Friday, December 4, 2015

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Most of the Water News - None of the Spin~
This Week . . .
Many Senators and House members left Washington soon after Thursday's votes, to begin an early weekend. Nonetheless, Congressional leaders remain guardedly optimistic that Republicans and Democrats can craft an omnibus 2016 fiscal year appropriations bill and stave off a December federal government shutdown. Negotiators hope to conclude negotiations on the bill by Friday, so that lawmakers have time to debate the legislation before the current funding authority expires on December 11.

Although agreement has been reached on most agency spending levels, negotiators still disagree on funding levels for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year. And major spending bill disagreements remain over policy issues. House Democrats received and quickly rejected a GOP offer in the middle of the week, largely because of its "poison pill" policy riders, many relating to environmental issues. Democrats quickly provided a counteroffer, which, among other things, seeks an extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as the elimination of numerous GOP policy riders. Among the water-related riders still in play are those blocking funding to implement the Waters of the U.S. rule, the Interior Department's proposed stream protection rule, and a Presidential executive order directing federal agencies to account for sea level rise and stronger storms when building infrastructure and making grants.

On Tuesday, House and Senate conferees finalized a $305 billion transportation bill.  The bill moved quickly through both chambers on its way to the President, who is expected to sign the measure today  (December 4), the latest highway spending deadline. Passage ends a succession of 36 short-term extensions over 20 years, and provides authority for surface transportation spending through 2020.

Of Mississippi River stakeholder interest, the bill would protect funding for mass transit, and increase money for pedestrian and bicycle programs, while adding new safety requirements for crude-by-rail shipments. Also agreed to is language allowing municipalities to use federal infrastructure and tax-exempt municipal bonds to finance upgrades to drinking and wastewater infrastructure (striking a 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act provision barring cities from combining the two funding mechanisms). The bill also includes language from the proposed Federal Permitting Improvement Act (S. 280), revising the process for federal approval of major infrastructure projects by establishing best practices, requiring coordination of federal agency review of projects, and shortening the period for challenges to final decisions for issuing project permits. Also approved was a Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) amendment that will require transportation planning agencies to study and provide for the mitigation of stormwater runoff impacts before construction.

The highway legislation reverses $3 billion in cuts to crop insurers that were included in the two-year budget agreement by finding offsets to those cuts within the dividend that the Federal Reserve pays to banks. Although the federal crop insurance program cost an average of $3.4 billion annually from fiscal years 2003 through 2007, it ballooned to an average of $8.4 billion annually in subsequent years through fiscal year 2013. So, crop insurance reform efforts
are very likely to continue. The bill is free from unrelated riders, except for one reauthorizing the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

 And lastly, of interest to all . . . the transportation bill establishes a pilot program to let travelers bring cats and dogs on certain Amtrak trains.

To close out an unusually busy week on Capitol Hill, on Thursday the House passed the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015; a bill that contains contentious language streamlining the environmental permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act - creating a new body to speed up the federal permitting process for large infrastructure projects. The House bill faces strong Democratic opposition in the Senate and the White House threatened to veto the bill earlier this week. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee developed its own, bipartisan energy bill earlier this year, which may form the starting point for negotiating compromise legislation with the House in 2016.

Finally, we turn to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices will hold their weekly conference
today, and discuss if they should consider a long-running wetland jurisdiction case, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co. At issue is whether an Army Corps of Engineers' Clean Water Act jurisdiction decision can be challenged in court. In November, the Obama administration filed a petition with the Supreme Court regarding the Hawkes Co., Inc. appeal, and a related, Kent Recycling Services LLC v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appeal. The petition requested that the Court consider one case rather than tying the two together, suggesting that the Court keep the Kent Recycling case on hold while it considers the Hawkes case (to avoid unnecessary complications). The Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents both Kent Recycling and Hawkes Co., has urged the court to consolidate the two cases.

