Water Resource Issues in the 117th Congress

Water Resource Issues in the 117th Congress
March 12, 2021
Congress engages in authorization and appropriations for water resource projects and activities of
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), as
Charles V. Stern
well as involvement in water resource activities by other agencies. USACE constructs projects
Specialist in Natural
nationwide, primarily to improve navigation, reduce flood damage, and res tore aquatic
Resources Policy
ecosystems. Reclamation constructs projects as authorized in the 17 arid and semiarid states west

of the Mississippi River; these projects primarily provide water supply benefits, often to
agricultural irrigation users. The 117th Congress may conduct oversight and may deliberate on
Nicole T. Carter
Acting Deputy Assistant
authorization and funding of water resource development, management, and protection. The 117th
Director and Specialist
Congress, like earlier Congresses, also may consider authorization of new or amended Indian

water rights settlements and may evaluate the focus of and funding for the water resource science
activities of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Pervaze A. Sheikh
Specialist in Natural
Development pressures, droughts and floods, and concerns about land -use change and climate
Resources Policy
change, among other issues, have given rise to interest in federal financial and technical

assistance for water resource science and projects. Stakeholders are interested in a range of water
Anna E. Normand
resource issues, including
Analyst in Natural
Resources Policy
 new water resource infrastructure (e.g., storm surge gates, water storage) and new kinds

of water resource projects (e.g., groundwater recharge, nature-based flood risk
Eva Lipiec
Analyst in Natural
 reinvestment in aging water resource infrastructure and use of hydrologic science and
Resources Policy
real-time monitoring and forecasting to improve infrastructure operations;

 funding and financing of projects, including whether and how to shift from federally led Peter Folger
projects to federal partnerships with state and/or local entities; and
Section Research Manager

activities to protect and restore aquatic ecosystems and enhance flood resilience
(including the use of nature-based approaches).

Some topics largely relate to specific agencies. USACE-related topics that may be considered
include efforts to update the agency’s authorities to incorporate new mission areas and address the agency’s aging
infrastructure. Congress also may address Reclamation drought mitigation activities in the Colorado River Basin and other
areas. In addition, Congress may explore ongoing issues associated with Reclamation’s project operations in California and
other areas; Congress may address how these issues affect water deliveries to irrigation districts and municipalities and how
they impact threatened and endangered species, among others.
In addition to domestic water resource issues, s ome topics are international in character. Regarding freshwater bodies shared
with Canada, potential topics for the 117th Congress include federal funding for activities supporting Great Lakes restoration
and negotiations (and any resulting agreements) with Canada to modify the Columbia River Treaty. Potential topics related to
Mexico include oversight of a binational agreement on water sharing during dry conditions in the Colorado River Basin and
Mexico’s deliveries to the United States in the Rio Grande Basin.
Crosscutting topics (i.e., topics relevant to multiple agencies and programs) also are part of congressional water resource
deliberations. For example, Congress may consider the status and priority of new and ongoing federal efforts to restore large -
scale aquatic ecosystems that have been altered or impaired by changes to their natural conditions (e.g., Florida Everglades
and the Chesapeake Bay). Congress may be interested in the funding and performance of existing restoration efforts,
including what changes, if any, may be necessary to improve project delivery and evaluation. In addition, Congress may
consider its guidance to multiple federal agencies on how to respond to flood hazards, including efforts related to enhancing
the resilience of infrastructure and communities to flooding. Many have expressed interest in developing and evaluating
approaches that protect natural elements that reduce flood risk (e.g., natural dunes) or are “nature-based” in comprehensive
flood risk management (e.g., constructed dunes). Congress also may consider legislation and oversight on USACE
supplemental appropriations for response to and recovery from floods.
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Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1
Projects and Activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.................................................. 2
Western Water and the Bureau of Reclamation..................................................................... 4
Drought in the Western United States............................................................................ 6
Indian Water Rights Settlements ........................................................................................ 6
Waters Shared with Canada and Mexico ............................................................................. 7
Great Lakes .............................................................................................................. 7
Columbia River Treaty ............................................................................................... 9
Colorado River and Rio Grande ................................................................................. 10
Water Resource Science at the U.S. Geological Survey ....................................................... 11
Funding and Financing Aging and New Water Resource Projects.......................................... 12
Protecting and Restoring the Environment ........................................................................ 14
Flood Resilience and Natural and Nature-Based Infrastructure ............................................. 15
Recharging Groundwater................................................................................................ 16
Conclusion................................................................................................................... 17

Author Information ....................................................................................................... 18

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Water Resource Issues in the 117th Congress

Demands on available water supplies have heightened local and regional water-use conflicts
throughout the United States, particularly in the West and the Southeast. Development pressures,
droughts, floods, and concerns about land-use change and climate change, among other issues,
have increased stakeholder interest in federal financial and technical assistance for water resource
projects. Many have expressed interest in constructing new water resource infrastructure (e.g.,
storm surge gates, water storage) at various locations, as wel as in new types of projects (e.g.,
groundwater recharge, nature-based flood risk reduction). In addition, some stakeholders and
Members of Congress have expressed interest in reinvestment in aging water resource
infrastructure and in improved management of available water supplies through water science,
monitoring, and operational changes. Water resource policy questions that the 117th Congress may
consider include the following:
 What should be the federal role in maintaining the performance and safety of
existing water resource infrastructure?
 Under what conditions and how should the federal government be involved in
planning and constructing water resource projects?
 How should water resource science, observation, and monitoring inform water
resource management, project design, and operation?
Congress plays a role in water resources through authorization of, and appropriations for, projects
and activities. Some of these projects are for facilitating navigation and expanding water supplies
for irrigation and other uses. Other projects aim to achieve goals such as reducing flood and/or
drought losses or restoring aquatic ecosystems.
Congress principal y directs either the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in the
Department of Defense or the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) in the Department of the
Interior (DOI) to plan, construct, operate, and maintain the majority of federal y owned water
resource projects. Reclamation projects general y are located in the 17 arid and semiarid states
west of the Mississippi River;1 these projects are designed principal y to provide reliable supplies
of water for irrigation and some municipal and industrial uses. USACE constructs projects
nationwide primarily to improve navigation, reduce flood damage, and restore aquatic
ecosystems. In recent years, USACE general y has constructed more new projects than
Reclamation, although both agencies have continued to construct new facilities. Congress also
authorizes and funds selected water resource science and monitoring activities at multiple federal
agencies. DOI’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a prominent role in federal water resource
science and observation (e.g., streamgages, groundwater information). The water-related
programs and activities of federal agencies other than USACE, Reclamation, and USGS are
largely outside the scope of this report, which focuses on water resources issues.2 This report also

