Friday, May 31, 2013

Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program Authorized by State Legislature

The Minnesota State Legislature passed and Governor Mark Dayton has signed HF 976, an Omnibus Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Act, which, among other things, authorizes and funds the state’s new agricultural water quality certification program (also sometimes referred to as an “agriculture certainty program”). The purpose of the water quality certification program is to increase the voluntary implementation of agricultural conservation practices that then should result in water quality improvements in streams and lakes receiving runoff from enrolled farmland. The first-in-the-nation program is a piece of a wider federal strategy that would effectively give farmers "certainty" with respect to water quality regulations if they voluntarily choose to put land conservation practices in place for the benefit of improved water quality. Agricultural producers who implement a significant degree of conservation practices to reduce nutrient run-off and erosion would receive assurance (or "certainty") from Minnesota that their farms will meet the state's water quality standards and goals throughout the duration of the certainty agreement.

A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Feedlot Update newsletter released on May 31 stated: “The 2013 Legislature has adopted authorizing language and funded the Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program. The goal of the new state and federal partnership is to enhance Minnesota’s water quality by accelerating the voluntary adoption of on-farm conservation practices. The program is being administered by the Dept. of Agriculture. Operational measures are being developed, and four watersheds are being identified for pilot projects.”

The program resulted from a state-federal collaborative effort among MPCA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Minnesota's Department of Agriculture, Board of Water and Soil Resources, and Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

EPA and USDA have been exploring a variety of certainty mechanisms in conjunction with several states for some time, and the Minnesota certainty initiative could be viewed as one component of the Obama Administration's draft action plan to address the challenges facing ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources, announced by the Administration and reported on here in January 2012. Among other goals, that action plan calls for the "development of State regulatory certainty programs for reducing nutrient and sediment loads that will accelerate the adoption of voluntary conservation efforts" by 2013.   USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding and launching of the Minnesota initiative in January 2012.

Here is a link to the bill’s legislative page, where the text of the House- and Senate-passed bill can be accessed. The actual enacted language will be made available online later in the summer.

Brad Redlin, Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program Manager, can be contacted for additional program information (telephone: 651-201-6489;

