House Subcommittee Passes Water Infrastructure Plan

The House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee has approved the Water Quality Financing Act of 2003 (H.R. 1560).

By Maureen Lorenzetti

The House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee has approved the Water Quality Financing Act of 2003 (H.R. 1560). The proposal authorizes $20 billion for federal grants that can be used for low-interest loans over five years for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) with an additional $1 billion in grants for wet weather projects.

Additionally, the plan authorizes technical assistance to rural and small communities to assist them in gaining access to financing for wastewater infrastructure. It also allows for technical assistance and training to rural and small publicly owned treatment works and decentralized wastewater treatment systems to help meet federal clean water rules and to help plan, design, construct, and operate such systems.

Representatives Sue Kelly (R-NY) and Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) are expected to offer an amendment that adds another $5 billion in CWSRF funds when the full committee considers the measure, probably this session.

Key lawmakers endorse infrastructure report

Congressional leaders endorsed a new American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report highlighting the continued deterioration of US highways, bridges, transit systems and water infrastructure, and called for an immediate increase in funding to address the problem.

"For the general public, infrastructure is often 'out of sight, out of mind'," said US Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. "Until the lights go out, or the sewers back up, or a devastating flood occurs, it is hard to get people to pay attention to our infrastructure needs.

"The problems with our wastewater or waterways infrastructure will not be solved by Federal dollars alone, but Federal investment will trigger even greater investments by states and local governments and the private sector.

"To make progress, we must provide Federal leadership. We can start now, by enacting legislation that reaffirms our commitment to this nation's infrastructure," said Duncan.

Duncan's colleague Don Young, the chairman of the House Resources Committee, reiterated those comments and promised his panel will address the issue promptly.

There were no similar public statements made by the panel's counterpart in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee. However, congressional staff said the report is being reviewed carefully with possible hearings expected in both chambers.

The group noted that with funding for the Safe Drinking Water Act due to expire shortly and no new authorization in the works for the Clean Water Act "we must call on Congress to take urgent action or risk falling even further behind."

Senate Water Project Bill Unlikely Before 2004

Lobbyists and lawmakers do not expect the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to consider a multi-billion dollar Army Corps of Engineers water project authorization bill. The House Transportation Committee passed HR 2557, the Water Resources Development Act of 2003 in July, and the full House is expected to consider it this session.

Sources said the Senate committee has several high profile issues on its plate this fall, including nomination hearings for Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) to head the Environmental Protection Agency, reauthorization of a surface transportation bill, and a White House proposal to update industrial plant clean air rules.

DOE to Fund More Water Management Research for Power Industry

The close link between generating US electric power and conserving fresh water supplies will be the focus of five new research projects sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and its National Energy Technology Laboratory, officials said.

Electric power plants are the 2nd largest user of freshwater in the US. Each day the electric power industry withdraws 190 billion gallons of water, 39% of all the freshwater withdrawals in the nation. Only agriculture consumes more.

The five projects will be funded on a cost-shared basis, with DOE expected to contribute $3.5 million over two years.

Three projects will investigate the use of "non-traditional" sources of water to reduce the amount of fresh surface and ground water needed for power plant cooling and other process purposes. The fourth project will focus on advances in cooling water intake technology. Scientists in the fifth project will conduct research directed at advanced pollutant measurement and treatment technology.

In July 2002, the Energy Department's Fossil Energy office, through its National Energy Technology Laboratory, joined with the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory to cosponsor a workshop on the interdependency of water and electric energy. Representatives of government, industry and academia provided input on water and energy production issues. Based on their guidance, the National Energy Technology Laboratory issued a solicitation asking for research projects that would develop cost-effective approaches to better manage fresh water use and potential impacts on water quality associated with coal-fired power plants.

Watershed Science, Technology

DOE said it is also working on ways to more quickly assess the health of watersheds, especially in understanding the impact and transport of pollutants in a region's rivers, streams and lakes. The National Energy Technology Laboratory, DOE said, has collected extensive data on several important watersheds in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and California. By combining water-quality and geographic data into a geographical information system - a GIS system - the laboratory is able to identify pollutant discharges into a watershed within an accuracy of plus or minus 5 feet.

"This can significantly reduce the amount of time to locate and subsequently treat pollution sources," DOE said.

The Department's National Energy Technology Laboratory is also applying a variety of geophysical techniques to locate and map underground mine pools and to pinpoint fractures that might impact surface waters.

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