THE SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, AND WATER
THE FEDERAL ROLE IN MEETING WATER SUPPLY NEEDS
JAY L. RUTHERFORD, P.E., DIRECTOR
WATER SUPPLY DIVISION
VERMONT DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION
ON BEHALF OF
THE ASSOCIATION OF STATE DRINKING WATER ADMINISTRATORS
NOVEMBER 14, 2001
Testimony of the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators
Before the Senate Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water
The Federal Role in Meeting Water Supply Needs
November 14, 2001
The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) is pleased to provide testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water regarding the Federal role in meeting water supply needs. ASDWA represents the drinking water programs in each of the fifty states, territories, and the District of Columbia in their efforts to ensure the provision of safe, potable drinking water to all Americans nationwide. ASDWA=s primary mission is the protection of public health through the effective management of state drinking water programs that implement the Safe Drinking Water Act.
For more that 25 years, state drinking water program administrators have been involved in issues primarily relating to water quality rather than quantity, although a reliable source of drinking water is a prerequisite for good public health protection. ASDWA=s members carry out regulation of public drinking water systems that serve 25 or more people per day. Public water systems have the benefit of both Federal and state regulation and this oversight typically provides for improved source protection, planning, and operation of those systems to the benefit of the consuming public.
In response to the questions posed by the Subcommittee, ASDWA polled its member states regarding the adequacy or capacity of their public water supplies. The responses received emphasized that each state=s situation is unique.
Is there a water supply problem?
Declared drought conditions exist in all or portions of approximately half of the states. States generally concurred that these conditions either do or will affect the supply of available drinking water. From ASDWA members= perspective, the primary cause of stressed water supplies is weather-related B principally a lack of rainfall or snowpack. Some states also reported stresses attributable to population growth; competition for use among agricultural, manufacturing, and environmental initiatives; and, in some areas, stress due to development, although this issue was much less significant than stresses caused by the weather.
Most states have developed, or are developing, management systems to address the reliability of their water supply. These efforts usually involve coordination among a variety of state and local agencies and, as needed, further coordination with selected Federal agencies. Slightly more than half of state drinking water programs are housed in Departments of Environment or Natural Resources, generally the state agency responsible for water supply management. The remaining state programs fall under the purview of Departments of Health where water supply management is not part of the program=s mandate. This distinction has led to a variety of lead agencies with regard to primary responsibility for water quantity issues. However, state drinking water programs, regardless of their location, all contain initiatives directed toward source water assessment and delineation as part of their responsibilities under the 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
What is the appropriate Federal role?
The 1996 SDWA Amendments offered state drinking water programs several opportunities to respond with enhanced flexibility to Federal requirements in a manner that targeted specific state needs and recognized that states frequently know how best to manage their resources responsibly. Federal water supply management initiatives may benefit from a similar approach. Water supply management is, of necessity, very different east and west of the Mississippi River.
In the East, water supplies are generally more plentiful. States recognize, however, that plentiful does not mean unlimited. Many states already have well- and long-established interagency working relationships primarily to address drought but also to look at broader water management issues such as protection against contamination and/or smart growth. Many states have developed water management and conservation plans to respond to immediate short-term concerns such as water outages as well as longer range coordinated mechanisms to ensure continued sufficient water supply.
For example, Georgia is developing a State Water Plan and a State Drought Plan that includes regional drought management models and a statewide comprehensive water conservation plan. As well, Georgia is studying ways to reduce agricultural water use while still protecting the prosperity of farmers and agricultural communities. These initiatives call upon the combined state level expertise of the Department of Natural Resources through both the Pollution Prevention Division and the Environmental Protection Division, the Departments of Wildlife Resources and Community Affairs, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Association of County Commissioners, and the Georgia Municipal Association. Federal participation is principally through the US Army Corps of Engineers.
In Tennessee, the state has enacted legislation that will require registration and permitting for all interbasin transfers of water. A special panel has been created to consider water supply policies for the state. Tennessee expects that water supply legislation to conduct an inventory of water availability will be introduced and considered during the next legislative session. To respond to drought and other water shortage situations, the Department of Environment and Conservation works in collaboration with the state offices for economic and community development, policy and planning, and municipal pollution control. At the Federal level, Tennessee works with the Tennessee Valley Authority, Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Vermont, in contrast, has taken a different approach. The state=s policy is to encourage rather than mandate water conservation initiatives at the local level. Conservation is perceived as a locally managed issue. However, for a number of years, Vermont has taken a conservative approach toward allowing development of new public drinking water sources. This long range planning effort has been instrumental in reducing drought impacts for those systems. Additionally, the state requires that all community water systems develop a Source Protection Plan which includes a contingency plan to address system failures and outages.
Other states such as Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Minnesota require that all public water systems serving, generally, a population of 1,000 or more develop water management plans as part of the permitting process. Although drinking water is regulated under the Department of Health in these three states, each program is directly involved in working with the Department responsible for water supply management to address drought and conservation initiatives.
