America 2050's water program focuses on adapting and expanding the water resource policies of the last thirty years to meet the more complex needs of a new century. Changing settlement patterns, aging infrastructure, climate change, the global markets for agricultural commodities and fierce competition for scarce water supplies are posing distinct new challenges.

An increasingly complex set of water problems requires a policy framework that encourages innovation and efficiency, the utilization of natural systems, and creative uses of market tools. We must eliminate perverse incentives and subsidies, aggressively promote integrated management of water supply, wastewater and storm water systems, and link water resource management to land use decisions.

The EPA has conservatively projected a gap of $534 billion, or about $27 billion a year, to meet unmet clean water and drinking water capital needs, and operations and maintenance over the next 20 years. These costs are likely to escalate with climate change impacts. The national water policy choices that will be made over the next several years will determine whether America's water resource managers, in the face of growing challenges and complexity, can produce safe drinking water for over 300 million Americans, dispose of their sewage safely, provide industry and agriculture with the water it needs, and do all of this and much more in a way that is both environmentally sustainable and economically affordable.

Draft Recommendations:

  1. Eliminate the bias in federal funding and regulation toward centralized, engineered water systems. Provide compelling incentives through federal programs to encourage states and localities to utilize the most cost-effective and environmentally sound non-structural solutions for drinking water, sewage treatment, stormwater/flood management, and irrigation needs.
  2. Reform federal policies that provide perverse incentives for unsustainable water resource use and investments, such as subsidies of pollution-intensive agricultural practices, promotion of vulnerable development on flood plains and in coastal zones, Army Corps of Engineer projects that destroy or disrupt natural hydrological systems, and suburban sprawl dependent on unsustainable use of groundwater resources.
  3. Develop and implement the means of pricing ecosystem services so that the value of forested watersheds and wetlands and other green infrastructure can be accounted for and managed appropriately. Require full accounting of ecosystem service costs/benefits as well as full life-cycle planning for any infrastructure - grey or green - funded with federal dollars.
  4. Integrate and coordinate the missions and programs of federal agencies such as Bureau of Reclamation, EPA, FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, USDA's Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others to ensure that they are equally supporting sustainable water system approaches. (And do the same within agencies like EPA, which has siloed drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater programs.)
  5. Substantially increase R&D funding in non-structural and decentralized technologies to ensure that the U.S. can compete with other nations who are far ahead of us in developing and utilizing integrated water technologies.
  6. Provide tax credits and other incentives to stimulate private sector investment and development of new green infrastructure technologies, improve economies of scale, and boost wide-scale implementation.
  7. Promote new models of watershed management at the regional and megaregion scale that link water resource management to land use decisions. Condition federal and state funds on this linkage, and provide other "carrots and sticks," to give integrated planning real impact.
For more information of America 2050's water program, contact:

Betsey Otto: botto@americanrivers.org
Rob Pirani: rob@rpa.org

Recent Entries

On Friday, July 15th, the House passed a 2012 Water and Energy Appropriations Bill that included a provision to strip previously-awarded funding for high-speed rail and to offset emergency disaster relief for the victims of flooding in the Midwest. Disaster relief does not require offsetting spending, however; and the promised "emergency" funding would not arrive until fiscal year 2012, indicating that the rescission is little more than an attack on the nation's High-Speed Intercity MerchantsBridgePassenger Rail program. The bill targets over $2 billion in funding that, while it has been awarded to specific high-speed rail projects across country, has not yet been obligated, giving Congress the power to take the money back.

This rescission of federal funding for rail projects was proposed by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, whose own state of New Jersey stands to lose about $500 million in funding to repair and improve passenger rail. Frelinghuysen's amendment to the Appropriations Bill passed committee on a party-line vote, and passed through the House despite the opposition of Democrats, including 15 members who took to the floor to speak against the bill.

The bill "will eliminate thousands of jobs, will halt a large number of rail projects across the country. . . and hurt local and station economies," said Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, chairwoman of the High Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus. Slaughter called the attempt to use Midwestern flooding as an excuse to target rail funding "nothing but an opportunistic attempt to gain politically from a human tragedy."

It will likely be necessary to heed Democratic calls to find another source to help flood victims in need, as the Republican plan is expected to fail. To become law, it would need to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate and avoid a veto by President Obama. Further, states with ongoing passenger rail projects can protect their awards by moving to obligate the funding before the bill takes place, preventing Congress from taking the money back. However, it is disturbing that the House of Representatives would consider breaking promises to the states and attacking successful projects that are generating jobs and driving economic recovery nationwide. Please visit StandUpForTrains.org to let your elected officials know that passenger rail is a critical investment for America's future.

water map 1 water map 2 water map 3

Even in the damp northeastern United States, water is a precious resource. Whether it's to protect human health, sustain wildlife populations, or to support recreational opportunities, more than two thirds of the initiatives in an inventory of landscape conservation initiatives have protecting water resources as a priority.

To help understand how landscape initiatives are addressing water issues in the 13 state Northeast Megaregion, Regional Plan Association and America 2050 have compiled federal, state, and private information about water quality for inclusion in our Northeast Landscape Initiatives Atlas.

Stormwater Managment Portland 2 La Citta Vita.JPG Climate change, underfunded infrastructure, outdated management approaches, and the pressures of urbanization are creating a looming crisis for America's water. Because of these multiple changes, a fundamental shift is needed from traditional, heavily engineered and segregated approaches to integrated, systems approaches that work with nature and provide multiple benefits. A new America 2050 working paper outlines preliminarily steps toward a new national water agenda including new financing strategies and recommendations for policy reform.
Download "A Systems Approach to Water Resources."
Image: flickr/La Citta Vitta
Southeastern States / Federal Partners Regional Workshop The Army Corps of Engineers - South Atlantic Division has recently taken the lead by proposing a coalition to represent and be led by eight southeastern states.  Still in the exploratory phase, the coalition is intended to encourage regional collaboration and constructive dialogue among these states.  The biggest challenge may be for representatives of states currently involved in bitter lawsuits against each other to think of their interests as not only intertwined but mutually dependent, and come to consensus on an action plan based on a regional perspective.  But the involvement of federal partners in the region and the Southern Governors' Association could provide strong motivation for PAM states and municipalities to do just that.

To read more about the Coalition, please click the link below.

PAM Reg Workshop Summary_Final_03-26-2009.pdf