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W E E K L Y  U P D A T E  June 10th , 2019
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Embassy Briefing Addresses "Fair Water: A Right of All"
A briefing sponsored by the Embassy of Spain, in concert with the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank, the We Are Water Foundation, and other organizations addressed water access in the United States and developing countries on June 13. The event, titled "Fair Water: A Right of All," featured two panel discussions exploring the notion of water as a right in America and around the world.

The Ambassador of Spain to the United States, Santiago Cabanas, and the Ambassador of the European Union to the United States, Stavros Lambrinidis, opened the event with statements on the importance of water as a gender equity issue, as well as an urgent development challenge. 

The first panel included presentation by Dr. Sri Vedachalam along with Dr. Gregory Pierce, Associate Director of Research at the Luskin Center for Innovation, and Sherri Goodman, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security). Dr. Pierce, whose work focuses on California, discussed the Californian definition of a human right to water, a right not recognized in any other state. Under California law, water must be safe, clean, accessible, and affordable to every resident in order for the right to water to be fulfilled. The US doesn't have the same water quality issues as many other countries, but affordability is a large concern with rural, native, and migrant residents. Yet, the exact standards for affordability are subject to implementation decisions from agencies, legislators, and judicial challenges from activists. A ccording to the panel, the practical effects of defining water as a human right are largely dependent on the standards set by government agencies and legislation.

Dr. Vedachalam further commented on how affordability standards are notoriously difficult to set. Though the traditional US individual or household standard is that water costs should not exceed 2 to 2.5% of one's annual wages, this standard ignores variable costs of living. Additionally, many affordability standards don't assess individual costs at all; instead they use aggregates of neighborhood averages which can obscure individual family circumstances. He added that though the US has relatively better water quality than much of the world, these standards are always changing because of how our conception of water safety changes. There are many potentially harmful substances in water that are not regulated because they are not measured, as these become incorporated into safety standards, US water safety may look worse than it is now. 

The third panelist, Dr. Goodman, added that water is not a legal right in the US, but that there is increasing talk of water as a homeland security issue. Though this is different from treating water as a right, treating water as an issue of security may result in similar changes in water policy.

The second panel featured Betty Soto, a Gender Specialist working in Bolivia, and Carlos Garriga, a Project Manager for the We Are Water Foundation. They contributed further insight to the event by providing on-the-ground accounts of attempts to improve water access in the developing world. In particular, they explained how women bear the majority of the responsibility for collecting water. According to the panel, this often occupies much of women's time and energy in the developing world and precludes opportunities for education or paid work. As a result, issues of water access are also issues of gender equity in many parts of the globe.

For more information, please contact Eric Heath, Senior Policy Counsel for the Mississippi River Basin Program at the Northeast-Midwest Institute.
Senate Holds Hearing on WOTUS and New Trump Administration Regulations
The first hearing on the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule since the Trump administration published its proposal to re-define the term earlier this year was held by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and its Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife on June 12. The hearing reviewed and discussed the WOTUS regulations and their impacts on states and public health.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced its intent to redefine the rule.  The proposed changes would leave 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands nationwide without any federal protection. The hearing examined the impacts of this rule and how it affects citizens from the agricultural sector.
Chairman John Barrasso (R-NY) opened the hearing by criticizing the Obama Administration version of the rule that expanded the application of the Clean Water Act to more bodies of water throughout the country. He asserted that the rule cost farmers millions of dollars in fines and protected "every pond in the United States." Barrosso introduced the witnesses and defined their purpose as finding out whether the Trump Administration's rule can actually be implemented by farmers or if there is still uncertainty on what waters are included under WOTUS.

Participating in the hearing along with Chairman Barrasso were Senators Mike Braun (R-IN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Joni Ernst (R-IA), John Boozman (R-AR), Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Witnesses included Todd Fornstrom, the President of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation; Dough Goehring, the Commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture; and Richard Elías, a Supervisor of District 5 in Pima County, Arizona.

Senator Carper from Delaware addressed the higher pollution and drinking water problems that will occur with the Trump rule, citing the American Public Works Association. He
expressed concern about public health, and in regard to farmers claimed that the Trump Administration's rule is even more confusing and less detailed than the Obama rule.

Senator Cramer from North Dakota criticized the Obama rule as an abuse of "massive federal power."  He stated that the federal government cannot overrule state action on this issue. He further noted that he believes farmers themselves know how to protect their waters, and that there are others beside the federal government capable of protecting the waters.

A witness at the hearing, Todd Fornstrom, testified that he is in favor of the Trump Administration's rule, but also mentioned the lack of clarity for some terms which are used in the rule. He expressed concern about the farmers in Wyoming as they are still unsure whether or not their water is covered by WOTUS or not. He also criticized what he called the federal overreach of power by way of the overly vague definitions in the Clean Water Rule. Another witness, Richard Elías, explained the incident in his home county, Pima County, Ariz. where Trichlorethylene (TCE) pollution in water caused cancer and the deaths of many residents. He believes federal protection is necessary to protect public health.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman Barasso emphasized the necessity of a clear definition that can be readily understood by all interested parties and does not diminish states' rights. Senator Carper, however, pointed out that all parties want clean water and clarity about the Clean Water Act. The panel ended the discussion by acknowledging that their farmers and citizens need to know what the rule actually entails and who it is that enforces the rule, be it states or the federal government.

For more information, please contact Eric Heath, Senior Policy Counsel for the Mississippi River Basin Program at the Northeast-Midwest Institute.
European Space Agency Implements SMOS for Weather Forecasting, Will Improve Water Modeling Software
The European Space Agency (ESA) now includes all of the measurements that are conducted by their Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission into their weather forecasting system. SMOS is one of ESA's satellites that analyzes the Earth's water cycle and climate. It provides observations of emissions from Earth's surface, especially soil moisture and ocean salinity.  

On the one hand, SMOS helps scientists understand interactions between the surface and atmosphere. On the other hand, it could help improve water and climate models, like the Hydrologic and Water Quality System (HAWQS) developed by the US EPA and utilized by the Northeast-Midwest Institute, as well as information about ice floating for forecasting and ship routing. The use of SMOS will produce a better view of the structural distribution of water in the soil and subsequently improve modeling, commented Patricia de Rosnay, a senior scientist at the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). 

For more information, please contact Eric Heath, Senior Policy Counsel for the Mississippi River Basin Program at the Northeast-Midwest Institute.
TODAY: Webinar, "Advocating for More Equitable Lead Poisoning Prevention Policy"

A webinar on Monday, June 17, explored equity in lead poisoning prevention policy.  Structured as a conversation among community and national experts, speakers discussed how elected and government officials can develop and implement policies that center equity and support the needs of communities most impacted by lead poisoning. Learn more about the 2018 Consensus Conference where proposed strategies were developed.

Speakers ( read more about them ):
· Lili Farhang - Human Impact Partners (facilitator)
· Rebecca Morley - Consultant for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
· Juliana Pino - Policy Director, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
· Kristi Pullen Fedinick - Director of Science and Data, Natural Resources Defense Council

National, state, and community-based nonprofit organizations developing and advocating for lead poisoning prevention policy, with a focus on those wanting to explicitly incorporate equity into their efforts.

For more information, please contact  Matthew McKenna, Director of the Great Lakes Washington Program at the Northeast-Midwest Institute .
This Week in Washington

In the Senate:

In the House:

NEMWI: Strengthening the Region that Sustains the Nation