Breath of Clarity

Discussion Post: Water Legislation

S.Res.290 – Resolution celebrating 50 years of environmental progress in the Cuyahoga River Valley and Lake Erie

In July 2019, the senate passed this piece of legislation celebrating the environmental progress in the Cuyahoga River Valley. The resolution is also a commitment to improve the Great Lakes Basin’s ecosystem health, drinking water quality, and wastewater infrastructure. I visited this location for a birthday vacation this past March. It has beautiful landscape with a city on the rise. It’s great to see a piece of legislation building upon existing celebration instead of addressing the brutality of a circumstance and need for urgent action. The resolution was sponsored by Ohio Democrat senator Sherrod Brown and agreed to without amendment. It was interesting to see it was introduced and passed the same day. The Cyahoga River is 100 miles long, and it flows into Lake Erie. I appreciate the origin of the word “Cuyahoga” was listed in the Congress website’s text tab because it’s one step in the right direction towards honoring the region’s native people. The word is a combination of the name given to the river by the local indigenous population and translation as “Crooked River”. The celebration is also noteworthy, considering the area has faced generations of neglect in terms of a lack of clean-water protections and decades of industrial pollution. A 1968 report by the former Federal Water Pollution Control Administration found that the lower portion of the Cuyahoga River had no visible life. Oil-laden debris and pollution on the Cuyahoga River caught fire 13 times between 1868 and 1969. The resolution acknowledges the accountability that results from keeping the public informed.

A crucial part of the progress included in the Congressional text is a Time Magazine article that described the extent of industrial pollution in the Cuyahoga River Valley and mobilized the public to demand national change. Subsequently, Carl B. Stokes, then the mayor of Cleveland, testified in front of Congress and called for Federal legislation to address the pollution. According to the EPA, generating attention resulted in the enactment of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (also known as the “Clean Water Act”;). It led to collaboration between the United States and Canada as the Great Lakes Water Quality agreement was signed at Ottawa in 1972 and reaffirmed again in 1978. Not only did it prompt the EPA as a federal overseer, but it also led to establishment of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the resolution helped inspire the first Earth Day in 1970, according to the National Park Service. Public concern about pollution supported initiatives led by Representatives Ralph Regula and John Seiberling to create the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, which later became the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The community parters of the National Park Service created the Cuyahoga River Water Trail to increase public access, tourism and economic development. The river is now a habitat for more than 60 species of fish, and the industrial river valley downtown area has been transformed into a center for recreation and entertainment. Moreover, the Cuyahoga River transports millions of tons between local industries, supports 15,000 jobs and produces $1,700,000,000 in economic activity. Additionally, part of the resolution is that the senate continuously supports the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Clean Air Act while recognizing the area’s transformation as a model for restoration at other sites.

H.R.358- California New River Restoration Act of 2019

I decided to write about this bill because it’s in the state I currently reside in. Additionally, it’s interesting to see a bill in the realm of the international environmental law system. The New River was born out of the Colorado River’s occasional flows into the Salton Sink, as well as the erosion of the New River channel which formed the deep river canyon between 1905 and 1907. It starts in Mexicali, Mexico, flows north into the United States via Calexico, passes through the Imperial Valley and drains into the Salton Sea. It is roughly 66 miles north of the international boundary, and the sub-watershed covers approximately 750 square miles (63 percent of that is in Mexico and 37 percent in the United States). The river is widely recognized for its significant water pollution problems due to the pesticides, raw sewage, agricultural runoff, and discharges of wastes from sources in Mexico and the Imperial Valley. This bill was introduced to the House of Representatives by California Democrat Juan Vargas in January 2019. It was originally considered by the Natural Resources, as well as the Transportation and Infrastructure committees. It was then referred to the subcommittee of Water Resources and Environment in February 2019. It requires the EPA to establish a New River restoration program.

The act declares the EPA must implement initiatives supported by the California-Mexico Border Relations Council and provide grants, as well as technical assistance, for coordinating restoration activities. In 1992, the International Boundary Water Commission’s Treaty established a sanitation strategy for the water quality problems entailing immediate repair projects which totaled to about $50 million dollars to be funded by both countries through the North American Development bank. In 1995, the EPA provided funds to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board to monitor and document the water quality at the international boundary on a monthly basis. Untreated New River water passing through the Las Arenitas was then chlorinated and fed into a reforestation project along the Rio Hardy. A 10-year effort by community groups, lawyers, regulatory agencies, and politicians addressed the problem at the source by federally funding a new sewage treatment plant in Mexicali and developing a site plan for the river on the U.S. side. In 2009, the State of California required the California-Mexico Border Relations Council to create a strategic plan to study, monitor, remediate, and enhance the New River’s water quality to protect human health and develop a river parkway suitable for public use. In 2016, the New River Improvement Project Technical Advisory Committee revised the recommended infrastructure of the New River Improvement Project, and the State of California appropriated $1.4 million to provide grants or contracts to implement the necessary planning, design, environmental review, and permitting work. The revised New River Improvement Project includes the installation of a large trash screen, a conveyance system, aeration devices, a new pump station and managed wetlands. The ongoing conservation effort increases private-sector investments and coordination of Federal and non-Federal resources.

The act calls for undertaking cost-effective projects with measurable results. It already lists a wide range of groups the administrator shall consult so that input can be sourced from a collection of specialized knowledge from the following federal agencies: the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Commissioner of the International Boundary Water Commission, the Governor of California, the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California State Water Resources Control Board, the California Department of Water Resources, the Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Imperial Irrigation District and other organizations in both the United States and Mexico. The bill also outlined a clear aim to engage the public through outreach, education, and citizen involvement, to increase capacity and support for coordinated restoration and protection activities. I commend this bill for explicitly outlining the grants and financial assistance plans. It clarifies the Federal share of a project for which a grant is provided shall not exceed 55 percent of the total activity’s cost. Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter, the act calls for the administrator to submit a report about its implementation, including a description of each project that has received funding under this Act and the status of all projects in progress.

Sources: “S.Res.290 – Resolution celebrating 50 years of environmental progress in the Cuyahoga River Valley and Lake Erie” Accessed May 4, 2020. “H.R.358 – California New River Restoration Act of 2019.” Accessed May 4, 2020.