1 Pursuant to the Reclamation Act of 1902, as amended (32 Stat. 388), the Bureau of Reclamation service area includes
the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota,
Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, T exas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
2 For example, the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) facilitates
water resources development, primarily for flood control in small watersheds and for soil and water conservation
purposes. Other federal agencies with water-related programs include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and energy -related agencies such as the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission and the Power Marketing Administrations. For more information, see CRS Report R42653,
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does not address federal support for municipal water systems; municipal wastewater
infrastructure; or environmental protections, such as water quality and wetlands regulations.3
This report covers broad categories of water resource topics that the 117th Congress may
consider—projects and activities of USACE and Reclamation, as wel as related issues such as
Indian water rights settlements, international waters shared with Canada and Mexico, and water
resource science at USGS. It also provides information on crosscutting topics, including support
for aging and new water resource projects, protection and restoration of the environment, efforts
to facilitate flood resilience and natural and nature-based infrastructure, and groundwater
Projects and Activities of the U.S. Army Corps of
Congress general y authorizes USACE water resource activities and makes changes to the
agency’s policies through omnibus water resources development authorization acts. Congress
typical y appropriates funds for USACE activities in annual Energy and Water Development
appropriations acts ($7.8 bil ion in FY2021).4 At times, Congress also uses supplemental
appropriations bil s to fund USACE emergency activities. For example, Congress provided
supplemental appropriations for USACE response and recovery activities for coastal and riverine
floods totaling $17.4 bil ion during the 115th Congress and $3.3 bil ion in the 116th Congress.5 In
response to impacts of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the House also
passed the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2) in the 116th Congress, which would have provided $15
bil ion in additional supplemental appropriations for USACE project construction and operations
and maintenance. The 117th Congress may consider questions related to appropriations for
USACE. For example, Congress may consider how trends in annual and supplemental
appropriations amounts, processes, and requirements influence the effective, efficient, and
accountable use of federal funding provided to USACE. It also may consider what effect a large
infrastructure funding package, including supplemental appropriations for USACE, would have
on the nation’s economy and workforce.
In recent years, omnibus USACE authorization bil s (typical y titled Water Resources
Development Act and cal ed “WRDA”) have been considered biennial y.6 The most recent
omnibus USACE authorization acts are WRDA 2020 (Division AA of Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2021; P.L. 116-260), enacted in December 2020;7 WRDA 2018 (Title I of

Selected Federal Water Activities: Agencies, Authorities, and Congressional Com m ittees, by Judy Schneider et al.
3 For more on municipal drinking water infrastructure, see CRS Report R45304, Drinking Water State Revolving Fund
(DWSRF): Overview, Issues, and Legislation
, by Mary T iemann. For more on municipal wastewater, see CRS Report
98-323, Wastewater Treatm ent: Overview and Background , by Claudia Copeland. For more on wetlands, see CRS
Report RL33483, Wetlands: An Overview of Issues, by Laura Gatz and Megan Stubbs, and CRS Report R45424,
“Waters of the United States” (WOTUS): Current Status of the 2015 Clean Water Rule, by Laura Gatz.
4 For more information on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) annual appropriations process and recent
appropriations, see CRS Report R46320, U.S. Arm y Corps of Engineers: Annual Appropriations Process and Issues for
, by Anna E. Normand and Nicole T . Carter.
5 For more information on USACE supplemental appropriations, see CRS In Focus IF11435, Supplemental
Appropriations for Arm y Corps Flood Response and Recovery
, by Nicole T . Carter and Anna E. Normand.
6 For more information on recent omnibus water resources authorization acts, see CRS In Focus IF11322, Water
Resources Developm ent Acts: Prim er
, by Nicole T . Carter and Anna E. Normand.
7 For more information on enactment of Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2020, see CRS In Focus
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America’s Water Infrastructure Act [AWIA]; P.L. 115-270), enacted in October 2018;8 WRDA
2016 (Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act [WIIN Act]; P.L. 114-322), enacted
in December 2016;9 and the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA
2014; P.L. 113-121), enacted in June 2014. Prior to 2014, the last WRDA was enacted in 2007.
The 117th Congress may follow the tradition of biennial consideration of legislation that
authorizes USACE activities, including studies and projects.
Some USACE-related issues that the 117th Congress may address include the following:
Project operations topics, such as USACE policies on pricing for water storage;
updates to operation manuals for USACE projects; recreation policies (including
firearms regulations) at USACE projects and associated lands;10 efforts to
mitigate and control invasive species and harmful algal blooms;11 and security of
USACE facilities, including cybersecurity.
Decisionmaking and planning practices, such as USACE tribal consultation
policies and practices; inclusion of nonstructural alternatives, including nature-
based measures;12 consideration of future hydrologic conditions;13 and approvals
for modification to USACE projects.14
A persistent chal enge for USACE is how to manage its $98 bil ion in authorized construction
activities that are eligible for federal appropriations, often referred to as its construction
backlog.15 For FY2021, annual USACE construction appropriations totaled $2.7 bil ion. Given
the backlog of USACE projects, Congress may consider whether—and, if so, how—to advance
authorized studies and construction projects that remain unfunded, or whether to deauthorize
some studies and projects. WRDA 2020 included a requirement for an annual report to identify
authorized studies and projects that USACE could carry out if funds were available. Congress
may consider such reports, if and when they are published, when crafting appropriations bil s for
USACE projects in the future. Congress also may oversee USACE efforts to implement public-