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~

Next Week on Capitol Hill
Following a week off for the Memorial Day recess, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to resume its Senate floor Farm Bill consideration on Monday, with Senate leaders trying to forge a so-called time agreement in order to wrap up the legislation by the end of the week (and move on to take up immigration legislation).  Here is a link to a more complete farm bill update, and here a link to a listing of the other activities currently scheduled for next week in the House and Senate that could impact   Mississippi River Basin and Gulf Coast region natural resources.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) investigating need for "framework" to support interstate water quality nutrient and sediment trading
  • States and others argue that EPA's survey of national water quality conditions is flawed; cannot be used to justify new regulation
  • Scioto River in central Ohio among six rivers in statewide algae fight tied to the Gulf dead zone and Lake Erie
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency board approves reissuance of MS4 permit regulating urban stormwater discharges
  • Louisville (KY) Sewer District pays $161,000 fine for 135 million gallons in illegal sewage overflows
  • Lawsuits allege that reclaimed mountaintop removal mining sites are still polluting West Virginia waterways
  • Environmental groups file lawsuits over water pollution from closed West Virginia mountaintop mine sites
  • Three-year OSU and USDA Ohio study to track phosphorus in rainwater runoff from 30 farm fields across the state
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to award grants for reducing pollutants in lakes and streams; June 11 deadline 
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • New Orleans port terminal expands to receive oil and fracking gas by rail, ship to Gulf and up Mississippi River by barge 
  • Comment on draft assessment for Army Corps proposed Glover’s Point Bend Habitat Project (Missouri River) until 6/24 
  • CEQ extends comment period on draft interagency Guidelines for Federal water resources development projects: June 27 
  • The latest casualty of the U.S. drought may be Midwestern and Plains aquifers
  • Floodplain Science Network launches new website to provide relevant information addressing Midwest river challenges
  • National Weather Service flood warning issued for Mississippi River at St. Louis, MO, Alton Lock and Dam, Chester, IL
  • As soggy period continues, Central Iowans bracing for the first significant floods in three years
  • Recent rains ease drought, swell rivers; Army Corps believes it has Missouri River reservoir capacity to limit flooding
  • Parts of Iowa, Missouri and Illinois are bracing for yet another round of flooding as rivers rise
  • Illinois River again under flood watch; strong thunderstorms forecast Friday; possibly Saturday
  • Threat of flooding looms across Iowa; closing roads, cutting power, tainting drinking water, disrupting recreation
  • Floods close Mississippi River locks, halt barge shipments
Farm Bill-
  • The next five-year Farm Bill is progressing in the U.S. House but possible obstacles loom
  • Heritage Foundation political arm paints House farm bill as thinly-veiled Obama food stamp agenda bankrolling device
Agriculture -
  • Applications due by June 14 from farmers, ranchers, forestland owners interested in Conservation Stewardship Program 
  • Ohio cropland values and cash rental rates are projected to increase from 6.8% to 15.4% in 2013
  • UN panel: Decline in biodiversity of farmed plants and livestock breeds is gathering pace
Climate and Weather -
Click to Enlarge
  • U.S. Drought Monitor: Midwest drought eases significantly; Plains conditions split between improving and worsening
  • Three-day cumulative rain graphic illustrates just how inundated the U.S. Midwest has been this week:
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • MN Department of Natural Resources boosts number of inspectors; money spent to slow aquatic invasive species spread
  • US Fish & Wildlife Service estimates 18-yr cost to save small southeast Missouri cave-dwelling fish at $140,000-$4 million
In the Cities -
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Corps of Engineers officer: Louisiana missing its chance at federal cost-share money for coastal restoration projects
Resource Extraction -
  • Illinois House passes legislation to regulate horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the state; bill moves to Senate and
  • Illinois counties can do little but brace for fracking's impact in wake of hashed-out legislative compromise
  • Federal officials begin taking public comments on proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing on public lands
  • Nebraska poised to require disclosure of fracking chemicals used by drillers
Federal Budget -
  • White House to agencies: submit 2015 discretionary budget proposals 5 percent below 2014 enacted levels
Events -  Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar (here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • National Water Quality Monitoring Council Webinar: EPA’s Water Contaminant Information Tool; June 4; 1 PM EDT
  • Save the date; 10th Biennial Conference on University Education in Natural Resources;  Auburn U, AL; Mar 13-15, 2014
  • USFS Webinar: Forest Plan Revisions & the New Planning Rule: Considerations for all-lands & open space; June 5, 2 PM
  • “Making Change Happen for the St. Croix River" workshop; July 17; 5-9 pm; aboard the Grand Duchess, Hudson, WI
  • New Orleans' 5 May-July Workshops on “Urban Water Series: Strategies That Work” - flier with workshop dates & descriptions (see report under "Cities" above)
  • 4th Annual Choose Clean Water Conference: Choose Clean Water; June 4-5, Tremont Plaza Suites Hotel, Baltimore, MD
  • Capitol Hill Briefing June 3-Water Resources Development Act: Reducing the Risks and Costs of Future Flood Disasters
  • EPA Webinar: Using Interactive GIS to Plan Nutrient Reductions and Track Implementation; June 5, 11-12:15 EDT (log on as "guest")
e-Newsletters, Publications and Journals -
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Watershed Network News for May 28
  • Weekly "Water Headlines" Newsletter from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water
  • The Army Corps of Engineers' Spring edition of "Our Mississippi" magazine is now available (pdf file)
Other news-
  • Industry groups stepping up efforts to win the right to intervene in so-called “sue-and-settle” suits involving EPA
  • "Paddling Theatre" experience is nothing of the sort ever offered before on the Minnesota River
  • Owner of Mississippi environmental testing lab convicted of falsifying wastewater discharge reports
  • More than 140 kayakers from across country participate in 72-mile journey down Missouri River to Sioux City
  • Majority of humanity will live with severe pressure on fresh water resources within the space of two generations
  • Wal-Mart Stores pleaded guilty Tuesday to improperly dumping hazardous waste in California and Missouri
  • A timely article from the Union of Concerned Scientists on "Reinvigorating the Role of Science in Democracy"
Political Scene -
  • New Congressional Research Service report: about 20% of Federal laws passed in recent years were for naming post offices
  • Free-for-all anticipated in the Republican primary for Nebraska’s open U.S. Senate seat
  • Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) announces in that she will not seek reelection in 2014
  • Republicans pressing Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR-4) to run for US Senate against Sen. Mark Pryor (D)
  • Businessman McFadden becomes first Republican to challenge Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) for the first-term senator's seat
Last Word -
"Fresh water systems across the planet are in a precarious state. Mismanagement, overuse and climate change pose long-term threats to human well being." Declaration signed by over 350 top water scientists from around the world last week at the close of the "Water in the Anthropocene" conference in Bonn, Germany.  You can watch a telling "Water in the Anthropocene," three-minute film charting the global impact of humans on the water cycle here.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~

This Week and Next
As things heat up in the Mississippi River Basin, legislative activity will cool down in Washington, DC, next week, following several  (relatively) active weeks that witnessed movement on both the Farm Bill and the Water Resources Development Act.   Both the U.S. House and Senate are off next week for the Memorial Day recess, and will not be in session again until the week of June 3.  On Monday, June 3, the full Senate will resume Farm Bill consideration.  Only twelve of (as of May 23) 150 officially-offered amendments were considered during this week's Senate debate (see filed amendments listed on the Library of Congress page for the bill (click on "Amendments")).  The House Agriculture Committee passed its Farm Bill during a May 15 mark-up sessionHouse leadership this week confirmed that the full House will take up its bill in mid-June with a goal of completing it by the Congressional July Fourth recess.

It may be hard to find some Federal agency personnel today, as a Friday mass furlough of 115,000 employees at the IRS, EPA, HUD and OMB is occurring in response to budget sequestration cuts.  The furlough means offices will be closed to the public, and all but essential agency personnel will not be at work.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week  

