AMWA Report Examines Impact of Global Warming

Feb. 1, 2008
The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) has warned that the warming of the earth’s atmosphere will increase pressure on America’s drinking water sources...

by Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) has warned that the warming of the earth’s atmosphere will increase pressure on America’s drinking water sources, leading to diminishing supplies in some regions and flooding in others.

The AMWA report, “Implications of Climate Change for Urban Water Utilities,” forecast the likely impacts of climate change on water supplies in different regions of the U.S., such as an accelerated hydrologic cycle of evaporation and precipitation, water contamination, rising sea levels and pressure on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Diane VanDe Hei, AMWA executive director, said, “The national debate on climate change has so far been limited to the effects of greenhouse gases. For community drinking water systems, climate change has broader implications.”

The report urged water systems to identify short-term adaptation needs, cooperate with other utilities on strategies addressing likely regional water resource issues, and reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions.

VanDe Hei said the report identified two key needs: research on how climate change might impact existing fresh water resources and research on developing alternative water sources such as reuse, recycling, conservation and desalination.

“Increased federal investment in water infrastructure is needed to help offset the costs of new supply development and capital projects to ensure that all Americans continue to have access to safe and affordable drinking water,” she said.

Congress Examines Bottled Water Issues

A congressional subcommittee has examined the environmental risks of bottling plants that use ground water and spring water in rural communities.

The hearing was before the House Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Domestic Policy. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said, “Bottlers are constantly looking for untapped watersheds in relatively undeveloped rural communities, which disproportionately bear the brunt of pumping’s environmental impacts.”

The environmental group Food & Water Watch testified, “These companies fail to assign adequate value or pay the full cost of the economic, social, and environmental damage they cause. They’re pouring millions of dollars of misleading advertising into a poorly regulated, inadequately labeled, wasteful and overpriced product.”

Separately, the Washington, D.C.-based Earth Policy Institute claimed that a backlash is growing against bottled water. Janet Larsen, the group’s research director, said consumers were no longer content to pay 1,000 times as much for bottled water than water from the tap, which the group said was just as good.

The institute said in contrast to tap water, which is delivered through an energy-efficient infrastructure, bottled water is wasteful because is uses 29 billion plastic bottles yearly.

Meanwhile, the International Bottled Water Association has sued the city of Chicago to overturn a 5-cent-per-container tax on bottled water.

The group said the tax, effective Jan. 1, 2008, placed an unfair burden on the city’s low and fixed-income citizens and could cause consumers to purchase other, less healthful, beverages.

The group said Illinois law prohibits a product from being taxed when similar products -- such as packaged beverages made mostly from water – are not.

Water Infrastructure FundingSeen as Concern by NCSL

Water infrastructure funding is one of the major issues facing state legislatures this year, according to National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Forty-four state legislatures planned to meet in 2008, most of them convening in January.

In its list of the top ten issues before the legislatures, NCSL ranked financing transportation and water infrastructure as No. 4. The top three were slow revenue growth, immigration issues, and federal requirements for driver’s licenses.

NCSL said slow revenue growth continues to weaken state budgets. It said 24 states reported their revenues have been hurt by the housing sector slump and about a dozen reported declines in their real estate transfer or recording taxes. “Many states anticipated a slowdown in this revenue source, but the drop is even higher than expected,” NCSL said.

It said 22 states have revised their fiscal 2008 revenue forecast. In half of those -- including California, Florida and New York – it was lowered. The other 11 states – including Iowa, Texas and Utah – raised their forecasts.

“This assumes no national recession. If the economy takes a turn for the worse, state finances undoubtedly will decline,” NCSL said.

Senate Considers Water-Focused Bills

Two narrowly targeted water bills were under consideration in the Senate.

Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the Environment and Natural Resources Committee chairman, held a hearing on his bill (S. 2156) to strengthen the national streamflow program, improve groundwater monitoring, and provide grants for water conservation and efficiency projects.

A major goal of the bill is a water resources census. The last national water resources assessment was in 1978.

Bingaman, who drafted the bill with Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), said the measure also would “improve our understanding of the impacts of climate change on water, and ensure that adaptation strategies are implemented.”

The National Ground Water Association testified in support of the bill. It said the nation needs data “to effectively manage our water supplies and maintain their chemical quality to support population growth, economic growth, irrigated agriculture, energy production and sustain ecosystems.”

Also pending in the Senate is the Small System Drinking Water Act, which would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help utilities comply with federal standards.

Sponsors were James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

Inhofe said, “Numerous small systems face tremendous challenges with the Disinfection Byproducts Stage I rule and many other small systems – who traditionally buy water – are now struggling with Stage 2 of the rule.

If the federal government is going to impose complicated requirements on water systems, we need to provide them with assistance in implementing those requirements.”

In other Washington news:

–EPA’s latest regulatory agenda said early in 2008 the agency plans to complete its Water Transfers Rule, exempting most routine water transfers from the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting system. EPA plans to complete the radon rule in 2009 and its total coliform rule in 2012.

– Congress has approved a fiscal 2008 spending bill that cuts funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to $689 million, $395 million less than in fiscal 2007. Another $133 million was earmarked for local water and wastewater projects. The Drinking Water SRF will continue at $842 million. Also in the bill was $300 million to improve global drinking water supplies.

– The Senate has approved its 2007 Farm Bill, which establishes a Regional Water Enhancement Program under which water and wastewater utilities could help farmers to reduce the water quality impacts of their operations. A House-passed bill has a similar provision.

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