IF11700, Water Resources Developm ent Act of 2020, by Nicole T . Carter and Anna E. Normand.
8 T itle I of America’s Water Infrastructure Act (P.L. 115-270) is titled Water Resources Development Act of 2018
(WRDA 2018) and primarily includes provisions related to the USACE.
9 T itle I of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN Act; P.L. 114-322) is titled the Water
Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA 2016) and primarily includes USACE -related provisions.
10 For background on the debate related to USACE recreation regulations related to the possession of firearms, see CRS
Report R42602, Firearm s at Arm y Corps Water Resource Projects: Proposed Legislation and Issues in the 113th
, by Nicole T . Carter.
11 For more information, see CRS In Focus IF11666, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Invasive Species Efforts, by Anna
E. Normand and R. Eliot Crafton.
12 For more information, see CRS Report R46328, Flood Risk Reduction from Natural and Nature-Based Features:
Arm y Corps of Engineers Authorities
, by Nicole T . Carter and Eva Lipiec.
13 See CRS Report R44632, Sea-Level Rise and U.S. Coasts: Science and Policy Considerations, by Peter Folger and
Nicole T . Carter.
14 For example, the Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses USACE-controlled lands at Lake Oahe, has brought
attention to USACE easements and approvals to alter USACE projects. For more on USACE easements and approvals
that may apply to segments of oil and gas pipelines, see CRS Report R44880, Oil and Natural Gas Pipelines: Role of
the U.S. Arm y Corps of Engineers
, by Nicole T . Carter et al.
15 $98 billion was the estimated total for these activities by USACE, as of early 2020. It does not reflect FY2021
appropriations or projects authorized in WRDA 2020.
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private partnerships and alternative financing opportunities, as wel as new and amended
processes related to USACE study and project deauthorization.16
Congress also may conduct oversight or make further changes to specific USACE authorities,
such as how USACE implements statutorily mandated changes to the expenditure of funds from
the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for improvements to coastal and inland harbors and
the Inland Waterway Trust Fund (IWTF) for improvements to inland and intracoastal
waterways.17 The following laws enacted during the 116th Congress altered various aspects of
how the trust funds are used to pursue these improvements and how projects are funded using
these trust funds:
 The CARES Act (P.L. 116-136) directed that funding from the HMTF for
activities designated as harbor operations and maintenance in an amount up to the
prior fiscal year’s HMTF deposits would not count against annual discretionary
budget limits.
 WRDA 2020 further altered the CARES Act’s HMTF adjustment to be the sum
of (1) the amount of the deposits into the fund two years prior (for context,
FY2019 deposits were $1.8 bil ion) and (2) an amount starting at $500 mil ion in
FY2021 and increasing by $100 mil ion annual y to $1.5 bil ion for FY2030 and
 WRDA 2020 made another adjustment for funding regarding certain additional
measures at qualifying ports; the adjustment applies for 10 years and expands
funding from $50 mil ion to $70 mil ion annual y.
 WRDA 2020 authorized HMTF expenditures to pay for a broader set of activities
and provided direction on the use of HTMF funds for various categories of
navigation projects.
 WRDA 2020 adjusted the IWTF contribution to waterway construction projects
to al ow more investment from the general fund toward these projects. It reduced
the IWTF contribution from 50% to 35% for any waterway construction project
funded from FY2021 through FY2031. The change increased the contribution
from the general fund from 50% to 65% for these projects.
Western Water and the Bureau of Reclamation18
Since the early 1900s, Reclamation has constructed and operated a variety of multipurpose water
projects in the 17 states west of the Mississippi River.19 These projects have included the
California Central Val ey Project (CVP) and major dams on the Colorado River (e.g., Hoover
Dam) and Columbia River (e.g., Grand Coulee Dam) systems, among others.20 Water storage and
conveyance infrastructure provided by these and other Reclamation projects historical y was

16 See below section, “ Funding and Financing Aging and New Water Resource Projects.”
17 For more on the Harbor Maintenance T rust Fund, see CRS In Focus IF11645, Distribution of Harbor Maintenance
Trust Fund Expenditures
, by John Frittelli and Nicole T . Carter. For more on inland waterways, see CRS In Focus
IF11593, Inland and Intracoastal Waterways: Prim er and Issues for Congress, by Nicole T . Carter and John Frittelli.
18 T his section was authored by Charles V. Stern, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy.
19 T he organization that later became the Bureau of Reclamation was first authorized under the Reclamation Act of
1902 (32 Stat. 388). For detailed background on Reclamation, see CRS Report R46303, Bureau of Reclam ation:
History, Authorities, and Issues for Congress
, by Charles V. Stern and Anna E. Normand.
20 For more information on the Central Valley Project, see CRS Report R45342, Central Valley Project: Issues and
, by Charles V. Stern and Pervaze A. Sheikh .
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important for regional development and remains important today. Water supplies from these
projects are used primarily for irrigation; however, some municipalities also receive water from
Reclamation projects for drinking water and industrial uses. In addition, many of the largest
projects constructed by Reclamation produce hydropower and provide other benefits, such as
flood damage reduction, recreation, and water for fish and wildlife purposes. The operations of
some facilities are controversial for their effects on the environment.
Over time, Reclamation’s historical focus on building new projects has shifted to new mission
areas. Construction authorizations for Reclamation slowed during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1988,
Reclamation announced a new mission, recognizing the agency’s transition from a water resource
development and construction organization to one primarily occupied with managing water
resources in an environmental y and economical y sound manner.21 Since then, several
developments—including increased population in western states; prolonged drought conditions;
fiscal constraints; and water demands for fish and wildlife, recreation, and scenic enjoyment—
have resulted in increased pressure to alter the operation of many Reclamation projects.
Alterations to operations and project water deliveries often have been controversial because of
potential impacts on preexisting water rights, contractual obligations, and local economies.
Previous Congresses have expressed interest in both the management and operations of individual
Reclamation projects and the broader policies and procedures that guide the agency’s activities.
In recent years, various enacted laws have expanded Reclamation’s authorities and increased
funding for alternative technologies to increase water supplies in the West. These technologies
include water recycling and reuse, aquifer storage and recovery, and desalination, among others.
Some stakeholders support expanded authority and funding for these programs as critical to
future efforts to address water shortages in the West. In Section 4007 of the WIIN Act, Congress
included authorization for the first new authority in decades for Reclamation to support water
storage project construction.22
In contrast to USACE, there is not a tradition in Congress to introduce authorizing legislation
(e.g., a WRDA) for Reclamation projects on a periodic schedule. Instead, Congress general y has
considered Reclamation authorization proposals sporadical y and, in recent years, has included
Reclamation project and program authorities as part of larger omnibus authorizing or
appropriations legislation.23
Several Reclamation-related water project and management issues may be the subject of
legislation or oversight during the 117th Congress. Such issues may include, for example, the
status of new and proposed water storage projects under Section 4007 of the WIIN Act (and
whether to extend authority under that section); dam safety issues at existing federal reclamation
projects; and efforts to address the agency’s aging infrastructure and transition projects to
nonfederal ownership.
Another ongoing issue for Reclamation, which has been particularly controversial in recent years,
is the CVP and Reclamation’s operation of pumps in the San Francisco Bay/San Joaquin and
Sacramento Rivers’ Delta (Bay-Delta), including the pumps’ effects on water users and on

