Release of TWCA Priority Federal Issues 2020
By Denis Qualls
Although Texas Water Day was canceled this year, providing information to the Texas Congressional Delegation and other federal interests regarding current, statewide issues affecting water resources in Texas is important. With the position papers prepared and consolidated, TWCA’s Priority Federal Issues - 2020 will be sent to both Texas Senators and each of Texas’ 36 Representatives. This year, TWCA members prepared ten issue papers. These issues were broken up into four categories: Key Issues, Continuing Issues, Emerging Issues, and Budget Issues. Below is a brief summary of this year’s issues. Although the following are brief summaries, I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to read the issue papers and their associated requests.
Clean Water Act: Improve Certainty and Efficiency in 404 Permitting. The Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permitting process is lengthy, increases costs, and delays construction for needed projects. Additionally, through CWA Section 404, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds veto authority over water supply projects that can be used anytime (i.e. before a 404-permit application is filed through after a 404 permit is issued).
Flood Policy: Expand Collaborative Approaches to Flood Mitigation. Flooding occurs throughout the state and presents risks to public safety and economic growth. Federal funding for flood management while the needs in our communities have increased, funding has decreased and programs have grown more complex requiring more extensive local state and federal coordination.
Protected Species and Implementation of the Endangered Species Act. A species can be listed as endangered or threatened simply based on a lack of knowledge. Any listing of a species can have significant impacts on water rights; ongoing water, wastewater and hydroelectric operations; and the construction of new projects. It is imperative that sound science be the basis of a listing.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Water Supply Rule. On March 23, 2020, the USACE withdrew the proposed Water Supply Rule, which TWCA supports. However, the USACE intends to generate policy on the topics they previously attempted to address through the Water Supply Rule. TWCA continues to closely monitor USACE policies, guidelines and rules.
Invasive Species: Lacey Act – Limiting Liability on Interstate Water Transfers. The Lacey Act restricts interstate water transfers if those waters contain invasive aquatic species. Existing water supplies and future water management strategies that involve interstate transfers of water can be significantly impacted.
Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) / Navigable Waters Protection Rule. On January 23, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army finalized the Navigable Waters Protection Rule to define “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). The Navigable Waters Protection Rule more clearly identifies water bodies included and excluded from federal jurisdiction. TWCA supports this final rule and will closely monitor its implementation to ensure that the rule is applied as intended.
USACE Reallocation of Storage. Many Texas sponsors of existing multi-purpose USACE reservoirs are looking to increase available water supply storage through reallocation of storage from current purposes (mainly flood control). However, changes in approval and inadequate funding slow the completion of reallocation studies.
Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). PFAS are a class of chemical compounds found in cookware, clothing, packaging, and firefighting foams that are not natural, but are found everywhere in the environment. The regulatory environment surrounding PFAS is rapidly evolving. If treatment standards are legislated and not established based on sound science water and wastewater management in Texas.
United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Streamflow Network Funding and Modernization. The USGS provides accurate and reliable information that assists with the management of water supply and helps inform responses to natural disasters. Over the years Federal funding for USGS Cooperative Agreements have decreased, forcing local partners to either increase their share or discontinue gauges. Additionally, the USGS’ stream gaging network is based on outdated technology and in need of modernization.
United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Budget. Significant proposed budget cuts to USACE will impact the agency’s ability to meet the growing maintenance needs of its aging infrastructure in Texas, and potentially lead to additional dam safety issues.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Budget – Establishing a Strong Role in Texas. USBR programs that award funds to legacy projects, as opposed to competitive grant programs create inequities in program funding. The funding allocation for Texas is less than 1% of USBR’s budget despite the need for funds for water storage and delivery projects in Texas.