S2156, the Science and Engineering to Comprehensively Understand & Responsibly Enhance Water Act (SECURE Water Act)


Of Robert Johnson

Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation


Robert M. Hirsch

Associate Director for Water, United States Geological Survey

U.S. Department of the Interior
Before the

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources


S. 2156, the Science and Engineering to Comprehensively Understand & Responsibly Enhance Water Act (SECURE Water Act)

December 11, 2007

Chairman Bingaman and Ranking Member Domenici, we would like to thank you for the opportunity to appear today to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 2156, a bill titled the "Science and Engineering to Comprehensively Understand and Responsibly Enhance Water Act" or the "SECURE Water Act." This legislation would authorize substantial new investments in our nation's understanding of the water resources vital to our way of life. S. 2156 contemplates a number of task forces, data gathering efforts, grant authorities, and assessments prepared by key federal agencies covering many of the Nation's water basins.

While some of the activities authorized in the legislation are consistent with initiatives and research areas that are already being pursued by the Department, we have strong concerns with certain parts of this legislation. One concern is that many of the activities called for in this bill are not in the President's budget. While some of the bill's provisions have the potential to strengthen existing programs, there are additional requirements in the legislation that would compete with ongoing, high-priority Administration programs. In addition, we note that the Bureau of Reclamation and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) are already authorized to carry out many of the activities provided for in this bill.

We believe, however, that many of the goals of this bill- expanding data acquisition and analysis to improve water management and ensuring that decisionmakers have reliable information about water resources and climate change impacts on water availability and energy production- are critically important. We support these goals, which are similar to those outlined in a number of recent plans and reports issued by the National Science and Technology Council's Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality (SWAQ), and the National Research Council (NRC).

In particular, the bill tracks closely with five of the seven elements of implementation identified by the SWAQ report, A Strategy for Federal Science and Technology to Support Water Availability and Quality in the United States (September 2007), which has been endorsed by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy in their FY 09 guidance to the agencies. The areas of congruence include calls for implementing a national water census, developing a new generation of water-monitoring techniques, developing and expanding technologies for enhancing reliable water supply, improving understanding of the water-related ecosystem services and ecosystem needs for water, and improving hydrologic prediction models and their applications. Existing authorities are generally adequate to pursue these activities.

In 2004, the National Research Council warned that "[t]he strategic challenge for the future is to ensure adequate quantity and quality of water to meet human and ecological needs in the face of growing competition among domestic, industrial-commercial, agricultural, and environmental uses." The USGS has described a possible approach to quantifying, forecasting, and securing freshwater for America's future by developing a water census of the United States. Such a census could include the status of the Nation's freshwater resources and how they are changing, a more precise determination of water use for human and environmental needs, the relationship of water availability to natural and engineered storage and movement of water, and other key issues (see Facing Tomorrow's Challenges – U.S. Geological Survey Science in the Decade 2007-2017, USGS Circular 1309).

Water is the lifeblood of the Nation and the foundation of our economy. It is easy to forget that water is a limited resource, particularly in some of the fastest growing areas of the country. Improving water security is important to our Nation's energy, agricultural, and environmental future. The U.S. population is growing quickly in regions of water scarcity, irrigated agriculture is moving into new areas, and our increasing focus on biofuels will lead to significant associated water needs. Additionally, climate change is predicted to change evapotranspiration, precipitation types and amounts, runoff, and ground-water recharge. The SECURE Water Act contains measures designed to take proactive steps towards addressing the water challenges of the 21st century. The remainder of this statement will discuss each of the substantive sections of this bill and discuss Administration concerns about each section, including concerns about the need to take into account budgetary parameters.

Climate Change Adaptation

Section 4 of the legislation authorizes a Climate Change Adaptation Program, and requires that the Secretary report to Congress on the effect of global climate change on each major Reclamation river basin. Monitoring and reporting increments are all detailed in this section, and much of it is focused on the potential effects of climate change on Reclamation projects and developing mitigation strategies. Reclamation testified before this Committee on June 6, 2007 regarding the widely acknowledged need to improve the quantity and resolution of our basin-specific data related to climate change. Existing authorities are generally adequate for this purpose. The SECURE Water Act requires that the Secretary collect information and provide annual reports to "assess the effect, and the risk resulting from, global climate change." While the Administration acknowledges the relevance of this information, acquiring sufficient data to enable a comprehensive assessment of the risk to water supplies at the basin level associated with climate change, and then to develop and implement appropriate mitigation strategies, is a significant challenge that would require much more time than the one year allowed under this bill. In order to carry out the necessary data acquisition to complete these reports, we suggest that the 8 major river basin studies, or portions of the basins as appropriate, could be completed in five years, and updated every three to five years. This research and reporting activity would need to compete among the Administration's other priorities for funding. We also recommend that the bill make clear how it impacts basin-specific statutes with existing obligations such as the Truckee-Carson-Pyramid Lake Water Rights Settlement Act of 1990, Pub. L. 101-618.