21 Bureau of Reclamation, Reclamation Faces the Future, (U.S. Department of the Interior: 1988), p. 1. Hereinafter,
Reclam ation Faces the Future.
22 See CRS In Focus IF10626, Reclamation Water Storage Projects: Section 4007 of the Water Infrastructure
Im provem ents for the Nation Act
, by Charles V. Stern.
23 T he last omnibus bill addressing key Reclamation policy areas and new or revised project and program
authorizations was in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, FY2021 ( P.L. 116-260), enacted in December 2020. T he
last time Congress enacted a stand-alone omnibus Reclamation authorization bill was the Reclamation Projects
Authorization and Adjustment Act (P.L. 102-575), enacted in 1992.
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threatened and endangered species. Several Reclamation provisions in Title II, Subtitle J, of the
WIIN Act addressed these controversies and were memorialized by the Trump Administration in
revised operational parameters that were finalized in 2019. The 117th Congress may oversee CVP
operations and any proposed changes by the Biden Administration, and it also may consider
extension or modification of Reclamation’s WIIN Act authorities (most of which are scheduled to
expire at the end of 2021). Other river basins where Reclamation has a prominent role in water
management issues—including the Colorado River, Columbia River, and Klamath River Basins,
among others—also may generate congressional interest.
Drought in the Western United States
As the primary federal water management agency in the western United States, Reclamation
plays a significant role in the federal response to western drought, in particular through drought
mitigation assistance, planning, and preparedness. In recent years, much of the West and
particularly the Southwest has faced extended drought conditions that received some level of
congressional attention. As of early 2021, much of the West (in particular the Southwest and
California) remained in drought. If dry conditions persist or intensify in the Colorado River Basin
and other western areas, drought in the West likely wil continue to receive attention during the
117th Congress. Congress may address drought through oversight hearings and legislation,
including any newly proposed authorities and guidance for Reclamation to prepare for and
mitigate the effects of drought. Congress also may consider regular and/or supplemental
appropriations that support drought response activities (e.g., dril ing of temporary wel s).
Indian Water Rights Settlements24
In the second half of the 19th century, the federal government pursued a policy of confining Indian
tribes to reservations. The federal statutes and treaties reserving land for Indian reservations
typical y did not address the water needs of these reservations, giving rise to questions and
disputes regarding Indian reserved water rights.25 Tribes have pursued formal recognition and
quantification of their water rights through both litigation and negotiated settlements with the
federal government and other stakeholders. Over the last 50 years, many tribes have used
negotiated settlements because they are often less lengthy and costly than litigation. The 117th
Congress may consider under what circumstances (if any) Congress should approve new Indian
water rights settlements (including related federal actions) and whether Congress should fund
(and in some cases amend) federal actions approved in existing settlements. Many tribes and
Members of Congress support Indian water rights settlements as a mutual y beneficial means to
resolve long-standing legal issues, provide certainty of water deliveries, and reduce the federal
government’s liability. Others are concerned with the cost of new settlements in general and, in
some cases, with specific individual settlements and activities.
After Indian water rights settlements involving the federal government are negotiated, federal
action is necessary for the settlements’ approval and implementation.26 As of early 2021, 38

24 T his section was authored by Charles V. Stern, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy.
25 Dating to a 1908 Supreme Court ruling, courts generally have held that many tribes have a reserved right to water
sufficient to fulfill the purpose of their reservations and that this right took effect on the date the reservations were
established. T herefore, in the context of a state water law system of prior appropriations, which is common in many
U.S. western states, many tribes have water rights senior to those of non-Indian users with water rights and access
established subsequent to the Indian reservations’ creation.
26 “Federal action” may be in the form of administrative approval or, if the settlement requires it, congressional
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Indian water rights settlements had been federal y approved, with total costs to the federal
government in excess of approximately $8.0 bil ion. Of these, 34 settlements were approved and
enacted by Congress and 4 were administratively approved by the U.S. Departments of Justice
and the Interior. After approval, any federal projects associated with approved Indian water rights
settlements general y have been implemented by Reclamation or the Bureau of Indian Affairs
(both within DOI), pursuant to congressional directions in enacted laws. Congress has
appropriated discretionary and mandatory funding (and, in some cases, both) for these activities,
including in recent appropriations bil s. One of the primary mandatory funding mechanisms for
Indian water rights settlements, the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund, was authorized by
Congress in Title X of P.L. 111-11 to provide $120 mil ion per year in appropriations for
qualifying tribal water settlement projects through FY2029.27
The primary chal enge facing new settlements is the availability of federal funds to implement
ongoing and future agreements that require federal resources, although not al settlements require
these resources. Indian water rights settlements often involve the construction of major new water
infrastructure to al ow tribal communities to access water to which they hold rights. However,
obtaining federal funding for these projects can be difficult. Some settlements also are
controversial for their potential to affect existing water rights and al ocations.
The 116th Congress enacted two new settlements in P.L. 116-260 (the Confederate-Salish
Kootenai Tribe and Navajo Nation [Utah] settlements), amended another settlement (the Aamodt
Settlement in New Mexico), and authorized preliminary federal actions related to another
proposed settlement (the Kickapoo Settlement in Kansas). Other proposed settlements, such as
the Hualapai Settlement in Arizona, were considered but not enacted. These and other settlements
may be considered by the 117th Congress.28
Waters Shared with Canada and Mexico
Great Lakes29
Federal, state, provincial, local, and tribal governments in the United States and Canada have
sought to work together to address environmental chal enges in the Great Lakes and restore the
ecosystem. The United States and Canada collaborate through several mechanisms, including the
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) and the International Joint Commission (IJC).30
In 2012, the United States and Canada amended the GLWQA, a commitment original y signed in
1972 that provides a framework for identifying binational priorities and implementing actions to
improve water quality. The framework provisions address aquatic invasive species; habitat
degradation and the effects of climate change; and continued threats to people’s health and the
environment, such as harmful algal blooms, toxic chemicals, and discharge from vessels.31 Many
GLWQA goals are addressed through the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI),

