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  Environmental Policy Issues

Water Resource Issues
(Released April 1999)

 

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Growing populations and changing values are placing increasing demands on existing water supplies, resulting in water use conflicts throughout the country. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report, Water Resource Issues in the 106th Congress (December 15, 1998), presents the debate on a number of the controversial water resources issues in legislation, ranging from individual project authorizations and agency policy changes, to privatization of federal facilities.

These conflicts are particularly evident in the West, where the U.S. population is expected to increase by 30% in the next 20-25 years. However, many rural communities need to complete water and waste disposal projects to improve the public health and environmental conditions of their citizens. The CRS Report Rural Water Supply and Sewer Systems: Background Information (January 20, 1999), describes several federal programs that assist rural communities in meeting these requirements. The Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act impose the requirements regarding drinking water quality and wastewater treatment in rural areas. These two federal laws are discussed in the two CRS Reports, Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996: Overview of P.L. 104-182 (February 8,1999) and Water Quality: Implementing the Clean Water Act (February 5, 1999).

© Copyright 1999, All Rights Reserved, CSA

 

CRS Reports

Water Resource Issues in the 106th Congress

Summary

Growing populations and changing values are placing increasing demands on existing water supplies, resulting in water use conflicts throughout the country. These conflicts are particularly evident in the West, where population is expected to increase by 30% in the next 20-25 years and where urban needs are often in direct conflict with agricultural needs, as well as increased demand for water for endangered species, recreation, and scenic enjoyment. The 106th Congress may debate a number of these controversial water resources issues in legislation ranging from individual project authorizations and agency policy changes (e.g., Animas La Plata, Garrison, American River flood control, and the Water Resources Development Act) to privatization of federal facilities. Also likely to be debated is the broader issue of the future role of traditional water resources agencies in an era of changing public demands, declining budgets, and integrated resource management. This product is expected to be updated semi-annually, or as major events warrant.

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Rural Water Supply and Sewer Systems: Background Information

Summary

The Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act impose requirements regarding drinking water quality and wastewater treatment in rural areas. Approximately 27% of the U.S. population lives in areas defined by the Census Bureau as rural. Many rural communities need to complete water and waste disposal projects to improve the public health and environmental conditions of their citizens. Funding needs are high (at least $50 billion, according to EPA surveys). Several federal programs assist rural communities in meeting these requirements. In dollar terms, the largest federal programs are administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, but they do not focus solely on rural areas. The Department of Agriculture's grant and loan programs, described in detail in this report, support significant financial activity and are directed entirely at rural areas. Meeting infrastructure funding needs of rural areas efficiently and effectively is likely to remain an issue of considerable congressional interest. This report will be updated as developments warrant

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Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996: Overview of P.L. 104-182

Summary

The 104th Congress made extensive changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) with the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 (P.L. 104-182), bringing to a close a multi-year effort to amend a statute that was widely criticized as having too little flexibility, too many unfunded mandates, and an arduous but unfocused regulatory schedule. Among the many changes to the SDWA, the 1996 amendments added provisions to provide funding to communities for drinking water madates, focus regulatory efforts on contaminants posing health risks, and add some flexibility to the regulatory process. Congress also added programs to: improve the capacity of public water systems to comply with drinking water regulations, prevent contamination of source waters, strengthen the science underlying drinking water regulations, and increase information provided to the public water system customers. Authorizations for appropriations were extended through FY2003. This report, which will not be updated, reviews selected provisions of these amendments. (For a broader review of the SDWA, see CRS Report RL30022, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Statutes Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.)

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Water Quality: Implementing the Clean Water Act

Summary

Congress enacted the most recent major amendments to the Clean Water Act in 1987 (P.L. 100-4). Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states, and others have been working to implement the many program changes and additions mandated in the law. At issue today, as it has been for some time, is what progress EPA and the states are making. In general, many states and environmental groups fault EPA for delays in issuing guidance and assistance needed to carry out the provisions of the law. EPA and others are critical of states, in turn, for not reaching beyond conventional knowledge and institutional approaches to address their water quality problems. Environmental groups have been criticized for insufficient recognition of EPA's and states' need for flexibility to implement the Act. Finally, Congress has been criticized for not providing adequate funding and resources to meet EPA and state needs.

Three issues have predominated recently in connection with implementation of the law. The first involves the toxic pollutant control provisions under the 1987 amendments, requiring states to develop programs to control residual toxic discharges that impair water quality. Industry and environmentalists have criticized EPA's approach, which has focused on toxics from industrial and municipal sources, largely to the exclusion of nonpoint contributions, such as silt and pesticide runoff from farms. The second issue involves the nonpoint pollution management provisions added in 1987. States are developing management programs describing methods that will be used to reduce nonpoint pollution, which may be responsible for as much as 50% of the nation's remaining water quality problems. Most observers agree that implementation of nonpoint source control measures is significantly hindered by lack of resources, including federal assistance. EPA recently adopted new program guidance intended to give states more implementation flexibility and to speed up progress in nonpoint source control.

The third issue is funding to construct municipal wastewater treatment plants under the State Revolving Fund provisions of the 1987 amendments. States say that EPA has made implementation of these provisions overly complex. Budgetary constraints on federal aid for wastewater treatment are a continuing concern.

Recently, EPA has begun a number of agencywide and program-specific reforms focusing on flexibility and "common sense" approaches to regulation. Many of these will affect implementation of water quality programs. In February 1998, the Administration released a multi-agency Clean Water Initiative Action Plan intended to build on the environmental successes of the Act and address the nation's remaining water quality challenges. Funding for this Initiative is a concern to many.

Reauthorization of the Act was on the agenda of the 104th Congress. The House passed H.R. 961 in May 1995, but no Clean Water Act amendments were enacted. (For further information, see CRS Issue Brief IB10001, Clean Water Act Reauthorization .) Reauthorization legislation was not introduced in the 105th Congress, and no major House or Senate committee activity occurred. Thus, the Act could present issues for the 106th Congress; whether and how it will be considered is unclear at this time.

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