Comments of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association[1]

on the

Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act (H.R. 1800)


(Approved August 7, 2001)




The Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) strongly supports efforts to reduce sediment and nutrients in the basin.As such, the states support the basic purpose and objectives of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act (H.R. 1800).Moreover, the UMRBA applauds the leadership of Representative Ron Kind and the Upper Mississippi River Congressional Task Force in addressing these challenging issues.The UMRBA commented on a predecessor bill in the 106th Congress (H.R. 4013), and we are grateful that many of our previous suggestions are reflected in the current H.R. 1800.These modifications include elaborating on the purpose of the monitoring network, enhancing integration with existing monitoring efforts, and revising the definition of the basin.


The UMRBA firmly believes that any successful effort to addressing sediment and nutrients must take a watershed approach; must combine monitoring, research, and implementation; and must integrate the efforts of landowners and local, state, and federal agencies.In keeping with these principles and in the spirit of continued cooperation on these important issues, the UMRBA offers the following comments regarding H.R. 1800:



Links to Implementation


It is essential that H.R. 1800ís monitoring and modeling components be linked to viable options for sediment and nutrient reduction. The UMRBA understands that implementation provisions were not included in H.R. 1800 in light of the pending Farm Bill reauthorization.This is certainly a reasonable approach, given that the key U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs will be revised as part of the Farm Bill process.However, it must be emphasized that genuine progress in addressing the Upper Mississippi River Basinís sediment and nutrient problems will require significant additional resources.The resources available through the current conservation programs are quite simply inadequate to maintain the regionís vital agricultural productivity while simultaneously addressing the water quality impacts of that activity.Similarly, additional resources are needed for non-USDA programs that are important to addressing sediment and nutrients, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyís Section 319 nonpoint source pollution grants to the states.


Section 2(d) of H.R. 1800 would permit USDA to use the monitoring and modeling data in targeting conservation programs.This is a key provision in helping to link the billís monitoring and modeling to implementation.



Monitoring and Modeling Focus


H.R. 1800ís emphasis on addressing sediment and nutrient problems is welcome and timely.However, the UMRBA states believe the billís ultimate effectiveness requires clarification regarding the primary concerns and intended uses of the monitoring and modeling efforts. For example, it is not clear whether the measure intends to focus on sediment and nutrients equally throughout the watershed, or whether the primary concern is with the sediment and nutrients reaching the Upper Mississippi River and its major tributaries.Sediment and nutrients moving off the land throughout the watershed do not all have the same likelihood of being delivered to the river.Depending on the intended focus, monitoring and modeling efforts would be designed somewhat differently.Similarly, the sources, transport, delivery, and impacts of sediment and nutrients are far from identical and will require different monitoring and modeling approaches.Moreover, there are natural baseline levels of sediment and nutrients that would occur without human activity.For many water bodies in the basin, acceptable levels of sediment and nutrient impairment have not been identified.The billís purpose section and monitoring and modeling titles should explicitly acknowledge and address these considerations.Articulating this basic framework will provide the necessary parameters to those responsible for scoping the monitoring and modeling work.



Cost Sharing


If the monitoring work authorized under H.R. 1800 is to be successful, it must be integrated with other efforts by local, state, and federal agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations.Sections 103 and 104 recognize this and would require the Interior Secretary to inventory existing monitoring efforts, integrate with those efforts, and make use of existing data to the extent possible.It is important to ensure that the Section 105 cost sharing provisions do not inadvertently interfere with this collaboration.As drafted, Section 105 requires a nonfederal cost share of 25 percent and would allow up to 80 percent of the nonfederal share to be satisfied through in-kind contributions.This is an important recognition of the value of state and local monitoring.However, it is not clear whether the existing state and local monitoring efforts referenced in Section 105(c) would be subject to the 80 percent cap on in-kind contributions.In addition, it is not clear how the cost sharing requirement would actually be implemented.Given the geographic scope of the basin and the complex array of potential nonfederal partners, aggregating contributions to ensure compliance with the billís cost sharing requirements would seem to pose significant challenges.†††



Best Management Practices and Research


The UMRBA welcomes the Section 202 provision to evaluate the relative costs and benefits of various best management practices (BMPs).Such an analysis should prove helpful in determining the most suitable practices for a particular area.Section 203 would also authorize research into new BMPs.As written, the bill does not indicate how much funding is anticipated for the BMP research.There is already a considerable body of research regarding BMPs.From the statesí perspective, what has been critically lacking is not BMP research per se, but technical assistance and implementation funds to help landowners adopt proven BMPs.Moreover, monitoring and modeling information is needed to target that implementation.



Relationship to Other Federal Efforts


The billís emphasis on coordination of federal nutrient and sediment reduction efforts is welcome and could be potentially very helpful.However, by confining the coordination responsibilities in Title V to the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, H.R. 1800 fails to fully account for other federal programs and initiatives of direct relevance to the stated purpose of the legislation.Most significantly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has lead responsibility for many water quality efforts related to nutrients and sediment.While most federal water quality programs are delegated to the states, EPA plays a major leadership role.Of particular note, EPA is currently developing nutrient criteria on a regional basis.States will have until 2003 (or 3 years after criteria are issued) to establish nutrient standards.The U.S. Army Corps on Engineers also has on-going responsibilities related to both sediment and nutrients, including the more than $130 million annually it spends to operate and maintain the Upper Mississippi River System for navigation.In addition, the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 authorized the Corps to undertake a study of sediment and nutrient sources and transport in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.While this study has not yet been initiated, it could be duplicative of the USGS monitoring and modeling authorized in H.R. 1800 unless the relationship between the two efforts is clarified.The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Forceís proposed Action Plan, submitted to Congress in January 2001, further illustrates the importance of coordination among federal agencies.While it remains to be seen whether the Action Plan will be implemented, there is no question that it seeks to address many of the same issues as H.R. 1800.Coordination among federal agencies and programs is critical to avoid duplication and inconsistencies.



Coordination Mechanisms


Existing coordination mechanisms and decision-making processes should be used to the maximum extent possible.In particular, the Advisory Council and any other basin-level groups and processes established pursuant to H.R. 1800 must be integrated with the coordination and decision-making processes already in place at the basin, state, and local levels.For example, the bill calls for the Advisory Council to hold annual public meetings in each of the five states regarding methods and priorities to address sediment and nutrient loss.However, the Advisory Committee does not include any voting members from state government.The potential for incongruities between the Advisory Committeeís work and the statesí own established water quality planning processes, which include considerable public outreach, would seem to be quite high.Similarly, it is not clear how the Advisory Committee is intended to link to the local and state-level conservation planning processes.





H.R. 1800 would not authorize specific appropriations amounts for any of the programs it would establish.The U.S. Geological Survey and Natural Resources Conservation Service will not be able to successfully implement these new authorities within existing resources.Identifying the specific funding that will be required to establish a monitoring network, develop models, and conduct research and demonstration projects will provide important parameters for scoping these efforts.In addition, securing the necessary appropriations will likely be challenging under any circumstances, but the probability of success will be enhanced if specific sums are authorized.

[1] The Governors of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin formed the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association in 1981 to coordinate the state agenciesí river-related programs and policies and to work with federal agencies on regional issues.