Despite these concerns, we recognize and agree with the premise of this section: that it is important to develop collaborative approaches to assess the potential impacts of climate change on water supplies and to develop strategies to address potential water shortages, conflicts, and other impacts. Although it is widely agreed that climate change will have significant impacts on water supplies and flood hazards, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the nature of the change that can be expected. Effective adaptation to these changes will depend on better monitoring, better climatic and hydrologic models, and new thinking about water-resource system operations. The USGS, Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are already working together to develop comprehensive approaches to water planning and management in a more uncertain world. Federal agencies are also working with non-Federal entities regarding climate change and water resource management challenges in the United States.

Water 2025 Grants

Section 5 provides a new permanent authority for the Bureau of Reclamation to issue water conservation grants for qualified entities. This section would authorize the Water 2025 Program and is similar to authorizing legislation we submitted to the Committee as an administration proposal. This section would provide permanent authorization for the Challenge Grant component of the Department of the Interior's Water 2025 program.

Water 2025 is intended to focus attention on the reality that rapid population growth in western urban areas, the emerging need for water for environmental uses, and the national importance of western farms and ranches are driving major conflicts between competing uses of water. Water 2025 recognizes that State and local government should play leading roles in meeting these challenges, and that the Department of the Interior should focus its attention and existing resources on areas where Federal dollars can provide the greatest benefits to the West and the rest of the Nation.

Water 2025 has two purposes. First, it provides a basis for a public discussion of the realities that face the West so that decisions can be made at the appropriate level in advance of water supply crises. Second, it sets forth a framework to identify the problems, solutions, and a plan of action to focus limited resources as the Department of the Interior works with States, Tribes, local government, and others to meet water supply challenges.

For the first years of the program, FY 2004 through the present, Water 2025 has been funded through the annual appropriation process. Permanent authorization would improve the long-term effectiveness of Water 2025 by allowing eligible entities to rely on the availability of the grants and therefore to invest resources in developing potential projects.

While the Department supports this provision, the requirement in Section 5(a) contains overly proscriptive language relative to which entities may receive the grants. The directive to provide grants only in watersheds that have a nexus to federal Reclamation projects would limit the flexibility of the current Water 2025 Program, and constrain our ability to select projects that best match the Program's mandate to remove institutional barriers to increase cooperation and collaboration among Federal, State, Tribal, and other organizations. In the Administration proposal, we suggested language limiting the grants to activities "in watersheds that have a nexus to Federal water projects" in Reclamation States. Federal water projects encompass a larger number of projects than "federal Reclamation projects," and given the active role of agencies such as the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in developing water resources throughout the West, this language is preferable to language in S. 2156 as introduced limiting the grants to projects "that have a nexus to federal Reclamation projects."

Additionally, the Department recommends that the legislation specifically designate the authority to enter into Cooperative Agreements for research as not limited only to activities carried out under the appropriation ceiling established by this section. This authority exists for almost all federal agencies, but it is not clear whether Reclamation's authority, often contained in appropriations bills, has general applicability. This legislation could clarify this situation.

Effect of Climate Change on Hydroelectric Power Generation

Section(6)(a) tasks the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with each Power Marketing Administration (PMA), to "assess each effect of, and risk resulting from, global climate change with respect to water supplies that are required for the generation of hydroelectric power at each Federal water project that is applicable to a Federal Power Marketing Administration."

While the responsibilities of transmission and marketing of federal hydroelectric power lies with the PMA's (P.L. 95-91), hydrologic scheduling and facility operations and maintenance still lie with Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). There may be some duplication of effort between DOI and the Department of Energy given the requirements on Interior in Section 4, and Interior would expect that much of the information generated for a Section 4 report could be useful for the Section 6 assessments. Finally, as the nation's first and second largest producers of hydroelectric power in the nation, respectively, the Corps and Reclamation should be includedI in the Section 6(a) consultations with the Secretary of Energy and the PMAs in order to ensure a full assessment of risks to water supplies used for federal hydroelectric generation.

Climate Change and Water Intragovernmental Panel

Section 7 of the SECURE Water Act directs the Secretary to establish and lead a climate change and water intragovernmental panel to review the current scientific understanding of global climate change impacts on the water resources of the United States and to develop strategies to improve observational capabilities and expand data acquisition to increase the reliability and accuracy of modeling and prediction systems to benefit water managers at the Federal, State, and local levels.

