Environment & Weather
Western Land Commissioners Concerned about the Clean Water Act PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Jim Suydam   
Thursday, 24 July 2014 07:41

Bismarck, ND--Land commissioners from 23 western states gathered in Bismarck, North Dakota during July to discuss and debate policy issues affecting land management actions on over 440 million acres of state land and water throughout the western United States.  The issue attracting the most attention was the federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”), and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) proposed rule change affecting Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”).

According to the EPA, the proposed rule merely clarifies the existing jurisdictional reach of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the “Corps”) over WOTUS, having little impact to existing regulations or the economy. Western land commissioners see it differently. In a resolution approved by the Association at its business meeting, the commissioners note that despite assurances to the contrary from the EPA, the proposed rule appears to greatly expand the jurisdiction of the Corp over WOTUS.

A major concern among the commissioners is that the EPA is moving forward on adoption of the proposed rule without making available a draft economic report, which the EPA claims supports the proposed rule. According to WSLCA President, John Thurston, “the draft economic report has not been released to the public, nor has it been subject to a mandatory peer review by the Science Advisory Board.” While EPA has extended the public review and comment period until October 20, 2014, there will not be adequate time to complete a thoughtful, in-depth peer review and analysis to facilitate the development of meaningful comments.

On the surface it would appear that changes to the CWA, administered by the Corps, would mostly affect states having large amounts of surface waters and wetlands. However, the economies of states like Arizona could be devastated if the new rule is adopted as currently proposed. “Developers, ranchers, and private landowners in the State of Arizona could see a tremendous increase in the need to obtain expensive and time consuming Section 404 permits from the Corps,” said Vanessa Hickman, Arizona State Land Commissioner. “It is equally disconcerting that under the proposed rule there is no grandfathering type of protection for those people who, in the last five years, have received a jurisdictional decision from the Corps, and are operating accordingly,” Hickman said. As a result, a great deal of anxiety is being created in the development and financing industries over whether or not those with prior jurisdictional decisions would have to reapply for new decisions, and possibly new Section 404 permits. It is unclear what affect this would have on the work flow of existing projects.

The public review and comment period is open until October 20, 2014. Those interested in getting more information on this important action may do so at the following website: www.wslca.org.

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Governor Quinn Signs Legislation to Help Combat Flooding in Illinois PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Katie Hickey   
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 12:59

Oak Lawn to Receive $12.7 Million in Stormwater Assistance as Part of New Law’s Expansion of Clean Water Initiative

OAK LAWN – Governor Pat Quinn today signed legislation to help combat flooding across the state and protect Illinois’ drinking water. The legislation makes stormwater management and treatment projects available for state financial assistance following last year’s record rainfall and severe flooding that affected communities across Illinois. At today’s bill signing in Oak Lawn, Governor Quinn also announced that the community will be taking advantage of $12.7 million in low-interest loans from the assistance program for their local water system improvements. Today’s action is part of Governor Quinn’s agenda to drive the economy forward and protect the environment by modernizing Illinois’ water infrastructure.

“During last year’s record rainfall and flooding, we learned the hard lesson that flash flooding can have devastating effects,” Governor Quinn said. “The Illinois Clean Water Initiative will now be able to help communities be more prepared than ever before in managing stormwater while creating thousands of construction jobs. This legislation will help to prevent flooding and protect our drinking water from pollution.”

The Governor’s $2 billion Clean Water Initiative has helped communities across the state secure low interest loans for drinking and wastewater infrastructure improvements. This new law builds on the overwhelming success of the program. At today’s bill signing, Governor Quinn also announced that community of Oak Lawn will receive $12.7 million in low-interest loan assistance immediately as part of their nine-project Regional Water System Improvement program. The total $171 million Oak Lawn program will use Clean Water Initiative loans to help fund the majority of the work, with the five-year system improvements creating approximately 1,400 construction jobs.

“Expansion of the Governor’s Clean Water Initiative will provide local governments with the ability to secure low-interest loans for capital projects that will prevent flooding and remove pollutants from stormwater,” Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Lisa Bonnett said. “Governor Quinn’s expanded $2 billion financing program is making significant improvements in water quality in our state, and has the added benefit of saving money for local residents and creating an additional 28,000 jobs for Illinois citizens.”

