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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coordination of Federal Water Research: Legislative Issues

Nicole T. Carter
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

H.R. 1145, the National Water Research and Development Initiative Act of 2009, would formally establish a federal interagency committee to coordinate federal water research. Federal water research currently averages roughly $700 million annually.

The proposed interagency committee, with input from an advisory committee, would develop a four-year plan for priority federal research topics, then require the President to annually report to Congress on progress in achieving the plan's research outcomes. A version of the committee, the Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality (SWAQ), which was not created by statute, has been operating since 2003 within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) as part of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The bill also would establish a National Water Initiative Coordination Office that would function as a clearinghouse for technical and programmatic information, support the interagency committee, and disseminate the findings and recommendations of the interagency committee.

As passed by the House, H.R. 1145 would authorize $10 million over five years for improving coordination of water resources research and related outreach activities with the public and research institutions. The bill is focused on improving coordination in the establishment of agency research agendas, increasing the transparency of water research budgeting, and reporting on progress toward research outcomes specified in the bill. H.R. 1145 would not increase the authorized funding levels for performing federal research activities.

Water research is conducted in numerous federal agencies because water plays many different roles in the economy, public health, and ecosystems. Many of the issues facing the nation's water resources are cross-cutting, such as climate change and the energy-water nexus (e.g., the role of water in producing fuels and electricity). Drivers for improved coordination include an interest in more effectively addressing these complicated water topics, as well as interest in avoiding duplication, facilitating exchange of results, and having a more focused research strategy. Technological advances, events, and climate change also are increasing the role of some agencies, which previously were less engaged, in performing and using water resources research.

A concern with more coordination is that, if enacted, the bill may result in a shift in research funding away from some current research topics. Specifically, some stakeholders may be concerned that, unless additional funds are made available for water research, the focus on technology and water supply in H.R. 1145 may move research funds away from water quality and research supporting agencies' regulatory roles. During the House Science Committee markup, research outcomes for the plan were added that address water quality topics. Another concern is whether some of the bill's provisions as passed by the House call for research, programs, or studies that may partially duplicate current research. Whether a more effective portfolio of water research can be achieved through the transparency and information pursued in H.R. 1145 (without increased research and demonstration funding) remains uncertain.

Date of Report: July 28, 2010
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: R40958
Price: $29.95
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