Coverage of the newest movement in water and drilling matters in the government.

Watershed Proposals Invited Before Funding Approved

Governors and Tribal leaders are being invited to submit nominations for projects that would protect and restore their local watersheds under President Bush's watershed initiative even before Congress has funded the program.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently opened nominations for the watershed initiative announced in the 2002 State of the Union Address.

President Bush has requested that Congress appropriate $21 million for grants to encourage community-based approaches and techniques to protect water resources throughout the country.

Project grants would range from $300,000 to $1 million. Funding would be provided for up to 20 watersheds, contingent on favorable congressional action on the President's appropriations request for the program.

EPA administrator Christie Whitman said she would announce the 20 watersheds early next year after careful review by a panel of experts at the regional and national levels.

Proposals would be required to explain in detail how the infusion of additional funds would help support projects that quickly result in cleaner water.

Because selected watersheds are expected to serve as models, projects that undertake unique, innovative or novel approaches to environmental problem solving would be scored high. Compatibility with federal or state programs is also a key criterion in the proposal.

The EPA has asked Congress to fund 10 employees to work with the grant recipients to help them meet their objectives and to share knowledge of their experiences with other states and watershed organizations. About 5 percent of the total appropriation would go toward enhancing national tools, training and technical assistance that would help local partnerships be more effective at improving watershed health.

The Federal Register Notice and other information about the Watershed Initiative is available at:

Environmentalists Sue Army Engineers

Three environmental groups are suing the Army Corps of Engineers to overturn a decision that would allow continued limestone mining in 5,409 acres of the Florida Everglades for the next 10 years.

Environmentalists say the permits endanger drinking water and harm a $7.8 billion federal effort to revive the expansive wetland area.

The Army of Corps of Engineers announced its decision in April to issue permits allowing 10 companies to pay $46 million in fees to more than double the amount of limestone quarries in the wetlands. The federal government plans to use the fees to buy and improve another 7,500 acres of wetlands near the Everglades.

The environmental groups assert that the approvals violated numerous federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Local officials also have objected to the mining project, which is located next to drinking water wellfields, arguing that it could expose public water supplies to contamination and cost hundreds of millions in water treatment.

A spokesman for the Corps said it would have no public comment on the lawsuit because the matter is pending before the federal court.

Water Plan Approved

The U.S. Department of Interior has given its approval to a controversial $1-billion, 50-year project to store and pump water from beneath the Mojave Desert to help boost water supplies for the Southern California region.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the project calls for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) to store surplus water from the Colorado River in the aquifer and during dry years pump aquifer water into the MWD system. If the MWD approves the project, the agency and the public would bear a substantial part of the estimated $150-million cost.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is urging the MWD to reject the proposal, saying the project could possibly damage the desert ecosystem that relies on the same aquifer. Feinstein said that she has spoken with federal agencies and the company's estimates on recharge rates for the aquifer are five to 25 times too high.

The project also is being opposed by the National Parks Conservation Association (NCPA), saying it would jeopardize wildlife and wilderness habitats at great economic cost.

Scientists at the Department of Interior concluded that a warning system devised by the partners and government agencies would give sufficient notice if the aquifer were being drawn down too quickly.

State Requires Permit Use

South Carolina's environmental board has designated three counties a "capacity use" water district, meaning anyone withdrawing 100,000 gallons of water per day beneath those counties must get a state permit. The counties include Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester.

The permit process, from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), primarily affects major water users, such as big industries, farming operations, electricity plants and golf courses.

The program, in most cases, would not prevent large withdrawals, but would allow the agency to limit the siphoning of excess amounts of ground water. DHEC also would encourage water users to use water more efficiently.

Wells used by homeowners wouldn't be regulated because their ground water withdrawals are insignificant compared with those of larger users.

Senator Proposes Water Terrorism Penalties

New York State Senator Michael Balboni has proposed legislation to protect the state's water works, including harsher penalties against anyone caught using a computer to alter or destroy computer systems of a water supplier, or anyone who contaminates the water supply.

Balboni, chairman of the state Senate Committee on Water Resources, cited news reports coming out of Afghanistan and FBI warnings that he said reveal the threat against municipal water filtration and distribution facilities, according to an article in the Buffalo News.

Balboni's legislation would create the new crimes of water supplier computer tampering and sabotage, establish a task force that would identify vulnerabilities in waterworks throughout the state and recommend security improvements. It also would set up a scholarship program for students who study computer science in college and specialize in computer infrastructure protection.

Balboni also proposed to amend state law to define tampering with a water supplier's computer or defiling a water supply as a new felony crime.

AWWA Request Funds

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has requested that more funds appear in future appropriations for homeland security that includes water-related items. The request came after President Bush rejected the portion of the $28.9 billion in emergency spending in a bill, HR 4775, that he signed into law in August, including $50 million for the EPA to help small- and medium-sized water utilities complete vulnerability assessments as required by the Bioterrorism Act Bush signed in June.

AWWA President Lynn Stovall and Water Utility Council Chair Howard Neukrug estimated $450 million is needed to help the 8,400 systems serving more than 3,000 people complete vulnerability assessments and update emergency response plans on the schedule that is required by the Public Health Security and Bio-terrorism Preparedness and Response Act.