Water Quality -
  • Federal district court rejects NWF challenge to EPA rule on state certification of Clean Water Act permits
  • Senate Majority Opposes Clean Water Act Guidance, Foreshadowing  Possible Future EPA Hurdles
  • Presence of endocrine disruptors in Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis, MN mirrors findings elsewhere in state, Midwest
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency beginning 6th of 10-year effort to assess condition of rivers, streams and lakes
  • Pollution Control Agency's state stormwater rules roil Minnesota cities
  • Minnesota lake makes "remarkable comeback"
  • In a new FERN/American Prospect report, Paul Greenberg discusses the Gulf Dead Zone and How to Fix It
  • Water nutrient cap-and-trade proposal draws bipartisan Senate subcommittee interest; news article: webcast and witness testimony:
  • Sierra Club lawsuit over Kentucky mine discharges targets Clean Water Act 'permit shield'
  • Senate Republicans reintroduce bill to block Obama Administration's Clean Water Act jurisdictional guidance
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Rebuild behind levee that failed or move on? Illinois River flood victims to meet tonight with Army Corps
  • Obama Wants Agencies To Revise Environmental Review and Permitting Rules To Speed Infrastructure Permits
  • Louisiana Gov declares state of emergency in preparation of Mississippi River crests predicted well above flood stage
  • Levee officials: Army Corps plan for armoring New Orleans area levees should undergo independent peer review
  • Army Corps of Engineers predicts amount of runoff flowing into Missouri River this year will be about 79% of average
  • Army Corps: reservoir releases out of Fort Randall Dam could help flush fine sediment out of the Missouri River
  • As ND's shale fields grows, so does fight over who has right to tap into multimillion-dollar fracking water market
  • Two St. Louis, MO flood gates at Broadway and Themis Street reopen after months of high Mississippi River water
  • USGS: Drop in US groundwater levels accelerated greatly between 2000 and 2008
Farm Bill-
  • For those tracking Senate floor Farm Bill amendments, follow this table, updated regularly
  • Senate off until June 3, when it will take up Farm Bill again - just considered 12 amendments so far
  • House leadership aide: goal is to complete House's Farm Bill by July 4 recess; Ag Chair Lucas says mid-June on floor
  • Senate passes Durbin-Coburn insurance farm bill amendment (see here's what that means:
  • National Journal Graphic: Five Things to Watch in the Farm Bill
  • Senates farm bill debate opens, expected to run into June; White House pledges support; wants deeper insurance cuts
  • White House: Senate should cut crop insurance subsidies by $1 billion a year before it passes the new farm bill
  • Proposed farm bills would cut billions from current spending levels
  • Farm Bill floor fights ahead (in June) in House on nutrition cuts, dairy policy, sugar and conservation compliance
  • Congressional Budget Office on Friday released its cost estimate of the Senate Ag Committee-passed farm bill
Agriculture - 
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial: "Bad year for farmers? Not if you count bloated crop insurance program"
  • Midwest farmers planting crops on almost any scrap of available land to take advantage of consistently high prices
  • U.S. farmers should begin winding down corn plantings over the next week to 10 days
  • US farmers driving floodlit tractors into the night have planted the most corn in any week on record after wet spring
  • Increasing U.S. organic food industry political clout isn't going over well with everyone in Congress
  • U.S. farmers dodge showers to plant corn at breakneck pace
  • Minnesota's struggling bioethanol makers hope to snap back after a down year for corn in 2012
  • US insecticide sales rise as more corn is planted and effectiveness of anti-pest genetic modification wanes
  • 2008 Farm Bill data reports are now live on the NRCS RCA Data Viewer; "Farm Bill reports" tab; Click on “What’s New”
  • Union of Concerned Scientists Vision for Healthy Farms in the 21st Century
Climate and Weather -
Click to Enlarge
  • Week's heavy rain over northern Plains and Midwest, halted planting but provided further drought relief; eradication
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Grass carp caught near Sartell, MN (upstream of St. Cloud) is northernmost find for Asian carp on Mississippi River
  • Thinking big may not be answer to saving large-river fish; future could depend on moving conservation to tributaries
  • Agrichemical companies are taking steps to determine why bees are dying off
  • Mining group faults Bureau of Land Management sage grouse study (Plains and Western state endangered species)
  • Scientists urge federal officials not to remove protections for gray wolves across all lower 48 states
  • US survey finds frogs, toads, and salamanders continue to vanish from landscape at an alarming pace
In the Cities -
  • Port of Dubuque, Iowa marina opens in hopes of drawing people off Mississippi River and into Port's attractions
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Louisiana Coastal restoration efforts complicated by the lack of a systemic Mississippi River plan
  • National Geographic: Louisiana delta is sinking; can $50 billion save it from rising seas, sinking land? Debate continues
  • 30 years of time-lapse satellite images show coastal Louisiana wasting away
  • Historic study will find out how the Mississippi River can really help coastal restoration
Resource Extraction -
  • Obama administration draws environmental and oil industry group criticism by issuing new draft fracking regulations
  • Environmental groups file lawsuit claiming federal agencies unlawfully approved Tennessee mountaintop removal mines
  • Tennessee Clean Water Network, others, file Endangered Species Act lawsuit vs. USFWS over coal mine water pollution
  • Tribal Chiefs declare Keystone XL pipeline consultation meeting invalid, walk out on State Department officials
  • House approves bill to take the decision of building Keystone XL pipeline out of Obama's hands despite veto threat
  • DOI Fracking Plan Wins Bipartisan Congressional Support Despite Advocates' Criticisms
  • "Clean Wisconsin" calls for the addition of more WI DNR staff to oversee increasing frac sand mine activity
  • Minnesota lawmakers compromise on sand mining rules; still leave key decisions up to local governments
  • Northern Louisiana shale natural gas a 'game changer' for New Orleans region; as forestry land sees gas boom
  • Illinois bill to regulate horizontal hydraulic fracturing in state unanimously passed by State House committee
  • Tennessee General Assembly committee signs off on new fracking rules to take effect June 18
Federal Budget -
  • Federal budget caps to be followed by House Appropriations Committee in crafting spending bills will all but kill chance of budget compromise
  • Treasury Secretary: government won't hit the debt ceiling until after Labor Day
  • US House proposes what are called "devastating" cuts to fiscal year 2014 Interior Department and EPA accounts
  • Here is link to House appropriators Interior, Forest Service and EPA funding caps that would mean significant program cuts (see above story)
Events -  Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar (here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • July 17: Tennessee Environmental Council Annual Membership Meeting; Nashville, TN
  • Registration for July 21-25 International Congress for Conservation Biology (Baltimore, MD) closes May 28
  • Green Lands Blue Waters 2013 Conference; November 20-21; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • Our Mississippi Teacher Workshop; Winona, MN June 25 9 am - 4 pm; Pre-registration required
  • Upper Mississippi River Basin Association June 4-6, St. Louis, MO meeting packets, with agendas, background materials
  • Webinar: Economic Benefits and Costs of Frac-Sand Mining in West Central Wisconsin; May 30, 10-11 CDT
  • This weekend's annual South Dakota Kayak Challenge now draws more than 130 kayakers to the Missouri River
  • Registration for July 21-25 International Congress for Conservation Biology (Baltimore, MD) closes May 28
e-Newsletters, Publications and Journals -
  • Weekly "Water Headlines" Newsletter from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy's May 21 and archived WaterWays e-newsletter links here:
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy May 2013 e-newsletter
  • Green Lands Blue Waters May update on news relating to agricultural land conservation in the Mississippi River Basin
  • EPA Climate Change and Water News - May 23
  • American Farmland Trust May E-News: Farm Bill, and coverage of AFT work around the US
Other news-
  • Chamber of Commerce: Green groups using “sue and settle” tactics to force new Environmental Protection Agency rules
  • "Climate Change Adaptation and Hazard Mitigation"-interview with Jessica Grannis; Georgetown Climate Center (audio)
Political Scene -
  • New poll shows U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) ahead of any potential 2014 GOP rivals by double digits
  • Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) tells his hometown paper he isn't so sure about running for a seventh term
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley's Chief of Staff plans to officially enter Iowa's U.S. Senate race in June
  • Sen. Blunt has "frank" talk with EPA Administrator nominee; Sen. Durbin not sure nominee can get 60 approval votes
Last Word
"When the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the (High Plains) aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains." - Michael Wines reporting in the New York Times

