AWRA Urges Establishment of National Water Commission

The American Water Resources Association (AWRA), on behalf of a recently conducted Second National Water Policy Dialogue, has urged federal and state governments to establish a National Water Commission to chart a path for the future.

The American Water Resources Association (AWRA), on behalf of a recently conducted Second National Water Policy Dialogue, has urged federal and state governments to establish a National Water Commission to chart a path for the future.

The Dialogue, held in Tucson, Ariz., earlier this year, was conducted by AWRA under the sponsorship of nine federal agencies and 40 state, local, business, and non-governmental organizations.

AWRA said governments should address the nation’s water issues in an integrated manner, focusing not on single projects but on programs and watershed and basin level issues.

It said they should reconcile the myriad laws, executive orders and congressional guidances that have created a disjointed, ad-hoc national water policy and should clearly define goals.

AWRA said federal, state, tribal, and local governments need to collaborate rather than compete to provide better and more fiscally efficient use of scarce resources and to overcome decision gridlock on key water programs.

It said the nation’s scientific capabilities and technologies need better focus to support more effective water related decision-making.

And AWRA said public officials and the public should be educated about the extent and complexity of water challenges and the specific need to provide funding to support for water resources infrastructure.

Stream, Wetland Protection Proposed

Legislation to strengthen protection for streams, wetlands, and other waters has been proposed by 127 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The effort was led by Reps. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), James Leach (R-Iowa), Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), and John Dingell (D-Mich.).

In effect, the bill overturns the 2001 Supreme Court decision in the case of The Solid Waste Agency of Cook County vs. Army Corps of Engineers (the SWANCC case), which limited the Corps’s authority over certain wetland areas.

“This bill will amend the Clean Water Act to reestablish the original intent of Congress in that 1972 law to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” said Oberstar. “The SWANCC case was decided 5-4 contrary to the intent of Congress and against the grain of nearly 30 years of judicial and administrative precedent.”

Dingell said, “The Supreme Court got it wrong, and now the Bush administration is using this narrow ruling to attempt to rollback over 30 years of Clean Water Act progress. The legislative history of the Clean Water Act clearly and unambiguously states that the statute applies to all the waters of the U.S.”

Groups Object To Federal Mandates

Two government groups have complained at a House Government Reform Committee hearing about federal mandates that must be funded by state and local governments.

Angelo Kyle, National Association of Counties president and a Lake County, Ill., board member, said the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) was a landmark achievement although the law was neither comprehensive nor a perfect solution.

“Counties continue to struggle with mandates that were adopted prior to the passage of [UMRA], such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act,” Kyle testified. “Regulatory mandates such as these have become more strict and expensive to implement over time, especially for counties with fewer resources.

“If the federal government believes that it knows best how to clean county water supplies, or run county elections, or manage county hospitals, then it should at least pay for the mandates that it passes on to county officials,” he said.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said it identified at least $30 billion in federal unfunded mandates and cost shifts in the 2006 federal budget proposal.

“While most state lawmakers would applaud Washington’s desire to balance the federal budget, to do so at the expense of state budgets is counterproductive,” said Maryland Delegate John Hurson, NCSL’s president. “Many programs that began as state-federal partnerships have become a one-sided relationship and are eroding state lawmakers’ control of their own state budgets.”

He said as unfunded mandates continue to mount, state lawmakers estimate that the federal government will shift more than $300 billion to state budgets during the next 10 years.

Lead Rules

EPA has issued a plan to tighten controls on lead in drinking water beginning next year.

EPA said the action would improve monitoring, treatment, lead service line management and customer awareness. The plan also addresses lead in tap water in schools and child care facilities to further protect vulnerable populations.

Ben Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water, said: “We need to free people from worrying about lead in their drinking water. This plan will increase the accuracy and consistency of monitoring and reporting, and it ensures that where there is a problem, people will be notified and the problem will be dealt with quickly and properly.”

EPA said from 1995-2004, states have concluded 1,753 enforcement actions to ensure compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), and EPA has concluded 570.

EPA said drinking water picks up lead as it passes through pipes and household plumbing fittings and fixtures. The LCR, issued in 1991, required water utilities to reduce lead contamination by controlling the corrosiveness of water and, as needed, replace lead service lines.

EPA said its review of state and utility implementation shows that the LCR has been effective in more than 96% of water systems that serve 3,300 people or more. WW

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