"Climate change is already bringing wild, violent swings to our weather that have exposed serious limitations to Illinois' water infrastructure,” Rob Moore of the Natural Resources Defense Council said. “We've seen flooding throughout the state in the last few weeks as heavy rains overwhelmed stormwater systems. It is going to take new ideas and new tools to meet the future challenges facing our drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems. Thanks to the efforts of the General Assembly and the leadership of Governor Quinn the legislation signed into law today emphasizes water efficiency, green infrastructure and other proven techniques that will make Illinois more resilient and prepared for the future."

Senate Bill 2780, sponsored by State Senator Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) and State Representative Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), expands the Governor’s Clean Water Initiative to include stormwater and green infrastructure projects. Expanding the projects eligible for financial assistance through the Clean Water Initiative will allow the IEPA to provide financial assistance to Illinois communities for storm sewers and stormwater-related activities, including green infrastructure. Governor Quinn first proposed the measure in his 2014 State of the State address. The new law takes effect immediately.

“This measure offers resources to cities, villages and towns that will prevent home flooding, improve water quality and create 28,000 local jobs,” Senator Kotowski said. “In light of recent floods throughout Illinois, it is especially critical that we fund projects to improve stormwater treatment.”

“This is an important step as we work in Springfield to embrace cleaner water and a greener Illinois,” Representative Nekritz said. “By treating stormwater more effectively, we improve the quality of life for our residents and work to limit the damage that flooding causes far too often here.”

Impervious surfaces like pavement and compacted terrain, which prevent rain and snowmelt from soaking into the ground, cover many urban and suburban areas and greatly increase the volume and velocity of stormwater runoff. The recent severe flooding events across Illinois demonstrate the need to fund stormwater treatment and storage projects.

In 2013, Governor Quinn signed Senate Bill 1869 which gives Illinois municipalities greater ability to build and invest in innovative stormwater management infrastructure to help mitigate damaging floods such as green roofs, rain gardens, bioswales, tree boxes, porous pavement, native plantings, constructed wetlands and more. The law expanded an existing law to include these items among the measures a municipality can employ to help prevent flooding.

Governor Quinn first launched the $1 billion Illinois Clean Water Initiative in his 2012 State of the State address to help local governments rebuild or repair clean water infrastructure, including aging wastewater and drinking water treatment systems and plants throughout the state. These projects ensure that facilities are being upgraded to protect our streams and rivers, drinking water supplies and the environment as a whole. Due to the overwhelming success of the program, Governor Quinn announced in his 2014 State of the State address that he was doubling the available financing to $2 billion. For more information regarding the program, please visit CleanWater.Illinois.gov.

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Governor Branstad issues disaster proclamation for Louisa County PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Office of the Governor of the State of Iowa   
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 12:36

(DES MOINES) – Today, Governor Terry E. Branstad issued a proclamation of disaster emergency for Louisa County. This is in response to the flooding and severe weather that began June 26, 2014.

The governor’s proclamation activates the Iowa Individual Assistance Program.

The Iowa Individual Assistance Program provides grants of up to $5,000 for households with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or a maximum annual income of $39,580, for a family of three. Grants are available for home or car repairs, replacement of clothing or food, and for the expense of temporary housing. Original receipts are required for those seeking reimbursement for actual expenses related to storm recovery. The grant application and instructions are available on the Iowa Department of Human Services website. Potential applicants have 45 days from the date of the proclamation to submit a claim.

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IOWANS SPEAK OUT IN SUPPORT OF NEW EPA CARBON LIMITS PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Susan Guy   
Monday, 21 July 2014 08:56

DES MOINES, Iowa – This week Iowans attended citizen field hearings in Storm Lake and Des Moines to speak out in support of the newly announced Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to limit carbon pollution from power plants, a major driver of climate change.

The citizen field hearings were held on Monday, July 14th (Storm Lake) and Tuesday, July 15th (Des Moines) and are sponsored by Iowa Interfaith Power & Light. The EPA has allowed for a 120-day public comment period on the proposed new carbon standards. The field hearings will be transcribed and comments from the hearings will be sent directly to the EPA. 

“I have firsthand experience of seeing the impacts of climate change on our environment,” said Rob Hack of Alta, Iowa who attended the hearing in Storm Lake. “We're doing the same thing over and over again and we believe that the President's EPA initiatives are going to hopefully make some changes.” Hack continued, “There are significant experiences we have been enduring in Iowa. There is reality to climate change. I'm not going to debate how much carbon is in the atmosphere, you know I'm not an atmospheric researcher, but there does need to be something different. As Albert Einstein said, if we continue to do the same thing over and over again expecting something different, that is insane.”