This is a commendable goal and, by directing multiple agencies to participate, should foster coordination among the agencies and lead to improved integration of water resources-related capabilities of the numerous agencies with water-resources responsibilities. The Secretary has already taken action on this front, by establishing a climate change team, internal to DOI, to evaluate climate change science, management, and policy issues. The proposed intragovernmental panel is consistent with this effort and a logical next step. We suggest adding the Secretary of Energy to the panel. In addition, the panel's efforts should be coordinated with the work of the interagency Climate Change Science Program. However, as we stated with respect to section 4, the activities of this panel must compete against other programs for funding, and under existing budget constraints the number and timing of the reporting requirements may pose a resource and practical challenge.

USGS Water Data Enhancement

The USGS has played an essential role in monitoring the Nation's rivers for well over a century, providing streamflow information that is critical for protecting life and property from floods, assessing and allocating water resources, managing water quality, supporting engineering design of water projects, and ensuring the safety and enjoyment of the many people who fish and boat in the Nation's rivers and streams. The USGS currently operates more than 7,000 streamgages nationwide that provide daily streamflow records accessible to the public. This national system of streamgages provides information that is vital to water resources management throughout the country, providing accurate measurements that protect human life, health, welfare, and property.

Section 9 of the SECURE Water Act directs the USGS to implement a program to provide a more accurate assessment of the status of the water resources of the United States; to assist in the determination of the quantity of water that is available for beneficial uses; to identify long-term trends in water availability; to provide a more accurate assessment of the change in the availability of water in the United States; and to develop the basis for an improved ability to forecast the availability of water for future economic, energy production, and environmental uses. This information would help us advance from our current understanding of water availability toward a more comprehensive, "big picture" assessment of available water supplies.

Some work towards this assessment has been started pursuant to a directive made by the House Appropriations Committee in their report language on the FY 2002 budget. The USGS has responded to the Congress with a plan for a comprehensive water assessment: USGS Circular 1223, "Concepts for National Assessment of Water Availability and Use" [see http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/circ1223/]. It is also consistent with the NRC report Estimating Water Use in the United States (2002), which called for the USGS to strengthen its National Water Use Information Program in order to maintain a comprehensive national water inventory, help assure the Nation's water supply, and help preserve water quality and protect ecological resources. The usefulness of this kind of information can be seen from a pilot effort in the Great Lakes Basin to assess how much water is in the region now, how the region is using water, how water availability is changing, and how much water the region can expect to have in the future. Through this pilot effort, the USGS has published a number of products that we believe will help water managers understand the water resources of that region, including reports on estimates of ground water in storage, ground-water recharge rates, lake-level variability, and historical changes in precipitation and streamflow. We believe that this Great Lakes Basin pilot is a good model of a water census as defined in the SWAQ report mentioned above, A Strategy for Federal Science and Technology to Support Water Availability and Quality in the United States.

Recognizing that the goal is to develop and maintain a comprehensive national water resource inventory, help assure the Nation's water supply, and help preserve water availability and protect water resources, we would be pleased to work with the Committee to refine this section in order to put together a program that is fiscally sustainable and appropriately integrated with State and local efforts.


In conclusion, the Department is currently pursuing many of the goals of this legislation, which include enhancing our understanding of our Nation's water resources and encouraging collaborative efforts to improve water management. While some of the actions authorized in the SECURE Water Act have the potential to strengthen the Nation's ability to address water-related challenges beyond activities currently underway, funding requests for new activities will have to compete with other high-priority programs for funds. We also have concerns with the specific language in the bill, particularly relating to the need for consistent terminology usage and definition of key terms that may be defined differently in other environmental and natural resources statutes. We have identified several other areas in which technical changes may be needed. We would be happy to work with the Committee to revise the bill to address our concerns.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on S. 2156. The Department looks forward to working with the Committee to advance the objectives described in the bill.


Assessing the National Streamflow Information Program (National Research Council, 2004) Concepts for National Assessment of Water Availability and Use (USGS Circular 1223)

Ground-Water-Level Monitoring and the Importance of Long-Term Water-Level Data (USGS Circular 1217).

Estimating Water Use in the United States (National Research Council, 2002).

Facing Tomorrow's Challenges – U.S. Geological Survey Science in the Decade 2007-2017 (USGS Circular 1309).

A Strategy for Federal Science and Technology to Support Water Availability and Quality in the United States (Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality, 2007).

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