Monday, May 20, 2013

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

Following morning business on Monday, the Senate is currently scheduled to proceed to the consideration of S.954, the Farm Bill.  The Monday activity will likely start around 3:00 PM and run no later than 5:00 PM.  Farm Bill activity on the Senate floor will probably then continue into the remainder of the week on a schedule yet to be determined.

Below are other Mississippi River Basin-linked activities currently scheduled this week in the U.S. House and Senate. Where available, Internet links are provided to the relevant Committee and legislation pages. Many of the proceedings are webcast live (follow the appropriate link).  All times are Eastern.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~
Farm Bill
The House and Senate Agriculture Committees held mark-up sessions this week on their respective versions of the farm bill.  The Senate Committee considered and passed its bill during a May 14 meeting (on a vote of 15-5).  Four Republicans (Sens. Johanns (NE), McConnell (KY), Roberts (KS), Thune(SD)) and one Democrat (Sen. Gillibrand (NY)) voted against it.   Senate Majority Leader Reid has placed the Senate farm bill (S.954) on the legislative calendar to be considered by the full Senate beginning Monday, May 20 (at about 3 PM EDT).  The House Committee passed its bill during a May 15 session after nine hours of debate by a vote of 36-10.  The House will likely take up its bill in June. You can read more news coverage on the matter under the "Farm Bill" heading, below.  And you will find links to a variety of legislative and other farm bill resources at our periodically-updated "2013 Farm Bill Resources" web page.