The following day in Des Moines, each citizen who spoke at the public hearing strongly supported the new EPA carbon pollution limits.

“My main message is to say I support the EPA carbon pollution standards for power plants,” said Margaret Vernon, an Indianola resident who attended the hearing. “I believe what the EPA is doing is a good step in the right direction.”

According to Bill Cox, “As a parent I am acutely aware of how air pollution can compromise health, especially those with lung disease who are the most vulnerable. We had a beloved daughter Kelly who had cystic fibrosis with an asthma complication.  She was a vibrant, active kid who participated in soccer and dance. She was one year from completing her bachelor's degree in nursing when she passed away in 1998. ... The fossil fuels industry frequently uses a scare tactic that higher environmental standards will lead to higher energy price. Our Kelly paid the ultimate price. ... I strongly support the EPA standards.”

Susan Guy, the Executive Director of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light was encouraged by the strong support for the new climate proposal. “It was nice to see Iowans from all walks of life, farmers, small business owners and parents, attend the hearings to speak out in support of the new EPA carbon standards,” said Guy. “We are extremely proud of the fact that Iowa’s citizens, businesses and utility companies have invested heavily in conservation and in renewable energy, and are well-prepared to meet the new carbon limits proposed by the EPA.”
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Watershed Rehabilitation Funding to Repair Dams in 26 States PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Sarah Maxwell   
Friday, 18 July 2014 13:38
Natural Resources Chief Joins House Ag Chairman to Highlight Projects that will Protect Lives, Provide Jobs

PERRY, Oklahoma, July 18, 2014 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that communities across the nation will benefit from a $262 million investment to rehabilitate dams that provide critical infrastructure and protect public health and safety. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller and Representative Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, were in Oklahoma to recognize the importance of this announcement to agriculture and communities nationwide.

"This investment will protect people and property from floods, help keep our water clean, and ensure that critical structures continue to provide benefits for future generations," Weller said. "Families, businesses and our agriculture economy depend on responsible management of dams and watersheds, and we are continuing to provide that support to these communities."

A number of the projects to be funded are in Oklahoma and Weller noted that the state had the first full watershed plan and structure completed by USDA on private lands in the 1940s. The 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law by President Obama earlier this year, increased the typical annual investment in watershed rehabilitation by almost 21 fold, recognizing the critical role of these structures in flood management, water supply, and agricultural productivity. Earlier this week the President discussed the importance of infrastructure to job creation and commerce, noting that "Funding infrastructure projects helps our families, it fuels our economy, and it better positions America for the future."

From the 1940s through the 1970s, local communities using NRCS assistance constructed more than 11,800 dams in 47 states. These watershed management projects provide an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages, and improved recreation, water supplies and wildlife habitat for an estimated 47 million Americans.

Weller said that funding provided through today's announcement will provide rehabilitation assistance for 150 dams in 26 states. Funds will be used for planning, design or construction. Also, 500 dam sites will be assessed for safety through NRCS' Watershed Rehabilitation Program. For a complete list of the projects, please visit the FY 2014 Watershed Rehabilitation Projects Funding Table page. The projects were identified based on recent rehabilitation investments and the potential risks to life and property if a dam failure occurred. Overall, an estimated 250 thousand people will benefit as a result of improved flood protection made possible by these rehabilitated dams.

For example, Watershed Dam No. 62 in the Upper Black Bear Creek Watershed of Noble County, Okla., will be included in a USDA-funded rehabilitation partnership project. Currently awaiting rehabilitation design, the dam provides protection against flooding to about 550 Oklahomans who live and work downstream. Additionally, the dam protects seven county roads, one state highway, two U.S. highways and an interstate highway that, together, support about 16,200 vehicles daily. Among other critical infrastructure, the dam also protects power lines and railroad tracks. The rehabilitation project is expected to provide about $7.5 million in benefits including flood damage reduction, water supply and recreational benefits.

"These funds will go a long way towards improving the safety and continued benefits provided by these watershed structures," Weller said. "We will work closely with the local project sponsors to ensure that these dams continue to protect and provide water for communities and agriculture."

For more information, visit the Watershed Rehabilitation webpage or local USDA service center.

Today's announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

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