27 T he fund was authorized by Congress in T itle X of P.L. 111-11.
28 For more on Indian water rights settlements, see CRS Report R44148, Indian Water Rights Settlements, by Charles
V. Stern.
29 T his section was authored by Eva Lipiec, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy.
30 EPA, “What is GLWQA?,” at https://www.epa.gov/glwqa/what-glwqa; International Joint Commission (IJC), “Role
of IJC,” at https://ijc.org/en/who/role.
31 EPA, “United States and Canada Sign Amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement/Agreement Will Protect the
Health of the Largest Freshwater System in the World,” press release, September 7, 2012.
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administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).32 Congress authorized
appropriations for GLRI to increase incremental y from $300 mil ion in FY2021 to $475 mil ion
in FY2026.33 Administration requests for GLRI funding between FY2018 and FY2021 grew from
$0 to $320 mil ion.34 Congress appropriated between $300 mil ion and $330 mil ion annual y to
GLRI for these years.35 Several other federal agencies within the Departments of Agriculture, the
Army, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, the Interior, State, and
Transportation also support activities to address Great Lakes restoration. These agencies may
receive funding through GLRI appropriations transferred from EPA or may be appropriated funds
for Great Lakes activities or national-level programs that address issues in the Great Lakes
IJC is a binational organization established by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between the
United States and Canada to investigate and recommend solutions to transboundary water
issues.37 Among its responsibilities, IJC publishes assessments of progress toward, and
recommendations on, how to meet the GLWQA’s objectives. The first assessment in 2017 found
that the United States and Canada had made progress, including accelerated restoration of
contaminated areas of concern, development of binational habitat conservation strategies,
prevention of new aquatic invasive species (such as Asian carp), and comprehensive reporting on
groundwater science.38 It also identified chal enges, such as the increase in harmful algal blooms
in Lake Erie, the slow pace in addressing chemicals of mutual concern, the spread of previously
introduced invasive species, and insufficient investments in infrastructure to prevent the discharge
of untreated or insufficiently treated waste into the Great Lakes. IJC recommendations in the first
assessment focused on restoration funding, inadequately treated or untreated sewage, toxic and
nontoxic contaminants, phosphorus loads, introduced invasive species, remedial actions in areas
of concern, climate change adaptation, public engagement, and binational Great Lakes
monitoring. IJC issued its second assessment in December 2020.39 The second assessment
retained the original recommendations and provided additional recommendations; these
additional recommendations focused on the effectiveness of restoration programs, harmful algal
blooms in Lake Superior, and public and stakeholder outreach.

32 33 U.S.C. 1268. For more information on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), see CRS In Focus IF10128,
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), by Pervaze A. Sheikh.
33 P.L. 114-322 and P.L. 116-294. Other federal agencies’ programs fund Great Lakes restoration projects as well.
34 T he Administration requested $0 in FY2018, $30 million in FY2019, $30 million in FY2020, and $320 million in
FY2021 for GLRI. See EPA, Justification of Appropriation Estim ates for the Com m ittee on Appropriations for FY2018
(p. 155); FY2019 (p. 199); FY2020 (p. 208); and FY2021 (p. 232).
35 Congress appropriated $300 million in FY2018, $300 million in FY2019, $320 million in FY2020, and $330 million
in FY2021 to GLRI (P.L. 115-141; P.L. 116-6; P.L. 116-94, and P.L. 116-260).
36 More information about federal agency funding for Great Lakes restoration can be found in congressionally
mandated annual budget crosscuts (33 U.S.C. 1268a). T he most recent Great Lakes restoration crosscut was released in
November 2020. See Office of Management and Budget, Great Lakes Restoration Crosscut: Report to Congress,
November 2020.
37 T reaty Between the United States and Great Britain Relating to the Boundary Waters, and Questions Arising
Between the United States and Canada, January 11, 1909, 36 Stat. 2448, T .S. No. 548. For additional information, see
CRS In Focus IF10761, The International Joint Com m ission (IJC), by Eva Lipiec and Pervaze A. Sheikh.
38 International Joint Commission (IJC), First Triennial Assessment of Progress on Great Lakes Water Quality,
November 28, 2017.
39 IJC, Second Triennial Assessment of Progress on Great Lakes Water Quality, December 2020.
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Some Members of Congress and stakeholders have expressed concerns about high water levels in
the Great Lakes.40 Great Lakes water levels general y have risen annual y since historic low levels
in 2013,41 contributing to flooding and erosion of private and public properties and infrastructure
along the shoreline.42 In 2020, Congress authorized USACE to complete a Great Lakes coastal
resiliency study to assess and provide recommendations to Congress on potential coastal storm
and flood measures, among other actions.43 Some stakeholders argue that an IJC regulation plan
(Plan 2014) implemented in 2017 might have led to higher water levels in the Great Lakes.44
Other stakeholders contend that rising waters in the Great Lakes are primarily a function of
above-normal precipitation amounts.45
The 117th Congress also may focus on the potential effects of specific proposed projects in the
Great Lakes Basin. In recent years, proposed projects have included the establishment of a deep
geologic repository for nuclear waste, the development of an open-pit gold and zinc mine, and the
construction of water diversions for industrial and commercial uses.46
Columbia River Treaty47
The Columbia River originates in southwest Canada and crosses the international border into the
northwest United States before ultimately draining into the Pacific Ocean. 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.48 The CRT resulted from more than 20 years of negotiations
between the two countries, both of which ratified the treaty in 1961. Implementation began in
1964. The CRT has no specific end date. Most of its provisions continue indefinitely in the
absence of action by the United States or Canada, with the exception of certain flood control
operations that wil change after 2024. Beginning in 2014, each nation became able to provide
notice of its intent to terminate most CRT provisions with at least 10 years’ written notice. To

