team's water resource priorities are (or not) for the immediate future, based on its 2014 budget proposal. The review is broken out by agency, and links are provided to each agency's detailed budget overview document.

Environmental Protection Agency (link to the EPA "Budget in Brief" here)
The proposal provides $8.2 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a decrease of $296 million, or 3.5 percent, below the 2012 enacted funding level.
  • The largest cuts come from reductions to the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) by a combined $472 million (the budget provides a combined $1.9 billion for the annual Federal contribution to both SRFs). The funding reduction, the Administration notes, would allow a program focus on communities most in need of assistance, and, they contend, would still allow the SRFs to finance approximately $6 billion in wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects annually. 
  • Funding for water programs would fall under the budget, coming in at $3.1 billion in fiscal year 2014 compared to $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2012.
  • The budget proposes to increase coordinating efforts between the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA programs, such as EPA’s Nonpoint Source Grants and Water Pollution Control Grants and USDA’s Farm Bill conservation programs. Under this initiative EPA would enhance its efforts to address nutrient pollution through working collaboratively with U.S. Department of Agriculture in high priority, focused watersheds, such as the Mississippi River Basin, and provide funding to states to undertake nutrient pollution reductions (including $15 million in Clean Water Act Section 106 grants).
U.S. Department of Agriculture (link to the USDA "Budget Summary" here)
The Administration looks to reduce U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expenditures by $37.8 billion over ten years by eliminating some subsidies paid directly to producers, reducing government crop insurance subsidies, and "streamlining" agricultural land conservation programs.  The budget would increase funding for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service by around $50 million over the level enacted in the fiscal year 2013 continuing resolution.
  • As proposed in his previous four budget plans, the President's fiscal year 2014 budget proposes to eliminate direct payments to producers, saving an estimated $3 billion annually. Farm Bill “direct payment” provisions supply producers fixed annual income assistance for having historically planted crops that were supported by government programs, regardless of whether the farmer is currently
    producing those or any other crops. 
  • USDA proposes to strategically target funding to address high priority conservation goals for improving water quality and water availability, land conservation, wildlife habitat, and wetland protection. Funding would provide for conservation programs that focus on priority landscapes "most in need of protection, emphasize partnering with local constituents to efficiently implement programs and initiatives, and help create jobs and strengthen the rural economy."
  • The Administration contends that high commodity prices have lowered producer demand for enrollment of farm land into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), as more farmers look to increase planted acres, and it proposes to cap the maximum allowable acreage enrollment in the CRP at 25 million acres, saving an estimated $2.2 billion over 10 years.  The purpose of the CRP is to assist farm owners and operators in conserving and improving soil, water, air and wildlife resources by converting highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive acreage normally devoted to the production of agricultural commodities to a long-term resource-conserving cover. Also eligible for the CRP are some of the country's water quality- or wildlife habitat-impaired areas that do not meet erosion criteria, such as the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Long Island Sound watersheds. 
  • The Administration proposes to permanently authorize annual mandatory funding, without further appropriation or fiscal year limitation for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) programs beginning in fiscal year 2014.   The LWCF is a Federal program established in 1964 to provide funds and matching grants for federal land management agencies, state agencies and local communities to acquire land and water, and easements on land and water, primarily for recreation and the protection of natural resources. Initially authorized for 25 years, the LWCF was extended for another 25 years. However, its current authority ends in January 2015. Discretionary funding for the LWCF is appropriated by Congress annually. 
  • Under this budget proposal, USDA would enroll nearly 12 million acres in the Conservation Stewardship Program, the largest rural conservation program, but would permanently reduce the program enrollment by almost 800,000 acres.
  • The Administration foresees USDA working cooperatively with other federal agencies such as the EPA, along with conservation districts, tribal organizations and others, to establish a monitoring network for pollution washing into waterways from agricultural lands.
Army Corps of Engineers-Civil Works (link to the Army Corps' Civil Works Budget Summary here)
The budget would provide $4.7 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers civil works program, a 5.5 percent decrease from the 2012 enacted level.
  • The budget continues to provide funding for the operation and maintenance of so-called "high performing projects," such as navigation on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and the Illinois Waterway. 
  • The President proposes reforms to the way that the Federal Government finances capital investments in support of navigation on the inland waterways including a new user fee; including establishing an annual per vessel fee to increase the amount paid by commercial navigation users sufficiently to meet their share of the costs of activities financed from this fund, and establishing an Infrastructure Bank that would help finance port deepening, levees and other major water resources development activities. 
  • The budget proposal includes funding to restore significant aquatic ecosystems "based on sound science and adaptive management."  Funds are provided for work on such "priority aquatic ecosystems" as the California Bay-Delta, Chesapeake Bay, Everglades, Great Lakes, and Gulf Coast. Funds are also provided for other aquatic ecosystem efforts, such as restoring Puget Sound and improving environmental outcomes in the Upper Mississippi River and the Missouri River.
Interior Department (link to the DOI "2014 Budget in Brief" here)
The $11.7 billion request for the Department of Interior is over 4 percent higher than the fiscal year 2012 enacted level and marks a substantial increase over the level the agency was provided following sequester cuts, which amounted to a funding reduction of about 9 percent. 
  • The budget proposes $963 million for research and development across bureaus, including $71 million for climate change science (a $13 million increase over 2012). It also includes $18 million to fund research with EPA and the Energy Department into hydraulic fracturing to better understand and minimize potential impacts.
  • As noted above, the Interior budget requires mandatory, full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund; requesting $600 million for the program in fiscal year 2014, a level over $200 million higher than current funding levels
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) budget request is $1.2 billion, which is $98.8 million above the 2012 enacted level (USGS details are provided in the DOI "2014 Budget in Brief" here and in this specific USGS budget summary).
  • USGS funding would include $180.8 million for the agency's "ecosystems" activities (funding USGS research and monitoring); $22.5 million above the 2012 enacted level. That amount includes a program increase of $3 million for research on new methods to eradicate, control, and manage Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi River Basin and prevent their entry into the Great Lakes. 
  • The USGS 2014 budget also includes $222.9 million for "Water Resources," $13.3 million above the 2012 enacted level. This budget category includes funding for programs that "collect, manage, and disseminate hydrologic data, model and analyze hydrologic systems, and conduct research and development leading to new understandings of and methods for gathering data."
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA details are included in this Department of Commerce "Budget in Brief")
The $5.4 billion National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) request represents an 8 percent increase over fiscal year 2012 funding levels. 
  • The budget proposal suggests $472.4 million for NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to improve the agency's ability to provide forecasts for communities preparing for climate change impacts.