Western States Water Council: 2009 symposium day 3 recap

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Federal Roles, Regulations and Planning Functions

The last day of the conference started out with a panel of representatives from four federal agencies moderated by Tony Willardson (Western States Water Council) and included: Chandler Peter (Denver Regulatory Office, Omaha District, Army Corps of Engineers); Bert Garcia (Director , Ecosystems Protection Program, Regions 8, Environmnetal Protection Agency); Randy Karstaedt (Director, Physical Resources, U.S. Forest Service); Meg Estep (Mountain-Prairie region, Chief, Water Resources Division, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Peter explained that the Corps regulatory authority comes from Seciton 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act. He added that the Corps doesn’t bring any money to the table in the permit process, nor do they participate in planning — their job is to tell applicants what to do and what not to do.

Collaboration is the name of the game now. Peter hopes to move the EPA (at least in his office) to work collaboratively with water and land developers. He told the conference that much of the information that the Corps uses comes from submittals and that there is opportunity to collaborate on data collection and analysis.

Peter ran through some of the requirements for a permit. The Corps requires a needs analysis with each application. He said, “The amount of water needed translates directly to effects on aquatic resources.” The intensity of the review can be adjusted, “in light of the level of impact,” but he admitted that the needs analysis process can, “involve substantial cost and effort.” Some of the elements of the analysis are, demand, reliability of the source, conservation efforts, water rights, contracts, leases, and growth projections.

The Corps is statutorily required to evaluate alternatives to any proposed project and choose the option with the least environmental effect, he said.

The Corps, according to Chandler, is trying to improve the permitting process. He cited three examples where, after multi-year efforts and high investment, the application ended up in litigation and the applicant was denied the permit. Two Forks Dam made the list. Proponents spent some $40 million and in the end the reservoir was not approved.

Fort Collins and Greeley have agreed to partner with the Corps to test a new collaborative process, according to Peter. The pilot is the proposed Halligan and Seaman reservoirs expansion.

Garcia also cited Section 404 of the Clean Water Act as the authorizing legislation for the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory efforts. He asked the question, “What can we do to improve the process?”

He advocates transparency in the give and take between the EPA and thos the agency regulates. The more they know about projects the better they can integrate processes.

Garcia told the conference that the EPA will be promoting more low impact development.

Karstaedt said that the U.S. Forest Service is a land management agency rather that a regulatory agency. Most of us, “depend on rural areas and forests for our water,” he said. In the west forests comprise around 19% of the land area but supply more than half of the fresh water. He added that in Colorado the numbers are 22% of the land in forest provides 68% of the water supply. Nationally, he said, ranches, farms, private and state forests and federal land provide 80% of the drinking water supplies.

The USFS has been buying acreage near forest land to simplify watershed management. They recently purchased parcels in the Beaver Creek Watershed.

Estep told the conference that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gets their charter from the Endangered Species Act. Their job is to prevent species from going extinct or ending up listed as threatened.

The Candidate Conservation Program, “…assesses species and develops and facilitates the use of voluntary conservation tools for collaborative conservation of candidate and other species-at-risk and their habitats, so that these species do not need the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” according to the USFW website.

They will also work with landowners to protect endangered species to set up best management practices through their Habitat Conservation Planning program.

A current focus of the agency is water quality.

More Colorado water coverage here.

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