Water Resources Development Act
The U.S. Senate passed its version of the Water Resources Development Act (S. 601) on Wednesday (May 15). Commonly known as "WRDA," the legislation is a huge public works bill that periodically authorizes flood control, navigation, and water resource projects and studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  There are numerous bill provisions that impact water resources nationwide, many of which are contentious and have been reported on widely elsewhere (also see here for other examples).  The bill's so-called project "streamlining provisions" are particularly contentious and opposed by many environmental organizations, lawyer groups, and state wetlands and floodplain managers.  In addition to sections of the bill of a more national scope, the Senate-passed measure contains several provisions that directly reference and would impact Mississippi River Basin and Gulf Coast waters.  To see an overview of those provisions, you can read this summary posted earlier on this blog site.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • Record nitrate levels in Raccoon and Des Moines rivers coming from farmland threaten Des Moines, Iowa area tap water
  • Record nitrate levels from fertilizer-laden farm runoff in rivers used by many cities for drinking water
  • Scotts Miracle-Gro removes phosphorus from lawn fertilizer line to help reduce harmful algal blooms
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency studies confirm wide variety of unregulated chemicals in state lakes and streams
  • Minnesota lakes and streams have ubiquitous chemical contamination
  • Settlement reached over feedlot pollution (manure and fertilizers) near Lake Independence (MN)
  • Updated federal advice on mercury levels in fish appears stalled within U.S. department of health
  • EPA Clean Water Act Section 319 Program "success spotlight" on Metcalf Ditch, Indiana (contaminated with nutrients)
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
Water Resources Development Act
  • Sen. Landrieu (D-LA) revamps amendment to freeze flood insurance rates for 5 years, clearing Senate WRDA action
  • US Senate Passes Water Resources Development Act; news coverage:
  • Water Resources Development Act passes Senate by vote of 83-14, still faces uphill House fate
  • Here is the Library of Congress page for the Senate-passed Water Resources Development Act
  • Here's the roll call breakdown from today's Senate 83-14 vote passing the Water Resources Development Act (S. 601)
  • Senate's just-passed Water Resources Development Act authorizes Mississippi River Basin infrastructure study
  • Here is Senate's Water Resources Development Act wording authorizing a Mississippi River Basin infrastructure study
Other Water Resources News
  • FEMA head reportedly promises to redo flood-risk maps to take locally built levees into consideration
  • Sen. Alexander (R-TN) threatens Army Corps' reprogramming requests over Cumberland River basin restrictions
  • Senate passes bill that would stop Army Corps of Engineers from restricting fishing in Cumberland River valley
  • Marseilles Lock and Dam's lock repair to close part of Illinois River for at least a week
Farm Bill-
  • Your "one-stop shop" for 2013 Farm Bill status updates and resources (UPDATED May 17)
  • Next stops for Farm Bill: floors of Senate (next Monday) and House (June); then conference committee (before 9/30)
  • AP: Comparing Senate and House farm bills (nice high-level overview)
  • NPR: Big Ag, some enviros agree - farmers receiving insurance subsidies should be required to be good land stewards
  • Senate panel approves massive farm bill; AP story:
  • See compilation of comments from groups and Senators on the Senate Ag Committee-passed farm bill here:
  • National Association of Conservation Districts: Conservation Compliance Coalition Praises Senate Farm Bill Agreement
  • U.S. Senate's Monday calendar: "Following morning business, the Senate will proceed to the consideration of S.954, the Farm bill"
  • POLITICO: House Committee approves farm bill; Senate floor debate expected to begin next week; House in June
  • NY Times: House Agriculture Committee passes farm bill; mostly Democrats voted against bill after 9 hours of debate
  • The Caucus Blog (New York Times): “The most contentious fight during the hearing was over cuts to food stamps"
  • House Agriculture Committee approves farm bill by vote of 36-10. Here is committee's media release:
  • House Farm Bill draft food stamp program cuts likely to spur opposition from Democrats
  • Politico overview of House farm bill rolled out by Ag Committee: Chair Frank Lucas "tacked to the right"
  • NY Times editorial board: Allowing food stamps cuts "wrong position fiscally and morally" "terrible [House] strategy"
Agriculture -
  • Plight of the bee - disappearing in record numbers - symbol of much that is haywire in current farm-political system
  • Rise in prices for agricultural land slowed somewhat to start the year in parts of the U.S. Farm Belt
  • US farmland prices rise despite weak grain market; whether market is overheating is becoming feverishly discussed
Climate and Weather -
Click to Enlarge Drought Monitor Map
  • Dryness, drought ease significantly in Plains, some of Upper Mississippi Valley; remain unchanged elsewhere in region
  • For the first time in human history, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400
  • ppm
  • Do we need a better yardstick to measure severe droughts? The US Drought Monitor might be due for a tuneup
  • For insurers, no doubts on climate change, from Hurricane Sandy to the Midwest Corn Belt drought
In the Cities -
  • Federal agencies expand nationwide urban waterway revitalization efforts; include two Mississippi River Basin cities
  • St. Louis and Kansas City, MO among eleven cities nationwide joining EPA's Urban Waters Federal Partnership
  • Louisville, KY Metropolitan Sewer District sewer push begins with vision of cleaner water' more growth
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Study will evaluate Louisiana Coastal Master Plan's assumption that Mississippi River sediment can offset sea-level rise
  • Louisiana lists 39 restoration projects that would be financed with BP oil spill fine money
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announces creation of fund to restore Louisiana, Gulf Coast natural resources
Resource Extraction -
  • Minnesota compromise frac sand deal nixes effort to put trout stream areas off limits to mining
  • Interior Department unveils revised proposal to regulate fracking oil-and-gas development on Federal/Tribal land
  • Duke University and U.S. Geological Survey study: Shale gas production in Arkansas has not contaminated groundwater
  • The future of fracking in East Tennessee being debated
  • Compromise means bill to regulate horizontal hydraulic fracturing, drilling in Illinois is ready to move forward
  • Proposed state fracking legislation expected to unleash Southern Illinois oil boom
Events - Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar (here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • Greater New Orleans Foundation, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law & Policy, others: Urban Water Series May-July
  • May 22 in-depth discussion of coastal issues: The Louisiana Coast: Last Call; Loyola University New Orleans; 6-8 PM
  • Save the date: Fishers & Farmers Partnership for the Upper Mississippi River Basin meeting; LaCrosse, WI June 25-26
  • MN DOT/LRRB Complete Streets Planning & Implementation Guidebook Seminar; June 4; St. Paul, MN and webinar
e-Newsletters, Publications and Journals -
  • EPA’s Nonpoint Source News-Notes, May 2013, is now online at explores new polluted runoff management tools; programs
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's May 2013 "Waterfront Bulletin"
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's May 14 Watershed Network News e-newsletter
  • Weekly "Water Headlines" Newsletter from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy's May 14 and archived WaterWays e-newsletter links here:
  • The Horinko Group May "Sustainabulletin" Newsletter; with Ogallala aquifer, Farm Bill program, fracking, other items
Other news-
  • OMB review sees greater benefits than costs in regulations, especially EPA's
  • New USGS Maps Show the National Distribution and Trends of Pesticide Use, 1992-2009
  • Follow along the paddle down the Namekagon River, from Cable to Danbury, Wisconsin; May 19-24 on this blog:
Political Scene -
  • Rick Weiland is the last man standing in South Dakota's Democratic US Senate primary field
  • EPA Administrator nomination in doubt, angering Democrats
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approves Gina McCarthy's nomination to head EPA in 10-8 party-line vote
  • Retirements and confirmation fights create high-level vacancies at USEPA
  • Former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker (R) makes his Iowa US Senate campaign official
  • Utility executive enters 2014 race for Louisiana's U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D)
Last Word -
Olympia Snowe
"Isn't that amazing? To work a five-day workweek? Because what happens is that, you know, on Mondays - at least in the Senate - Monday night we'd have what you'd call a bedcheck vote. Just to get, you know, the machinery of the Senate up and running so that we can start the committee process on Tuesday morning ... By Thursday, you know, jet fumes. The smell of jet fumes ... Everybody's heading home, wanting to know when they can adjourn on Thursday so they can leave. [This] very short version of a workweek; makes it very difficult to deal with complex issues. And basically they're not even getting the routine matters of business accomplished. We can't pass a budget! Which is preposterous." - former Republican U.S. Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe discussing her new book, "Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress"

