No sooner had I posted my assessment (10 August 2009) of a draft version of the Sustainable Watershed Planning Act than a new, improved version popped up in my inbox. It has taken me a while to get through this second version; a lot of changes have been made. The proposed Office of Sustainable Watershed Management (OSWM) is still in there.
Here's your very own copy:
This bill may be considered by the U.S. House of Representative's Water Resources and the Environment Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is the chair; Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) is the ranking member. Here are the subcommittee members. I say "may be considered" because the bill does not yet have a number and is a work in progress. Hearings have not been scheduled.
- There is no longer an OSWM Advisory Council comprised of federal agency heads , state reps, and other stakeholders.
- When compared to the first draft the Director of OSWM appears to have acquired more power and approaches the status of a 'water czar'.
- Instead of selecting regional watershed planning boards based upon boundaries of each USACE Civil Works District the Director would identify and support ten regional watershed planning boards, each of which can be no smaller than a 4-digit HUC (Hydrologic Unit Code) watershed (subregional level). Note that there are 222 such watersheds in the USA, averaging about 16,800 square miles. Keep in mind that the HUC approach pertains to surface watersheds, not groundwatersheds.
- Selecting the ten regional watershed planning regions will be challenging, to say the least. Criteria? Politics, anyone?
- What happens after the ten planning regions finish their tasks? Are they to become self-sustaining?
- The Director is charged with developing a national water policy. This is a daunting task. No doubt the Director will seek asistance, but I prefer the approach being proposed by Rep. John Linder (R-GA).
- The Director is also charged with developing a research agenda, another challenging task, but one that was done almost ten years ago by the National Research Council's Water Science and Technology Board.
- The EPA Administrator has a more prominent role than in the original bill, mainly distributing money on behalf of the Director and OSWM.
- The bill asks for a lot of money. This is only bad because legislators might be getting "budget burnout". In the grand scheme of things, it is not a lot of money.
So called because some might consider these the grumblings of a GOM (Grumpy Old Man).
The name of OSWM should be changed. Sustainable means different things to different people, but since that term is so ingrained these days, it's tolerable. Besides, it makes many people (myself excluded) feel good.
The term watershed is certainly appropriate, but ask most people (including water professionals) what image a watershed conjures and they'll say: "River basin.' That's fine, but I am concerned that groundwatersheds, which can underlie two or more 4-digit HUC surface watersheds, will get short shrift (they will).
The word management may have baggage when it comes to the Federal government and water. Ask Westerners about the Feds and water management and they are likely to look perplexed or worse. But it's better than saying planning; try juxtaposing Federal government and water planning in the same sentence. The OSWM will not be doing water management. So drop it.
I would call it the Water Resources Act, creating the Office of Water Resources. Simple and straightforward. If it is really critical that sustainable be included, then: Sustainable Water Resources Act and the Office of Sustainable Water Resources.
The document says climactic when it means climatic. It should also say surface water and groundwater, not surface and groundwater.
Transboundary as it pertains to aquifers needs clarification. Are transboundary aquifers only those underlying portions of two or more states or entities that are TAS (treated as states, e.g., Indian reservations), or are international ones included? This is important because the bill will not "affect the water rights of any person or entity using water from a transboundary aquifer."
If you are going to evaluate groundwater recharge and use in a planning region, then you might as well add groundwater flow and discharge.
Okay, now for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
- OSWM provides money to states for water planning.
- Supposedly does not tread upon states' water prerogatives.
- Will honor exisiting treaties, compacts, and avoid (unfunded) mandates.
- Congress is proposing this type of legislation.
- Planning regions: potential bias toward surface watersheds at the expense of groundwatersheds.
- What about the engagement of local agencies (counties, municipalities) with land-use planning responsibilities?
- Unsure why the EPA Administrator is now "plugged in" since the OSWM's charge goes beyond water quality, the EPA's traditional interest in water. The OSWM encompasses water allocation, use, etc. So why might EPA's involvement be bad? Two words: "regulatory agency". Let OSWM distribute the funds, or use some non-regulatory agency (USGS) if an agency is needed.
- No more OWSM Advisory Council, which could have helped the OSWM Director do her job, especially since OSWM must rely on Federal agencies for a lot of its work.
- Unsure how this bill will promote coordination among Federal water agencies, except perhaps in the ten selected planning regions. The deleted Advisory Council could have helped to do this.
- How is "sustainable" defined? Economically? Hydrologically? Environmentally? Socially? I know this sounds like nitpicking, but it isn't.
- Buy-in from all the key players in the ten selected watershed planning regions could be an issue. The regional watershed planning boards have to do a lot of work, so buy-in is essential.
- The bill goes into great detail about what types of persons must be appointed to the regional watershed planning boards. This is too much of a top-down approach.
- The GAO is to evaluate each regional watershed planning board. I would much prefer to see a group like the National Academy of Sciences or the National Science Foundation involved, although assessing ten boards would be quite a task. Why not leave it to the Director of the OSWM to arrange reviews?
- How do you deal with 'virtual watersheds'? Consider the case of Los Angeles, whose 'watershed boundaries' extend into Northern California, the Great Basin, and the Colorado River Basin.
- The OSWM Director must use USACE Principles and Guidelines to evaluate projects, regional water plan activities, etc. The Director should be allowed to use whatever procedures she deems appropriate, as long as consistency is maintained. If the choice is the USACE P&Gs, that's fine.
- I do not see how this bill will "ensure the sustainable use of the water resources of the United States". It may do this in the ten planning regions so selected but I don't see this accomplished on a national scale.
I am very glad to see Congress tackling this issue and willing to spend some money on it. This particular bill will not accomplish what it wants to on a national scale. Nor can I see how it will improve Federal agency coordination vis-a-vis water. It is also far too "top-down" for my tastes.
But I would very much like to see something like this passed. And soon.
"Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself." -- Unknown