House Hearing Focuses on Local Water Supply Issues

Local officials and water resource experts testified at a House Resources subcommittee hearing June 4, offering suggestions for improving water supply management to meet growing US water demand.

By Maureen Lorenzetti

Local officials and water resource experts testified at a House Resources subcommittee hearing June 4, offering suggestions for improving water supply management to meet growing US water demand. The hearing by the US House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee was the second on the issue.

"Water supply officials and private water users around the nation are experiencing a number of water scarcity and demand problems," said US Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), Subcommittee Chairman. "We must realize that our nation's water supply is not limitless and begin addressing the supply challenges faced by a growing number of our communities."

Augusta, GA, Mayor Bob Young, speaking on behalf of the US Conference of Mayors, said water supply problems are a pressing issue for communities nationwide but local authorities face their own unique challenges.

"Water supply issues have surged to the forefront of urban problems," said Young. "The variety of types of water supply problems, as well as their severity, is striking."

He also noted that some areas handle the problem better than others.

"Scarcity breeds competition for water resources, and some cities are less able to deal effectively with that competition than others," said Young.

Water supply problems threaten all parts of the United States, said another witness, William Mullican III of the Texas Water Development Board. He described water supply problems now confronting Texas and he offered a prediction on the state's future supply.

"By 2050, almost 900 cities, representing 38% of the projected population, and other water users will need either to reduce demand – through conservation and/or drought management – or to develop additional sources of water beyond those currently available to meet their needs during droughts," said Mullican.

Mullican went on to describe shortcomings of the state's water planning process realized during droughts in the 1990's.

"First, there was little or no public awareness of how critical the need was for additional water supplies. Second, the level of implementation of projects recommended in the state-developed water plans was not sufficient to meet future, and in certain cases, current water supply needs.

"There must be significant, meaningful public participation by the entities that will be responsible for implementation of any potential recommendations."

Mullican offered suggestions to improve state water planning efforts.

"Judging by Texas' regional water planning experience, the most appropriate and effective role for the state has been in establishing planning guidelines, providing technical support, resolving interregional conflicts regarding utilization of existing supplies, and providing funding necessary for the planning effort."

Dr. William Cox of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University addressed the federal role in water supply, including:

• Considering incentives to encourage state governments to enhance water supply planning programs, similar to those contained in the Water Resources Planning Act of 1965.

• Ensuring that incentives and mandates under the Clean Water Act for water quality planning do not lead to loss of state capacity to conduct water supply planning.

• Considering means to coordinate and consolidate independent regulatory proceedings applicable to water supply proposals to reduce the impact of current fragmentation and the application of narrow decision criteria adverse to a comprehensive view of the associated issues.

• Expanding the one-dimensional decision criteria employed by the Environmental Protection Agency in vetoing permits issued under Clean Water Act section 404 to include a full range of public interest considerations.

Senate Approves MTBE Phase-Out Plan

The US Senate on a 67 to 29 vote June 5 passed a provision that would make it easier for states to phase out the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether because of groundwater contamination concerns. MTBE is one of two additives now commercially available to refiners to meet federal reformulated gasoline rules designed to curb smog.

The proposal, which is now part of a pending energy bill, would allow refiners to make RFG without MTBE or fuel ethanol, a competing clean fuel additive. But fuel suppliers would still be required to add fuel ethanol to some gasoline to meet a new renewable fuel standard that sets a 5 billion gallons per year quota by 2012. A House RFG provision allows for the phase out of MTBE but gives MTBE and ethanol producers "safe harbor" liability protection. The Senate version only extends protection to ethanol and an ethanol-ether derivative, ethyl tertiary butyl ether.

Water utilities last March said they were unhappy with the pending House energy bill plan that provides product liability protection to the clean fuel additives methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and ethanol.

The two versions will have to be reconciled if and when the Senate passes a comprehensive energy bill later this year.

Diverse Committee To Lead Biosolids Research Summit

The Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) and the US Environmental Protection Agency said in June that they have brought together a diverse group of individuals to serve on the program committee for a Biosolids Research Summit to be held July 28-30 in Alexandria, VA.

The summit is in response to recommendations made by a 2002 National Research Council report, Biosolids Applied to Land: Advancing Standards and Practices (2002).

Organizers said the primary goal of the summit is to develop a research agenda that addresses research gaps identified by the NRC, as well as other research needed to ensure protection of public health and the environment.

The committee includes representatives of farming communities and private citizens, research scientists specializing in chemicals and pathogen exposure, and regulators from states and municipalities working on land application issues.

"These individuals represent a range of views as to the appropriateness and safety of the application of biosolids, including those who are proponents for and opponents against land application," WERF said.

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