Senator Suggests Larger Federal Role for Infrastructure

US Senate Energy & Natural Resources Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) Mar. 9 indicated that the federal government may need to establish a major federal water program to assist communities...

By Maureen Lorenzetti

US Senate Energy & Natural Resources Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) Mar. 9 indicated that the federal government may need to establish a major federal water program to assist communities, particularly small rural towns, in building infrastructure they require to ensure adequate water supplies.

Domenici made the suggestion while presiding over a full committee hearing on western water challenges. Domenici also urged administration officials to support water supply and technology initiatives to increase western water supplies. Those initiatives include a multi-agency water desalination effort and legislation to accelerate eradication of nonnative species, such as salt cedar, along western waterways.

"Water continues to be the backbone of our economy. Safe and adequate supplies of water are vital for agriculture, industry, recreation, and human consumption. In addition to protecting our existing water supply, we need to explore new ideas for expanding that supply and creating new sources of water. This means that we need to invest today in research for the advancement of state-of-the-art desalination, demineralization, water reuse and other purification technologies."

The hearing featured testimony from Bennett Raley, Assistant Interior Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services, and representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Center for Environmental Prediction.

Senators Question EPA On Water Funding

Senate budgetmakers told new EPA head Mike Leavitt they will seek to restore funding to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. The White House's pending budget request for fiscal year '05 that starts Oct. 1, would cut $492 million from the fund. Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that handles EPA's budget, pledged to try and restore the money as did the ranking minority member on the panel Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The administration this year seeks a $7.76 billion budget for EPA, a $606 million cut from the FY '04 enacted level of $8.37 billion.

Environmental Group Seeks Tighter Standards for Great Lakes Reporting

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to demand tighter state standards and uniform reporting on the conditions of the Great Lakes, as well as the region's inland lakes streams and wetlands.

"More than 30 years after Congress passed the Clean Water Act, there is simply no way to state with confidence whether waters in the Great Lakes region are safe for public use," said Ilan Levin of EIP. "Until the states and EPA get serious about water quality monitoring, the public will be flying blind when it comes to potentially grave risks to their health."

EPA's former director of regulatory enforcement, Eric Schaeffer, leads the non-profit group.

The EIP report analyses state programs in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. The study found that state use vastly different methods and often inadequate standards to measure water quality, thereby significantly blurring the regional picture that the EPA presents to Congress.

The group urged EPA to explain inaccuracies in its national water quality report when presenting it to Congress and the public. A scientific advisory panel at EPA should "grade" each state's report, based on the quality and reliability of the data, EIP said.

Great Lakes states meanwhile should reduce the levels of mercury entering their waters from unregulated air emissions, EIP said. Further, waters should not be rated as "swimmable" where swimming is prohibited due to high levels of contamination.

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