ROBERT M. HIRSCH
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR WATER
U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, AND WATER
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
UNITED STATES SENATE
S. 1961, “THE WATER INVESTMENT ACT OF 2002”
FEBRUARY 28, 2002
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on S.1961, “The Water Investment Act of 2002.” As you know, the mission of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is to provide scientific information to support decision-making on issues of resources, environmental quality, and natural hazards. Information about water has been a central part of our agency’s mission throughout our 123-year history. My remarks will be limited to Title IV of the bill, which relates to USGS. EPA has provided the Administration’s views on the remainder of the bill.
As such, we agree that the role defined in Title IV of the bill is an appropriate one for the USGS and that it could improve Federal coordination of water information, but we would welcome an opportunity to work with the Committee on the bill language to assure that the tasks are feasible and clearly defined and that they are appropriate for the USGS as a Federal scientific agency. Let me begin by providing some general context for my remarks.
Competition for water to meet the needs of homes, cities, farms, and industries in many parts of the country is increasing, as are requirements to leave water in the streams and rivers to meet environmental and recreational needs. Information on water resources is needed at many levels to address these issues. Included among these is information to help shed light on overall changing conditions of scarcity, use, and competition for water to help inform discussions about potential changes in policies and investment plans related to water.
In this regard, the USGS received a directive from Congress as part of the report on the fiscal year (FY) 2002 Appropriations for Interior and Related Agencies (House Committee on Appropriations) to prepare a report describing the scope and magnitude of the efforts needed to provide periodic assessments of the status and trends in the availability and use of freshwater resources.
Our efforts over the past six months in preparing that report have provided us with some insight that may be useful to this Subcommittee as it considers this legislation. In preparing our report to Congress, the USGS has solicited input from many individuals and organizations involved in issues of water availability and use. We asked them what types of decisions and policy issues would benefit from improved water facts today and in the future, how to build on existing efforts, and where to expand collaborative opportunities. In response to our request, we received nearly 100 responses from the water-management and policy communities.
There were several clear messages. First, there was consensus that a better set of facts is needed for informed decisions related to water availability and use. National organizations, in particular, noted the need for consistent indicators of water availability across the country. However, individuals representing State and local governments reminded us that many States have conducted extensive planning to quantify water availability now and in the future, and that the availability and use of water is a State, local, or tribal issue in most respects.
Our report to the House Appropriations Committee is in the final stages of review at the present time. Based on the comments we received from others, we believe that the critical need is for regular reporting on indicators of the status and trends in storage volumes, flow rates, and uses of water nationwide. This information is not available in an up-to-date, nationally comprehensive and integrated form.
Water availability is a function of the total flow of water through a basin, its quality, and the structures, laws, regulations, and institutions that control its use. Information is currently synthesized about the Nation’s water quality by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) programCA program that has recently been reviewed by the National Research Council (NRC) after completing its first decade.
The NRC/NAWQA review committee stated “NAWQA is providing key national leadership, reporting, and assessing the quality of surface water and groundwater resources across the nation. Furthermore, NAWQA is playing a vital role in balancing its good science with responsiveness to policy and regulatory needs. This is a vital function.” The assessment required by this bill could be used with water-quality information from NAWQA and other existing water-quality programs to provide a more complete national picture of both the quantity and quality aspects of water availability.
Data that are germane to issues of water availability include population statistics, land uses, water costs and pricing, climate data, and instream-flow requirements for aquatic habitats. These data are compiled by State and local agencies, by universities and water-resource organizations, and by several Federal agencies.
An assessment, such as called for in this bill, would need to rely on up-to-date, nationally consistent indicators that would reflect the status and trends in water availability and use nationwide, for surface-water flows and storage, ground-water levels and storage, and water use.
Currently, the USGS provides a number of assessment-type streamflow products at daily, weekly, and monthly time scales. These products, such as the online WaterWatch Internet site, are useful to emergency managers, public officials, and others tracking floods and droughts and to private citizens planning recreational activities. The USGS will continue to produce these types of information on daily to monthly conditions through our existing programs. Indicators that support longer-term water-availability decisions, however, require compilation of streamflow information at longer time scales.
Long-term, systematic measurements of ground-water levels provide essential data needed to evaluate changes in ground-water storage over time. The density of existing monitoring wells varies considerably from State-to-State, and even more so among major aquifers, with very limited monitoring in many aquifers. Thus, an inventory of existing water-level networks for major aquifer systems would be useful to identify data gaps across the Nation and determine the detail to which we can provide this information.
Tracking water use is an important part of understanding water availability. The USGS has compiled and disseminated estimates of water use for the Nation at 5-year intervals since 1950. The National Research Council (NRC) recently reviewed the USGS program for water-use information and will be making a number of recommendations for improvement of the program to address inconsistencies in the availability of water-use data from State to State. This NRC report will be released within the next few months. We would encourage the Committee to seek their input on this important component of the water resource equation. Valid and consistent water-use data are as vital as river flow or ground-water data and are often even more difficult to acquire. An assessment such as is envisioned by this legislation depends on water-use data. The responsibility for collecting and analyzing these data must be shared by the States and the Federal Government.
In summary, in response to the directive from Congress and with input from many others, the USGS has developed concepts for a national assessment of freshwater availability and use. The proposed assessment would develop and report on indicators of the status and trends in storage volumes, flow rates, and uses of water nationwide. Currently, this information is not available in an up-to-date, nationally comprehensive and integrated form. The development and reporting of national indicators of water availability and use would be analogous to the task of other Federal statistical programs that produce and regularly update indicator variables that describe economic, demographic, or health conditions of the Nation. Any such effort would comply with the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) recently issued Information Quality Guidelines.
The assessment would be highly collaborative, involving the USGS along with Federal and State agencies, Indian tribes, universities, and non-governmental interests. Collaboration across agency boundaries would ensure that information produced by the USGS could be aggregated with other types of physical, social, economic, and environmental data that affect water availability.
In regard to section 403(b) on water resource research priorities we would note that we are currently engaged in contracting with the National Research Council, at the direction of Congress, to conduct a study of the priorities for, and best means of organizing, water research across the Federal Government. We would suggest that this National Research Council effort may provide very valuable inputs to help carry out the objectives of this section.
In regard to section 403(c) on information delivery systems, the objectives defined here are very much in concert with the existing charge to the USGS under OMB Memorandum 92-01 on “Coordination of Water Resources Information.” This section would reinforce our ongoing role of coordination of water information across the Federal Government.
In closing, again, we agree that the role defined in the bill is an appropriate one for the USGS, but we would welcome an opportunity to work with the Committee on the language of Title IV, to assure that the tasks are clear and feasible and that they are appropriate for the USGS as a Federal scientific agency. For example, the bill directs the USGS to identify areas of the United States that are at risk for water shortages or surpluses. However, long range predictions of water supplies cannot be determined solely by physical science but are heavily dependent on human decisions to invest in infrastructure, restrict use, change water laws, etc., which are largely State decisions. The USGS makes a significant contribution to these issues by regularly providing indicators of the changing status of the Nation’s water resources derived from long-term monitoring.
We appreciate this opportunity to discuss USGS capabilities and I welcome any questions you may have.