The Senate's Water Resources Development Act and the Mississippi River Basin

The U.S. Senate passed its version of the Water Resources Development Act (S. 601) on Wednesday (May 15). Commonly known as "WRDA," the legislation is a huge public works bill that periodically authorizes flood control, navigation, and water resource projects and studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  There are numerous bill provisions that impact water resources nationwide, many of which are contentious and have been reported on widely elsewhere (also see here for other examples).  The bill's so-called project "streamlining provisions" are particularly contentious and opposed by many environmental organizations, lawyer groups, and state wetlands and floodplain managers.  In addition to sections of the bill of a more national scope, the Senate-passed measure contains several provisions that directly reference and would impact Mississippi River Basin and Gulf Coast waters.  The more notable include:
  • An amendment included in the bill sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-RI) (passed 67-32) that would affect natural resource protection and restoration in the Gulf Coast by authorizing the creation of a national endowment to support the restoration and protection of oceans, coastal areas and the Great Lakes.
  • An amendment offered by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) (passed) to provide for a multiagency effort to slow the spread of Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins and tributaries.
  • Sen. Richard Durbin's (along with others) amendment (agreed to by Unanimous Consent), which includes language authorizing the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out a study of the built flood control and navigation infrastructure within the greater Mississippi River Basin.  Called the "Greater Mississippi River Basin Severe Flooding And Drought Management Study," its authorized purpose would be "(1) to improve the coordinated and comprehensive management of water resource projects in the greater Mississippi River Basin relating to severe flooding and drought conditions; and (2) to evaluate the feasibility of any modifications to those water resource projects, consistent with the authorized purposes of those projects, and develop new water resource projects to improve the reliability of navigation and more effectively reduce flood risk."
  • An amendment offered by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and passed on a voice vote that would block the Army Corps from imposing fees on states for withdrawing water from certain Missouri River reservoirs.  The Hoeven language specifically states that, "No fee for surplus water shall be charged under a contract for surplus water if the contract is for surplus water stored on the Missouri River." 
Other WRDA amendments passed on the Senate floor and now included in the bill that could significantly influence the way water resources are managed in the Mississippi River Basin (while not mentioning the River Basin by name) include:
  • An amendment sponsored by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) (passed by Unanimous Consent) that would change WRDA language requiring a Government Accountability Office study on the Army Corps’ water management response to floods, storms, and droughts so that it includes an evaluation of the reduction in long-term costs and vulnerability to infrastructure through the use of resilient construction techniques.
  • An amendment offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), which would arguably benefit smaller ports and harbors.  Passed by Unanimous Consent, the language would change the formula for Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund allocations to states for harbor maintenance activities, under which fund allocations would be limited to those states that contributed at least 2.5% of the total amount paid into the fund, and that received less than 50% of those contributions back in the prior three years. The Boxer amendment would also prioritize projects receiving the lowest levels of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund money compared to the amount contributed to the Fund in the previous three years.
Thirteen Republicans and one Democrat (Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont) voted against the Senate bill (three Senators did not vote).  In the Mississippi River states, eight Senators voted for the measure, with only Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voting no.  Additionally in the River Basin, Tom Coburn (R-OK) voted against the WRDA bill.

Action on a companion WRDA bill in the U.S. House is months away, by most accounts.  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over WRDA, will likely conduct a series of meetings and hearings on WRDA-related matters before crafting a measure and considering it officially.

Importantly, WRDA does not appropriate funds for those projects and programs. That job falls to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees each year. WRDA projects and costs authorized under the act have typically far outstripped the revenue from their two major funding sources: the Inland Waterway Trust Fund and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, both of which are vastly oversubscribed and fiscally unsound. This is due in large part to the past WRDA tradition of placing numerous water resources projects into the WRDA bill that for the most part now meet the congressional definition of an "earmark" ("congressional earmark" - House Rule XXI, Clause 9(a)). And the current House ban on earmarks would largely put a stop to that process, arguably necessitating changes to WRDA that provide some mechanism for identifying and prioritizing funding for needed water resource projects.

Monday, May 13, 2013

UPDATED: Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

Senate floor activity on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) moved along slowly last week (with only four of the amendments to the bill considered and passed thus far).  Here is a link to a description of the significant amendments passed last week. Further full Senate activity likely will occur during this week.  There will be a Senate floor vote on a motion to invoke cloture on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) at noon Tuesday, unless the two sides come to an agreement.  The vote would take a 3/5 majority to pass and would limit further bill consideration to 30 hours.

