Weekly Column

Apr 04 2013

THE WORTH OF WATER

Benjamin Franklin once quipped, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” Franklin understood that while water is an essential part of daily life, many of us take it for granted. We use water to cook, clean, and nourish crops. Water sustains individuals and livestock alike; it is used to transport passengers and goods. Water is undoubtedly one of our most precious natural resources. As such, wise water management should be a top priority.

Recently, I had the opportunity to vote in favor of advancing the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee’s bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The legislation establishes priorities for the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain waterways for transportation, reduce flood and storm damage, and restore fragile aquatic ecosystems. 

Importantly, the bill also contains provisions to advance stalled flood control projects, including levee improvements essential to protecting Nebraska's metropolitan drinking water supplies. 

I worked closely with three metropolitan area Natural Resource Districts to address needed changes to the law for a flood control project located along the banks of the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers in eastern Nebraska. The area has a significant, long-term flooding problem; levee improvements are needed to provide flood protection to the Nebraska Army National Guard buildings and training areas, water wells that supply drinking water to 50% of Nebraska's population (including the cities of Lincoln and Omaha), and numerous residential buildings.

I was pleased to support this updated, bipartisan legislation to establish priorities and manage the backlog of Corps projects. I was also impressed with the collaborative nature of Republicans and Democrats on the EPW Committee – hopefully it is a sign of future bipartisan cooperation. 

Bipartisan cooperation is needed to tackle other water-related challenges, which merit consideration and resolution by the EPW Committee, sooner rather than later. I am referring to the growing concern – particularly among Nebraskans – about overreach and misguided regulatory mandates stemming from the Clean Water Act. 

Federal overreach disregards private property rights, preempts management by state and local authorities, and increases permits and paperwork – all while failing to improve protections for our nation’s water resources. 

I offered a statement at the WRDA vote highlighting the need to provide regulatory relief for farmers and ranchers facing federal mandates on water issues. 

Specifically, I drew attention to the Restoring Effective Environmental Protection Act, which addresses the duplicative permitting requirement for pesticide applications imposed on producers. Congress must clarify that Clean Water Act permits are not required for pesticide applications already safely governed under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. 

I also urged my colleAgues on the EPW Committee to begin consideration of the FUELS Act – a bill I am sponsoring to address the overreach of Clean Water Act regulations aimed at reducing oil discharges. Beginning in May, the EPA will begin requiring farms to prepare and implement Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans for on-farm fuel storage tanks with capacities greater than 1,320 gallons. 

These misguided rule changes have a direct, adverse impact on producers who must now deal with the compliance costs and paperwork required, or face stiff fines and penalties from EPA. Nebraskans know one size does not fit all, particularly when it comes to regulations impacting the agriculture industry. The FUELS Act will go a long way to provide commonsense regulatory relief for Nebraska farmers and ranchers.

Both important bills passed the House of Representatives in the 112th Congress, but were held up in the Senate EPW Committee.

Nebraska’s water resources are invaluable. We must ensure our policies lead to wise management of water through infrastructure projects and water quality protections based on sound science and commonsense. Because Nebraskans know the worth of water, we must take its stewardship seriously.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process, and I look forward to visiting with you again next week. 

Deb Fischer
United States Senator