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Friday, August 17, 2012

Selected Federal Water Activities: Agencies, Authorities, and Congressional Committees

Betsy A. Cody
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Judy Schneider
Specialist on the Congress

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Grace Relf
Research Associate

Congress has enacted hundreds of federal laws affecting the nation’s water resources and continues to address numerous water-related issues annually. From responding to natural disasters such as droughts and floods, to improving water resources and water quality infrastructure and protecting fish and wildlife, many congressional committees are involved in legislating, funding, and overseeing the water-related activities of numerous federal agencies. Nearly two centuries of such activity have resulted in a complex web of federal involvement in water resource management and use.

Although the responsibility for development, management, protection, and allocation of the nation’s water resources is spread among federal, state, local, tribal, and private interests, this report focuses on the complexity of federal activities related to water. The report covers multiple topic areas and individual water-related subtopics ranging from water supply and water quality infrastructure to fisheries management and water rights. The report is not exhaustive; instead, the authors have attempted to cover the major federal activities authorized by Congress that affect water resource development, management, and use in the United States. Similarly, the analysis does not cover every aspect of House and Senate committee jurisdiction affecting water issues. Accordingly, it may be helpful to seek the views of the House and Senate Parliamentarian Offices for a more definitive evaluation of committee jurisdictions related to water.

The report covers four general areas: (1) “Water Resources Development, Management, and Use” (2) “Water Quality, Protection, and Restoration” (3) “Water Rights and Allocation,” and (4) “Research and Planning.” These are further divided into tables that list topic areas and individual water-related subtopics. For each subtopic, CRS has identified selected federal agencies and activities related to the topic, authorities for such activities, and relevant House and Senate committee jurisdictions. The “Water Resources Development, Management, and Use” theme includes subtopics that relate to supply and reservoir development, drought and flood management, and hydropower and navigation. The “Water Quality, Protection, and Restoration” theme includes issues relating to water quality (e.g., water pollution and treatment, drinking water quality) and aquatic resources protection and management. The “Water Rights and Allocation” theme addresses water allocation and interstate compacts, river basin commissions, federal reserved water rights, and tribal water rights. The “Research and Planning” theme includes subtopics related to research and data collection, including water cycle and climate change research, and watershed planning. Appendixes address considerations in determining House and Senate committee jurisdictions and present the official language from House Rule X and Senate Rule XXV, respectively, as indicators of congressional jurisdiction over water resources. A glossary of House and Senate Committee abbreviations and federal agency acronyms is also included.

In sum, the nine tables that make up the body of the document underscore the complexity of federal activities affecting water resource development, management, protection, and use in the United States. As apparent throughout these tables, numerous standing committees in the House and Senate have jurisdiction over various components of federal water policy. The wide range of federal executive responsibilities for water resources reflects comparably complex congressional legislative responsibilities, which in turn reflect the multiple ways in which water laws affect social and economic activities and vice versa.

Date of Report: August 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 60
Order Number: R42653
Price: $29.95

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