40 For example, IJC, “If You Experienced High Water Impacts in 2019, We Need to Hear from You,” press release,
December 12, 2019, at https://ijc.org/en/if-you-experienced-high-water-impacts-2019-we-need-hear-you; and U.S.
Representative John Katko, “In Anticipation of High Water Levels Along Lake Ontario, Reps. Katko, Morelle Lead
Bipartisan Great Lakes Delegation in Requesting Relief for Shoreline Communities amid COVID -19 Pandemic,” press
release, April 27, 2020.
41 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “T he Great Lakes
Dashboard,” at https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard/GLD_HT ML5.html.
42 For example, see impacts of high water levels noted in IJC, Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management
Committee, “ 2017 High Water Levels: A Summary of Reported Impacts,” fact sheet, April 2019, at https://ijc.org/sites/
default/files/2019-08/Final_QuestionnaireFactSheet_20190815.pdf; and Garret Ellison, “ As the Great Lakes Surge to
Record Heights, Coastal Areas Face a T ime of Reckoning,” MichiganLive, March 28, 2020.
43 P.L. 116-260, Div. AA, Sec. 211.
44 Marian Hetherly, Veronica Volk, and Emily Russell, “Resentment Growing Against IJC and Plan 2014,” WBFO
(Buffalo T oronto Public Media), June 13, 2019.
45 IJC, International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River 2019 High Water
Levels Questions and Answers,
January 2020.
46 Ben T horp, “Ontario Power Generation Formally Ends Effort to Place Nuclear Waste Storage Site New Lake
Huron,” Michigan Radio, June 24, 2020; Aquila Resources, “Back Forty Mine,” at http://backfortymine.com/; and
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “City of Racine Water Diversion Application,” at
47 T his section was authored by Charles V. Stern, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy.
48 T reaty Between Canada and the United States of America Relating to Cooperative Development of the Water
Resources of the Columbia River Basin, January 17, 1961.
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date, neither country has given notice of termination but both countries have indicated an interest
in modifying the CRT.
Future operation of USACE facilities on the Columbia River and its tributaries is central to CRT
discussions. USACE and the Bonnevil e Power Administration, a self-funded agency within the
U.S. Department of Energy that markets the hydropower from federal facilities in the U.S. portion
of the basin, share a joint role as the U.S. entity overseeing the CRT. From 2009 to 2013, the U.S.
entity undertook a review of the CRT. Based on studies and stakeholder input, the U.S. entity
provided a regional recommendation to the U.S. Department of State in December 2013. The
recommendation was to continue the treaty after 2024, with modifications.49 For its part, the
Province of British Columbia released in March 2013 a recommendation to continue the CRT
with modifications within the treaty framework.50 In October 2016, the U.S. Department of State
finalized negotiating parameters and authorized talks with Canada to begin in May 2018; between
2018 and 2020, U.S. and Canadian teams held 10 rounds of negotiations.
If the executive branch comes to an agreement regarding modification of the CRT, the Senate
may be asked to weigh in on future amendments to or versions of the treaty, pursuant to its advice
and consent role. In addition, both houses of Congress may weigh in on CRT review and
negotiation activities through their oversight roles.51
Colorado River and Rio Grande52
The United States and Mexico share the waters of multiple rivers, including the Colorado River
and the Rio Grande.53 These shared surface waters are important to many border community
economies and water supplies. In 1944, the United States and Mexico entered into the Treaty on
Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande (hereinafter, 1944
Water Treaty
), which established the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to
oversee the U.S.-Mexico border and water treaties.54
Congress has been involved in recent U.S.-Mexico water sharing issues primarily through
oversight. This involvement includes oversight of IBWC’s actions to manage the Colorado
River’s water and infrastructure to improve water availability during drought and to restore and
protect riverine ecosystems. Basin hydrologic conditions may shape what actions are taken under
a supplementary agreement with Mexico, known as Minute 323, “Extension of Cooperative
Measures and Adoption of a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan in the Colorado River
Basin” (in effect from September 2017 through December 2026).55 For Congress, binational

