Tuesday, February 12, 2013

CRS Report Released: Water Resource Issues in the 113th Congress

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the public policy research arm of Congress, recently issued the report Water Resource Issues in the 113th Congress (Jan. 31, 2013). The 14-page report authored by Betsy A. Cody, Charles V. Stern, Nicole T. Carter, and Pervaze A, Sheikh discusses the following:


The 113th Congress may face many issues related to water resource development, management, and protection. Such issues include how to make investment decisions in the context of federal fiscal constraints; how to distribute investments between activities to meet new demands for water supplies and aquatic ecosystem restoration and protection; how to maintain and reinvest in an aging portfolio of federal infrastructure (e.g., locks, dams, and levees); and how to effectively respond to and prepare for flood and drought emergencies. These issues often arise at the regional level, but have a federal nexus. For example, Congress may continue to be faced with issues associated with flooding (e.g., Hurricane Sandy response and recovery), navigation and water supply challenges due to drought-induced low river flows, and balancing water supply needs of farm and urban communities with protection of threatened and endangered species.

The water resource issues of the 113th Congress are in part shaped by the actions of past Congresses, including the 112th Congress. In addition to holding numerous oversight hearings on agency policies and activities, the 112th Congress provided regular annual and supplemental appropriations for major federal water research agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). The 112th Congress did not formally consider an omnibus Corps project authorization and policy bill—typically called a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)—but a draft Senate Environment and Public Works bill was circulated and discussed in the fall of 2012.

The 112th Congress also considered legislation to augment developed water supplies (e.g., water storage, water reuse), settle Indian water rights claims, and facilitate small conduit hydropower development. The 112th Congress considered several bills related to aquatic ecosystem restoration throughout the country (e.g., Everglades, Gulf Coast, Great Lakes, Klamath Basin, and Chesapeake Bay). The 112th Congress also considered legislation related to the energy sector’s water use and the water sector’s energy use, as well as water research and development legislation, including research related to climate change, water resource availability, drought indicators and streamflow.

The 113th Congress may consider measures similar to those left pending in the 112th Congress (e.g., a farm bill, a WRDA, hydropower development, and water research legislation), as well as other proposals. Because of current water conditions, disasters, or legal or agency developments, certain basin issues are particularly likely to receive congressional attention (e.g., operation of federal reservoirs in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins (Central Valley Project), and Missouri River Basin). Other related legislation may include the energy-water nexus and environmental policy.

This report discusses recent congressional activity and possible topics for the 113th Congress. It provides an overview of the federal role in water resources development, management, and protection, including a discussion of the two major federal water resources agencies and related legislation. It also discusses overarching policy issues, such as flood and drought management and response; project funding and authorization priorities; and aquatic ecosystem restoration.

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