 . . . and Next Week
More of the same.  Spending bill deliberations will take center stage.  If reaching a deal on an omnibus spending package before the December 11 deadline looks unlikely, lawmakers could pass another short term spending extension (called a Continuing Resolution). However, it must be remembered that the House is scheduled to be in session only through December 18.  A last-ditch safety net to avoid government closure may be to simply extend current funding levels for the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year, as Congress did about a year ago for the 2015 fiscal year. Known as a "cromnibus," such a measure would be a combination of a long-term omnibus spending bill and a shorter-term Continuing Resolution (or CR), avoiding most if not all of the contentious policy riders.

There is a fairly robust list of water-related Congressional committee activities scheduled already for next week, and those can be found summarized on this web page (updated on-the-fly, as needed).

  Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • White House trying to protect waters of the United States rule during negotiations over fiscal year 2016 funding bill
  • Bill banning microbeads makes debut in Ohio Legislature; story: (link to bill information:
  • EPA developing guidelines to protect swimmers, boaters from threats posed by toxic algae in lakes and rivers
  • EPA proposes public drinking water utilities' monitoring rule for Cyanotoxins
  • Letter to the Des Moines Register Editor: Would we be discussing water quality without [Des Moines Water Works] lawsuit?
  • EPA requests scientific views on its Draft Recommended Aquatic Life Ambient Water Quality Criteria for cadmium
  • Minnesota's Inventory of Current Water Quality Standards Projects, 2014 to 2016, has been updated with project status as of November 2015 (i.e., "projects to update, revise, develop or otherwise improve Minnesota’s water quality standards")
  • State environmental officials oppose House energy bill's hydropower water quality certification provision (link to bill:  Related: White House, threatens to veto energy legislation, citing several of its regulatory provisions
  • Gallatin (Tennessee) Water Treatment Plant Cumberland River water source and treated water have no detectable levels of hexavalent chromium (testing related to nearby coal burning power plant seen as a potential chromium source)
  • Colorado supreme court will not settle dispute between governor and attorney general over suing federal government on water (WOTUS) and clean power issues  (link to court order:
  • Greater Ouachita Water Company's North Monroe Water System (Louisiana) reported to be clear of "brain-eating" amoeba
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Pew Charitable Trusts: Rising nationwide tide of states' buyouts fights flooding
  • Army Corps of Engineers plans to draft Table Rock Lake Shoreline Management Plan
    and Environmental Impact Statement (White River Basin, Missouri and Arkansas)
  • Bill to help fund repairs for water infrastructure in rural communities heads to President for signature
  • EPA extends comment period for draft 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment report until January 6
  • Court signals interest in deferring to EPA's regulatory expertise on 2008 water transfers rule (Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited Inc. v. EPA, 2d Cir., No. 14-01823) (potentially precedent-setting nationwide)
  • New "sediment counter" depicts amount of uncaptured sediment passing down the Mississippi River through Louisiana
  • WEF Stormwater Report: The Real Cost of Green Infrastructure-new insights on significant factors that influence green stormwater management costs
Agriculture -
Click to enlarge
  • Repeal of $3 billion crop insurance cut clears Congress as part of long term highway bill
  • Nature: In a world facing increasing stress from a growing population and climate change, soils are becoming ever more important
  • Annual report by USDA's Economic Research Service released: Rural America At A Glance, 2015 Edition
  • General enrollment period for USDA's Conservation Reserve Program begins December 1, ends February 26
  • Central Nebraska farmer taps into a growing national interest in cover crops
Click to enlarge
Climate and Weather -
  • NOAA weekly drought update: Midwest saw minor drought improvements along Illinois-Indiana border; Plains saw improvements in abnormally dry areas
  • NOAA Climate Prediction Center monthly drought outlook for December: Drought likely to develop across central and eastern Montana, persist in North Dakota, and dissipate in central and southern Plains, Lower Ohio Valley
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee members criticize work of National
    Invasive Species Council (link to hearing archive:
  • Government Accountability Office report faults Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force for not setting up system to track activities, measure progress on goals to minimize aquatic invasive species impacts
  • Montana Governor to decide soon whether Yellowstone National Park bison will be allowed to roam outside certain tribal lands
  • Western governors want to take lead on establishing measures to mitigate human damage to greater sage grouse habitat
  • National Academies of Sciences Report: Interior Department Landscape Conservation Cooperatives program is working as designed
In the Cities -
  • Op-ed by Mississippi River mayors (The Hill): "In Paris, the stakes could not be higher" (related: Mississippi River Cities and Towns Mayors' Initiative's "Global River Talks: Sustaining the World’s Food-Producing Rivers;" COP21: Paris, France; streaming live over the Internet, December 8; 11:45 AM ET
  • Mayors on a mission to Paris to save Mississippi River (Des Moines Register editorial by Roy D. Buol, mayor of Dubuque)
In the States-
  • Minnesota finance officials project that the state will have a nearly $1.9 billion surplus next
    year, with $71 million slated to environmental funds
  • With extra cash sitting in the state treasury, Minnesota legislative leaders say they want to cut taxes in 2016
  • Wisconsin DNR seeks public input on a new grant program using state Wetland Conservation Trust Program funds (deadline Dec. 28)
  • Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council has four openings for individuals interested in shaping future of organic farming and food
  • Illinois state budget standoff between Governor and Legislature could continue through the November 2016 elections
  • Few details emerging as Pennsylvania budget impasse lingers
  • North Dakota continues to see a drop in revenue from oil and gas produced on federal lands
  • How State Economies Are Performing: a summary of key economic indicators by state (pull-down menu at bottom of article)
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Recycled oyster shells from New Orleans area restaurants could help protect the coast
  • Anadarko Petroleum Corp. ordered to pay $159.5 Million for its stake in 2010 Gulf spill
  • Louisiana State University and RAND Corp study: Continued Louisiana coastal land loss could cost state and national economies tens of billions dollars a year
Energy Resource Development -
Renewable Fuel Standard
  • EPA finalizes 2014, 2015, and 2016 volume requirements and percentage standards that apply under the RFS program; EPA rule web page:
  • EPA sets final multiyear Renewable Fuel Standard figures  (AgriPulse story)
  • Iowa agriculture interests say that the EPA's new biofuel-blend levels are a "gut punch for consumers and farmers"
Other Energy Resource Development News

