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Monday, December 30, 2013

International Species Conservation Fund - RS21157


M. Lynne Corn and Pervaze A. Sheikh
Specialists in Natural Resources Policy

International species conservation is addressed by several funds, including those under the Multinational Species Conservation Fund (MSCF) and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (NMBCF). This report provides a brief overview of MSCF and NMBCF and their funding and legislative status.

Date of Report: December 17, 2013
Number of Pages: 4
Order Number: RS21157
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Desalination and Membrane Technologies: Federal Research and Adoption Issues - R40477


Nicole T. Carter
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

In the United States, desalination and membrane technologies are used to augment municipal water supply, produce high-quality industrial water supplies, and reclaim contaminated supplies (including from oil and gas development). As of 2005, approximately 2,000 desalination facilities larger than 0.3 million gallons per day (MGD) were operating in the United States, with a total capacity of 1,600 MGD, which represents more than 2.4% of total U.S. municipal and industrial freshwater use. At issue for Congress is what the federal role should be in supporting desalination and membrane technology research and facilities. Desalination issues before the 113
th Congress include how to focus federal research, at what level to support desalination research and projects, and how to provide a regulatory context that protects the environment and public health without disadvantaging the technology. H.R. 745 and S. 1245 would authorize the extension of the Water Desalination Act, which authorizes appropriations for the main desalination research and demonstration outreach program of the Department of the Interior, through 2018; a title in S. 601 would allow desalination projects to be eligible for loans and loan guarantees as part of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, WIFIA.

Desalination processes generally treat seawater or brackish water to produce a stream of freshwater, and a separate, saltier stream of water that requires disposal (often called waste concentrate). Many states (e.g., Florida, California, and Texas) and cities have investigated the feasibility of large-scale municipal desalination. Coastal communities look to seawater or estuarine water, while interior communities look to brackish aquifers. The most common desalination technology in the United States is reverse osmosis, which uses permeable membranes to separate freshwater from saline waters. Membrane technologies are also effective for other water treatment applications. Many communities and industries use membranes to remove contaminants from drinking water, treat contaminated water for disposal, and reuse industrial wastewater. For some applications, there are few competitive technological substitutes.

Wider adoption of desalination is constrained by financial, environmental, and regulatory issues. Although desalination costs have dropped steadily in recent decades, significant further decline may not happen with existing technologies. Electricity expenses represent one-third to one-half of the operating cost of many desalination technologies. The energy intensity of some technologies raises concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and the usefulness of these technologies for climate change adaptation. Concerns also remain about the technologies’ environmental impacts, such as saline waste concentrate management and disposal and the effect of surface water intake facilities on aquatic organisms. Construction of desalination facilities, like many other types of projects, often requires a significant number of local, state, and federal approvals and permits.

Emerging technologies (e.g., forward osmosis, nanocomposite and chlorine resistant membranes) show promise for reducing desalination costs. Research to support emerging technologies and to reduce desalination’s environmental and social impacts is particularly relevant to the debate on the future level and nature of federal desalination assistance. The federal government generally has been involved primarily in desalination research and development (including for military applications), some demonstration projects, and select full-scale facilities. For the most part, local governments, sometimes with state-level involvement, are responsible for planning, testing, building, and operating desalination facilities. Some states, universities, and private entities also undertake and support desalination research. While interest in desalination persists among some Members, especially in response to drought concerns, efforts to maintain or expand federal activities and investment are challenged by the domestic fiscal climate and differing views on federal roles and priorities.

Date of Report: December 16, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R40477
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Columbia River Treaty Review - R43287


Charles V. Stern
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) is an international agreement between the United States and Canada for the cooperative development and operation of the water resources of the Columbia River Basin to provide for flood control and power. The Treaty was precipitated by several flooding events in the basin, and was the result of more than 20 years of negotiations between the two countries. It was ratified in 1961, and implementation began in 1964.

The Treaty provided for the construction and operation of 15.5 million acre-feet of additional storage, including three dams in Canada and one dam in the United States (whose reservoir extends into Canada). Together, these dams more than doubled the amount of reservoir storage available in the basin and provided significant flood protection benefits throughout the basin. The CRT also requires that the United States and Canada prepare “Assured Operating Plans,” to allow for more predictable operations for flood control and power objectives in the United States, among other things. In exchange for these benefits, the United States agreed to provide Canada with lump sum cash payments and a portion of downstream hydropower benefits that are attributable to Canadian operations under the CRT (known as the “Canadian Entitlement”). The Canadian Entitlement has been estimated by some to be worth as much as $335 million annually.

The CRT has no specific end date, and most of its provisions would continue indefinitely without action by the United States or Canada. However, beginning in September 2024, either nation can terminate most provisions of the Treaty with at least 10 years written notice (i.e., starting as early as 2014). Thus, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), in their designated role as the “U.S. Entity,” have undertaken a review of the Treaty. Based on studies and stakeholder input, a recommendation by the U.S. Entity has been published in draft form, and a final recommendation on how to proceed (i.e., continue, terminate, modify) is expected to be provided to the Department of State by December 2013. If the Treaty is not terminated or modified, most of its provisions would continue. The only provision currently scheduled to change in 2024 involves flood control by Canadian CRT projects. These operations are scheduled to transition to “called-upon” operations in 2024. This means that the United States would request and compensate Canada for flood control operations as necessary.

Perspectives on the CRT and its review vary. Some U.S. interests believe that the Treaty should continue but be altered to include, for example, guarantees related to tribal resources and fisheries flows that were not included in the original Treaty. Others think that the Canadian Entitlement should be adjusted to more equitably share actual hydropower benefits, and some disagree that fisheries flows should be accounted for in the Treaty. For its part, Canada has disputed several U.S. assumptions and recommendations during the review process, including those related to Canada’s expected responsibilities for called-upon flood control and the status of the Canadian Entitlement. Canada has noted that without the Canadian Entitlement, it sees no reason for the Treaty to continue.

The draft recommendation by the U.S. Entity is to continue the Treaty with certain modifications; it is expected to be finalized in December 2013. The executive branch, through the State Department, will make the final determination on whether changes to the Treaty are in the national interest and will conduct any negotiations with Canada related to the future of the CRT. The Constitution gives the Senate the power to approve, by a two-thirds vote, treaties negotiated by the executive branch. If the executive branch comes to an agreement regarding modification of the CRT, the Senate may be asked to weigh in. In addition, both houses may choose to weigh in on Treaty review activities.

Date of Report: December 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R43287
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