Below are the other 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.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

~Virtual Newspaper for an Aquatic World~
Farm Bill Resources
The House and Senate Agriculture Committees will be holding mark-up sessions next week on their respective versions of the farm bill (Here is the Senate bill; and here, the House bill).  The Senate Committee will consider its bill during a May 14, 10 AM meeting, and the House Committee in a May 15 session.  This is only the beginning of a lengthy legislative process of crafting and passing a comprehensive farm bill. Here is a link to a compendium of on-line resources you may find useful during the farm bill considerations over the next days, weeks and months, including links to bills, hearings, legislator's contacts and more.  You can see many more related news links below, under "Farm Bill."

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week 

Water Quality -
  • EPA committed to study and development of Total Maximum Daily Load of nutrients in Illinois River watershed
  • Fathead minnow acquires an outsized importance for researchers studying endocrine disruption
  • Environmental groups petition EPA to set numeric conductivity standard for waters near mountaintop mines
  • Conservation, citizen groups to file lawsuit to halt hog farm construction in Arkansas' Buffalo National River basin
  • Media coverage on Kentucky Waterways Alliance, others' petition to the EPA to adopt a conductivity standard
  • EPA approves Pennsylvania’s 2012 list of impaired waters under Clean Water Act; 263 are newly added to list of 7,009
  • Operator of uncertified West Virginia coal slurry dam has until June 3 to certify structure as sound
  • City of Grand Island, Nebraska wastewater plant accused of polluting surface water; lawsuit threatened
  • $120 million facility will treat mercury-contaminated water at Oak Ridge (TN; head of East Fork Poplar Creek)
  • House lawmakers support funding of EPA pilot projects to integrate wastewater and stormwater infrastructure planning
  • Supporters step up efforts to save EPA clean water and drinking water state revolving funds from spending cuts
  • Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) asks Exxon CEO to explain contradictory statements on 210,000 gallon Arkansas oil spill
  • How mussel farming could help to clean polluted surface waters

Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -

Water Resources Development Act
  • Senate approves four Water Resources Development Act amendments; final vote could be next week
  • Senate takes up Water Resources Development Act but it faces high level opposition
  • Obama administration objects to Vitter-Boxer Water Resources Development Act proposal
  • White House releases statement on Senate WRDA - "is deeply concerned with the project permitting provisions"
  • Proposed Senate Water Resources Development Act provisions to speed water projects riles critics
  • Boxer defends her deal with Vitter to streamline environmental oversight of Army Corps of Engineers in WRDA bill

Other Water Resource News
  • Despite a wet April, snowmelt lags and the amount of water flowing into the Missouri River remains below average
  • House Members push Army Corps in letter to use port taxes to improve US harbors; not fill funding gaps
  • Coast Guard has closes portion of Mississippi River near its confluence with Missouri River after barges break free
  • As climate drives US breadbasket northward, farm commodity transportation shifts away from Mississippi River options
  • Representatives from 14 Louisiana parishes head to Washington, DC to rally for flood insurance cost relief
  • Government leaders from across South Louisiana working to build flood insurance coalition to change federal policy
  • Widening of Panama Canal prompts calls for US port expansions; but not all are enamored by the urban side effects
  • Reminder: May 28 deadline to comment on federal water resource Principles & Guidelines; Draft Interagency Guidelines
  • Army Corps of Engineers approves start of latest construction for rebuilding of New Orleans levee system
  • Army Corps of Engineers announces plans to restore Missouri River shallow water habitat north of Atchison, KS
  • $20 million from USDA Wetlands Reserve Program set for AR, KY, LA, MS, MO and TN landowners
  • Senate energy committee passes four hydropower bills, including two that have passed House and
  • Sen. Alexander (R-TN) threatens to restrict Army Corps' funding transfers over "unreasonable" fishing restrictions
  • Articles on the high Mississippi and Illinois water levels this past week:
  • Chillicothe, Missouri residents clearing debris and assessing Illinois River flood damage as FEMA prepares to come in