  • ABC News: Even coal is barely surviving in coal country and coal is about the only thing that Central Appalachia has
  • On 2-1 vote, South Dakota regulators approve Bakken oil pipeline through state; add conditions to protect landowners
  • Hand recount confirms that an anti-fracking ballot initiative in Youngstown, Ohio last month failed to gain voter approval
  • State-funded study recommends safety improvements for pipeline network connecting North Dakota's Bakken Shale oil field
  • Environmental groups appeal judge's decision to suspend new rules on oil and gas drilling on federal lands pending legal challenge
Federal Budget (You can follow the status of all of the fiscal year 2016 appropriation bills on this web page) -
  • Citing dozens of "poison-pill" riders, House Democrats reject Republican initial year-end government funding bill
Events - Information on all past and future events listed here each week can be viewed in the on-line calendar, located above and to the right (and here as a stand-alone calendar
  • South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard annual state budget address, December 8, 1 PM CT
  • RESTORE Council meeting, December 9, 10 AM CT, Mississippi Coast Coliseum Convention Center, Biloxi (9 AM open house) open to public
  • Save the date: House Speaker Ryan announces January 12, 2016 as date President Obama is invited to deliver his State of the Union address to Congress
  • U.S. Conference of Mayors' winter meeting, Washington, D.C., January 20-22
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
  • Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No 324, November 30
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy December 2 TUWaterWays e-newsletter
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency December 2015 Industrial Stormwater News
  • Montana Watershed Coordination Council's December 3 Watershed News
Other news-
  • Stockholm University research covering 100 large hydrological basins worldwide finds
    humans are using up far more of Earth’s water than previously thought (study abstract
  • Federal judge throws out lawsuit seeking to require U.S. EPA to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations ammonia emissions
  • House and Senate negotiators strike agreement on a five-year, $305 billion highway bill
  • The Water Institute of the Gulf is currently hiring for: Communications Associate, Data Manager, Coastal Ecology Research Technician, Research Positions, Graduate Research Assistant in Coastal Ecology
  • From @RiverLifeUMN: many people involved in water conversations often take for granted issues peripheral to their main area concentration
Your Moment of Zen -

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