49 U.S. Entity, “U.S. Entity Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River T reaty After 2023,”
December 13, 2013, at http://www.crt2014-2024review.gov/Files/
Regional%20Recommendation%20Final,%2013%20DEC%202013.pdf .
50 Province of British Columbia, “Columbia River T reaty Review: B.C. Decision,” March 13, 2014, at
http://blog.gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty/files/2012/03/BC_Decision_on_Columbia_River_T reaty.pdf.
51 For more information on the Columbia River T reaty, see CRS Report R43287, Columbia River T reaty Review, by
Charles V. Stern.
52 T his section was authored by Charles V. Stern, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy.
53 For more information on binational Rio Grande and Colorado River water sharing, see CRS Report R45430, Sharing
the Colorado River and the Rio Grande: Cooperation and Conflict with Mexico , by Nicole T . Carter, Stephen P.
Mulligan, and Charles V. Stern.
54 T reaty Between the United States of America and Mexico Respecting Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and
T ijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande, U.S.-Mex., February 3, 1944, 59 Stat. 1219, at https://www.ibwc.gov/Files/
1944T reaty.pdf (hereinafter, 1944 Water T reaty).
55 International Boundary and Water Commission, Minute 323, September 21, 2017.
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Colorado River oversight topics may encompass Minute 323 implementation and operations and
deliveries during shortage conditions.56
Congress also has shown interest in Rio Grande-related issues. On multiple occasions since 1994,
Mexico has not met its Rio Grande water delivery obligations to the United States within the five-
year period prescribed by the 1944 Water Treaty. Since 2014, Congress has directed the U.S.
Department of State to report annual y on Mexico’s deliveries and on efforts to improve Mexico’s
treaty compliance. The IBWC is working to identify opportunities to improve the predictability
and reliability of Mexico’s water deliveries to the United States.
Water Resource Science at the U.S.
Geological Survey57
The USGS has conducted water resource science and surveys since 1889. It is an agency in DOI
that conducts large- and smal -scale studies of water resources throughout the country, addressing
both water quality and water quantity. These activities assist decisionmakers and federal agencies
in managing water resources at al levels of government.
Activities undertaken by the USGS are divided into five mission areas, including the Water
Resources Mission Area (hereinafter referred to as Water Resources).58 Water Resources covers
scientific activities that involve collecting, assessing, and disseminating hydrological data and
analysis and research on hydrological systems. Water Resources focuses on several water-related
conditions, such as streamflow, groundwater, water quality, and water use and availability.
The agency’s current scientific plan for Water Resources original y was developed for 2007
through 2017; it was revised in 2013 to reflect issues for the following 5-10 years.59 The report
centers on several focus areas, including collection and dissemination of water data and
monitoring for the country, flood inundation science and information, and modeling linkages
between human activities and the water cycle, among others. In 2018, the Water Science and
Technology Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS)
published a report to address inquiries from the USGS, such as identifying the nation’s highest-
priority water science and resources chal enges over the next 25 years and providing
recommendations on how to address the highest-priority national water chal enges.60 The 117th
Congress may consider directing the USGS to update its scientific plan based on
recommendations in the NAS report. Many of these recommendations focused on water data
collection, delivery, standards, and incorporation into comprehensive models. The NAS report
also highlighted potential integration of advanced observation capabilities and data informatics
and recommended the USGS develop a robust water accounting system that incorporates human
activities affecting water.

56 Separate but related to Minute 323 are actions in the U.S. portion of the basin pursuant to the Colorado River
Drought Contingency Plans, which were formally approved by Congress in 2019 under P.L. 116-14.
57 T his section was authored by Anna E. Normand, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy.
58 See CRS In Focus IF11433, The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): FY2021 Appropriations Process and Background ,
by Anna E. Normand, for more information on the USGS and its mission areas.
59 E. J. Evenson et al., U.S. Geological Survey Water Science Strategy-Observing, Understanding, Predicting, and
Delivering Water Science to the Nation
, USGS, USGS 1383-G, 2013.
60 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Future Water Priorities for the Nation: Directions for
the U.S. Geological Survey Water Mission Area
, 2018.
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Water monitoring implementation and operation by the USGS is a perennial issue for Congress.
The USGS, under Water Resources, makes available to the public real-time water monitoring data
from approximately 8,200 streamgages, 1,900 water quality-sampling stations, and 1,800
groundwater observation wel s across the nation.61 These observations support disaster responses
by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, water infrastructure operations by USACE and
Reclamation, flood forecasting by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s National
Water Service, and drinking water and ecosystem management by state and federal regulatory
agencies (e.g., EPA).
Over the years, streamgage operation costs have exceeded the available federal resources. Many
streamgages are operated cooperatively with nonfederal partners, who share the cost of
streamgages and data collection. The average nonfederal cost-share contribution increased from
50% in the early 1990s to 69% in FY2020.62 In the early 2000s, the USGS designated federal
priority streamgage (FPS) locations based on five identified national needs. The SECURE Water
Act of 2009 (Title IX, Subtitle F, of P.L. 111-11) directed the USGS to operate no fewer than
4,700 federal y funded streamgages by FY2019. In FY2020, 3,470 of the 4,760 FPSs designated
by the USGS were operational. Although USGS funding for cooperative streamgages and FPSs
has remained level (in nominal dollars) from FY2017 through FY2021, Congress directed $43
mil ion to the new Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS), an effort to establish
dense water monitoring networks in representative watersheds to model streamflow in analogous
watersheds.63 The 117th Congress may consider outlining the future direction for the USGS
Streamgaging Network through oversight or legislation. Policy options to consider may include
pursuing the FPS mandate and NGWOS simultaneously, amending the SECURE Water Act of
2009, and assessing the relative emphasis of NGWOS in the agency’s streamgaging enterprise.
Funding and Financing Aging and New Water
Resource Projects64
The majority of the nation’s dams, locks, and levees are more than 50 years old.65 Aging
infrastructure may need investments in rehabilitation and repair, aside from routine operation and
maintenance, to provide desired benefits and maintain safety. Potential decreased performance or
failure of these structures could have significant effects on local communities as wel as regional
and national impacts. Major capital investments for the repair and rehabilitation of these facilities
would cost bil ions of dollars.66 At the same time, there are demands from state and local interests