Farm Bill-
  • Members of Senate Agriculture Committee have received a draft of the farm bill; link here:
  • Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow's summary of the Senate farm bill:
  • Senate Agriculture Committee schedules farm bill markup session for Tuesday, May 14, 10 AM EDT; room 328A Russell SOB 
  • National Farmers Union encouraged by initial farm bill draft circulated to Senate Agriculture Committee members
  • Rep. Collin Peterson (ranking House Agriculture Committee Democrat) confident on prospects for passing a farm bill
  • Sen. Harkin (D-IA) on Senate farm bill: “very happy about conservation provisions . . . conservation compliance"
  • Unlikely there will be a farm bill vote by full Senate before the Memorial Day recess
  • For the most part, the Senate draft farm bill resembles the one passed by full Senate last year
  • Senate Farm Bill Released; Would Expand Insurance Programs, Drop Direct Payments
  • Draft Senate farm bill courts Southern GOP votes with target prices for rice and peanut producers
  • Groups largely praise Senate farm bill draft
  • Discussion Draft - Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013: (PDF file)
  • Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act committee summary:
  • House Ag Committee Chair Lucas retools farm bill; sets goal of $38 billion in 10-year savings; cuts from food stamps
  • Lucas: farm bill will pass, after possibly 100 farm bill amendments in committee; at least that many on House floor
  • Democratic House members to introduce bill Wednesday to reform USDA conservation programs; influence farm bill debate
  • Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR); twelve other House Members, introduce bill to "modernize conservation priorities"
  • House Majority Leader to House Republicans: "we will consider a farm bill produced by the Agriculture Committee"
  • House Agriculture Committee Chair opposes plan to link crop insurance premium subsidies to conservation compliance
Other Farm Bill News
  • Ag, conservation groups offer conservation compliance proposal: Would avoid means testing for crop insurance
  • Agricultural groups agree to farm bill compromise plan to tie conservation compliance to crop insurance subsidies
  • American Farm Bureau Senior Director of Congressional Relations discusses farm bill conservation compliance prospects
  • Farm, conservation groups ink 'historic' farm bill language deal linking stewardship to crop insurance
  • Former USDA officials, watchdog environmental group say conservation should be crop insurance subsidy prerequisite
  • Calls mount for deeper farm subsidy and food stamp spending cuts in farm bill
  • Environmental Working Group launches campaign to underscore "need for federal farm bill reform"
Agriculture - 
  • Corn belt farmers whipsawed by drought, then rain across region
  • Montana farmers are adapting to climate change by shifting planting schedules and selecting different crops
  • Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors' advisers: "Agricultural land prices are veering further from what makes sense"
  • Agriculture groups have a keen interest in this week's Senate consideration of the Water Resources Development Act
Climate and Weather -
Click to enlarge
  • US Plains drought persists; wet, cool weather "definitely dented or eliminated the drought in much of the Midwest"
  • Farmers and ranchers in parts of US West and Plains pondering prospect of another year of drought
  • NASA climate study predicts that, worldwide, "wet areas will get wetter and dry areas will get drier"
In the Cities -
  • Louisville, Kentucky tree commission wants developers to save or plant more trees to replace those lost when building
  • Alternate methods for dealing with New Orleans area stormwater are the focus of workshop series
  • U.S. Conference of Mayors report documents increasing spending on, challenges of water-wastewater infrastructure
Forestry -
  • 2.4 million trees planted on 4000 acres in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Illinois in Mississippi River valley
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Studies: Midwestern frogs decline and mammal populations altered due to invasive European buckthorn plant
  • Asian carp serve as visible icon for invasive species
  • Monitoring for Asian carp to increase in Illinois this year
  • 1 °C temperature rise would shift painted turtle population to 100% female and earmark species for extinction
  • Three Minnesota dogs now specially trained to work with MN DNR; sniff out invasive zebra mussels
  • University of Wisconsin research: Shrinking North American snow cover puts invertebrates and amphibians at risk
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Environmental groups criticize use of BP oil spill Gulf recovery money to fund Gulf State Park convention center
  • Mississippi Secretary of State: proposed Louisiana levee may pose flood risk for low-lying south Mississippi areas
Resource Extraction -
  • 13 energy-producing states tell EPA it should not provide "back-door entry for federal oversight of fracking"
  • Southern Illinois region braces for oil rush as Illinois Legislature considers fracking regulations
  • Forest Service mulls proposed coal lease in southeast Ohio in Wayne National Forest; seeks public comment
  • Republicans; energy representatives criticize pending DOI hydraulic fracturing rules as burdensome; expensive
Federal Budget -
  • U.S. House and Senate reach impasse over how to move forward on their respective budget proposals
  • CBO plans a May 14 release of updated 10-year baseline projections of federal spending, revenues and budget deficits
  • House GOP will wait until June to begin the process of passing annual (fiscal year 2014) appropriations bills
Events -  Information on all past and future events listed here can be viewed in the on-line calendar (here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • National C-FAR Capitol Hill seminar: Organization of Agricultural and Natural Resource Markets; May 13; noon RSVP:
  • Save the date: National Roundtable on New Tools for Water Quality: Trading and Beyond; July 18; Cincinnati, OH
  • Those interested in designating St. Croix River region as National Heritage Area encouraged to attend May 16 event
  • May 14 webinar will discuss effects of nanomaterials on soil health and the food chain; 11:00 AM EDT; register:
e-Newsletters, Publications and Journals -
  • Weekly "Water Headlines" Newsletter from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water
  • Peer-reviewed science journal Nature publishes a special edition on genetically modified crops
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy's May 8 and archived WaterWays e-newsletter links here:
  • Green Lands Blue Waters bi-weekly update re: Mississippi River Basin Continuous Living Cover advancement on agricultural land
  • Here is the "1 Mississippi" Campaign's May newsletter
Other news-
  • Director of USEPA Criminal Investigation Division: "There are significant geographic regions we can no longer cover"
  • Globe and Mail reporter: "What I found on my road trip along the Keystone pipeline route"
  • Mississippi Water Walkers arrive in Louisiana with water from river's source after two month trek to raise awareness
Political Scene -
  • And now for something completely different - a Congressional "Hotdish Off" featuring Minnesotan "delicacies"
  • Republican Rep. Steve King (R-IA) announces that he will not run for US Senate
  • GOP prospects will start announcing US Iowa Senate intentions soon in 2014 race against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley
  • Louisiana in top five of Roll Call's "Clout Index" - index of potential influence each state has on national affairs
  • Former Madison County Chief to challenge freshman Rep. Davis in Illinois 13th House district - announcement today
  • Longtime Kentucky environmental lawyer eyes underdog challenge to McConnell for US Senate seat
Last Word -
"We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong." - U2 band member, Bono, whose birthday is today.