In the West, water supply management has a very different history and tradition. Because supplies are so limited, water use has been bound by a complex allocation scheme known as water rights. Much of the water supply in the western United States is controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation through its oversight and management responsibilities for Federal dams and reservoirs. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plays a critical role in water supply allocation as it strives to provide sufficient water to support endangered marine and other species. The Corps of Engineers also play a significant role in its management and restoration of wetlands as well as its more traditional dredging activities.
Western states face unique water supply management challenges due to these water rights issues that force irrigated agriculture, technology and other industries, fish and wildlife, and the consuming public into an ongoing struggle for severely limited supplies. The significant level of Federal involvement adds yet another layer to the mix. However, states have proved adequate to the challenge through water management and conservation plans designed to address the needs of their particular combinations of geography, population, and limited sources of supply.
States in the West have worked diligently to find the appropriate balance that addresses the concerns of these competing interests. California, for example, has its longstanding State Water Project that addresses supply concerns between the northern and southern regions of the state. California also participates in a state/Federal water supply partnership and has designed several regional and individual efforts to increase supply through water reuse, water banking, and increased surface storage systems. Additionally, California requires that any developer of a project with more than 500 service connections must identify an appropriate water source before receiving approval to proceed.
The State of Washington, too, is working diligently to resolve some of its supply issues through adoption of smart growth plans, increasing water reuse capabilities, and developing water management plans. The state is working to determine how best to integrate these efforts and how to incorporate additional fish protection requirements into a comprehensive management strategy. The state expects that its next legislative session will focus largely on water supply management issues for public water providers as well as consideration of issues such as utility responsibilities for environmental management, water use efficiency, and water system infrastructure funding.
Arizona has had a comprehensive water resource management plan in place for more than 20 years. The plan requires state regulation of groundwater use to ensure that dependable water supplies are available for current and future use. The plan places conservation requirements on both municipal and agricultural water use and promotes renewable water supplies. The state=s Department of Environmental Quality has modified its regulations relating to reuse of effluent to allow more reuse while maintaining necessary water quality standards; thereby conserving potable water sources for human consumption and domestic uses.
Each of these western states has designed a water management plan that addresses its unique needs B whether it be water transfers between northern and southern California; water management plans to coordinate competing uses in water-rich Seattle or high desert Spokane, Washington; or water conservation planning and management for the arid Arizona desert. Each has developed a methodology that incorporates collaboration between and among different state agencies as well as cooperation with a host of Federal agencies and inclusion of public input through stakeholder involvement.
In the drinking water arena, each of these states has also developed a plan for source water assessment and protection. These initiatives will allow states to further coordinate their water supply management activities through identification of areas that may need increased protection from contamination; areas that should not be developed as part of a prevention approach to protection; and the ability of source water protection initiatives to assist in directing state determinations for appropriate smart growth and other land use decisions.
The clear message from state drinking water programs is that water supply matters must be addressed primarily at the state and local level. Federal involvement with the states should be limited to a facilitative role in meeting the interest of the states.
What, if any, actions should Congress take?
State drinking water programs are reluctant to provide legislative advice or direction on matters not typically under their purview. ASDWA can recommend continued Congressional support for programs such as the source water protection initiatives found within the SDWA that carry many incentives for participation, few overarching regulatory mandates, and allow states to pursue compliance strategies tailored to their individual needs. One of the best methods of support for these flexible programs is increased funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF). The DWSRF allows Federal funding, coupled with a 20 percent state match, to create a loan program that distributes much needed infrastructure improvement dollars to qualified applicants as well as offer drinking water utilities the means to work toward protecting their drinking water sources; identifying and removing potential sources of contamination; and establishing reasonable land use or smart growth strategies. Each of these initiatives demonstrates an approach to effective water supply management. All are possible due to the flexibilities offered under the DWSRF for source water protection.
ASDWA also reiterates that each state is unique in its needs, strategies, and solutions. States are in the best position to manage and coordinate the multi-level efforts among Federal, state, and local perspectives. As well, states are best positioned to balance competing priorities among local communities, interest groups, and Federal agencies as they are the only entity to have direct responsibilities to each of the participating parties. Tensions are often exacerbated when longstanding state-local working agreements are overridden by Anew or revised@ Federal mandates that can Aundo@ compromises that took years to reach. Almost without exception, states have programs in place to address drought conditions as well as water management plans that represent years of effort to reach a delicate balance that fairly represents competing interests.
History has taught us that without cooperation in water supply management efforts, the economic consequences will be dire. Direct Federal intervention is not the only, and frequently not the best, solution. States must be allowed to manage their own resources B they are the primary stewards B and are responsible to the public that they serve.
ASDWA appreciates this opportunity to provide information to the Subcommittee. ASDWA believes that each state faces unique challenges in addressing the issues surrounding water supply management. States have developed coordinated efforts that incorporate local and Federal perspectives within the construct of identified state needs. The Federal role should be both facilitative and supportive of these ongoing initiatives. From a drinking water perspective, one of the best ways to accomplish this is for continued Federal support for programs such as the DWSRF that offers the incentives and financial wherewithal to address identified water supply issues.