61 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Future Water Priorities for the Nation: Directions for
the U.S. Geological Survey Water Mission Area
, 2018.
62 T he USGS Cooperative Matching Funds Program provides up to a 50% match with tribal, regional, state, and local
partners pursuant to 43 U.S.C. §50.
63 T he USGS initiated the Next Generation Water Observing System pilot project in the Delaware River Basin with
$1.5 million in FY2018. Congress increased this funding to $8.5 million in FY2019 and FY2020 and to $24.5 million
in FY2021.
64 T his section was authored by Anna E. Normand, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy.
65 T he majority of Reclamation’s facilities are more than 50 years old, and USACE infrastructure averages more than
55 years old. T hese agencies generally design infrastructure such as dams for a 50-year service life. See CRS Report
RL34466, The Bureau of Reclam ation’s Aging Infrastructure, by Charles V. Stern.
66 According to a 2019 study by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), the combined total cost to
rehabilitate the nonfederal and federal dams in the National Inventory of Dams (see https://nid.sec.usace.army.mil/)
would exceed $70 billion, including approximately $3 billion for high -hazard federal dams and $19 billion for high-
hazard nonfederal dams. See ASDSO, The Cost of Rehabilitating Our Nation’s Dam s, 2019. In 2019, USACE
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for new water resource facilities, and the backlog of new projects authorized for federal funding
has grown in recent years. The last time Congress appropriated major additional funding for
federal water resource infrastructure (i.e., funding in addition to annual regular discretionary
appropriations and supplemental appropriations in response to storm events) was in the American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5).
Some proposals cal for funding mechanisms that might leverage federal funding more than
current available financing mechanisms; this might entail authorizing or modifying loan programs
for water resource infrastructure or making water resource projects eligible for funding from an
infrastructure bank.67 Other proposals include using existing or new revenue streams from project
beneficiaries (e.g., hydropower revenues, user fees) to fund project repairs and upgrades or
deauthorizing and transferring projects to nonfederal entities, such as state or local
governments.68 Congress previously enacted authorities to al ow local sponsors to pursue projects
with limited federal support or with expectations of future federal reimbursement or credit; these
authorities are being used to expedite some new projects.69
Some stakeholders have expressed frustration with the pace of authorization and federal funding
for new water resource projects and rehabilitation and repair of existing water resource structures.
The 113th Congress initiated an approach for nonfederal interests to pursue water infrastructure
projects through the authorization of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act
(WIFIA, enacted in Title X of WRRDA 2014). WIFIA authorized USACE and EPA to provide
loans and loan guarantees for certain water resources, public water supply, and wastewater
projects. WIFIA was modeled after a similar program that assists transportation projects, the
Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or TIFIA, program (23 U.S.C. §601 et
seq.). Although Congress has appropriated funding since FY2017 for EPA’s WIFIA program to
provide assistance to projects,70 Congress first funded USACE’s program in FY2021
appropriations.71 In that act, Congress created a WIFIA account for USACE and provided $12.2
mil ion specifical y to support dam safety projects for nonfederal y owned dams and $2 mil ion
for USACE administrative expenses to carry out the WIFIA program. Under the Federal Credit
Reform Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-508), appropriations for federal credit programs, such as WIFIA,

estimated a backlog of $20 billion t o address its dam safety concerns, and Reclamation estimated its current portfolio of
dam safety modification projects would cost between $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion through FY2030. For more
information, see CRS Report R45981, Dam Safety Overview and the Federal Role, by Anna E. Normand. USACE
estimates about $24 billion of additional investment over 10 years (i.e., $2.4 billion per year) would be needed to
sustain the capital stock value of existing USACE infrastructure. See USACE, Institute for Water Resources,
Estim ating USACE Capital Stock, 1928 to 2016 , December 2018. T his USACE study did not analyze how decline in
the capital stock value without such an investment may affect performance and safety o f the infrastructure or the
services supported by the infrastructure. Needed repairs to Reclamation facilities totaled $3.8 billion as of the most
recent publicly available estimate (early 2020).
67 For example, in February 2018, the T rump Administration released Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure
in Am erica,
which proposed expanding an EPA-operated loan and loan guarantee program to nonfederal water resource
projects (e.g., water supply, navigation and flood and storm damage reduction), including deauthorized USACE
projects. See White House, Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in Am erica , February 2018, pp. 11 and 13.
68 T he Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America also proposed user fee collection and retention at
USACE water resource projects (p. 29).
69 For example, see testimony provided by nonfederal witnesses at U.S. Congress, House Committee on T ransportation
and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on W ater Resources and Environment, Am erica’s Water Resources Infrastructure:
Approaches to Enhanced Project Delivery
, 115th Cong., 2nd sess., January 18, 2018.
70 See CRS In Focus IF11193, WIFIA Program: Background and Recent Developments, by Elena H. Humphreys.
71 Division D of P.L. 116-260. Recently, USACE has referred to its program as the Civil Works Infrastructure
Financing Program (CWIFP).
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primarily cover long-term credit subsidy costs (2 U.S.C. §661a). The volume of loans and other
types of credit assistance that WIFIA can provide is determined primarily by the appropriations
amount and subsidy cost assumed for each loan, as wel as any by credit assistance cap
established by Congress. In P.L. 116-260, Congress capped the total amount of loans supported
by the USACE appropriation at $950 mil ion.72
The 117th Congress may conduct oversight of the EPA and USACE WIFIA programs.73 Congress
also may consider, through appropriations legislation, expanding the eligible uses of future loans
to other purposes authorized by WIFIA (e.g., restoration of aquatic ecosystems, navigation
improvements, drinking water infrastructure). In addition to EPA and USACE WIFIA, some
stakeholders support authorization of a similar authority (commonly known as the Reclamation
Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act, or RIFIA), for the Bureau of Reclamation. Such a
program would focus on water supply projects in the western United States.
Protecting and Restoring the Environment74
The 117th Congress may consider legislation and may conduct oversight of how threatened and
endangered species listings and related critical habitat designations and environmental mitigation
requirements affect water resource project construction and operations. Congress also may choose
to engage in other environmental topics related to water resources, such as habitat restoration and
aquatic species conservation in the Bay-Delta; habitat mitigation for endangered species through
the modification (e.g., fish ladders) or removal of dams; the reduction of invasive species
associated with federal water resource projects;75 and opportunities for public-private partnerships
for conservation and restoration of estuaries, rivers, and coastlines.
Congress may consider the status and priority of federal efforts to restore large-scale aquatic
ecosystems altered or impaired by development, habitat loss, and federal water resourc e projects.
To date, Congress has authorized restoration activities in the Everglades, Great Lakes, and Gulf
Coast, among other regions.76 Other restoration efforts that may receive congressional attention
include activities in the Chesapeake Bay,77 Rio Grande River Basin, and Klamath River Basin.
Numerous issues pertaining to these and other ecosystem restoration initiatives might emerge. For
example, Congress may consider legislation to authorize restoration efforts for the Salton Sea and
Puget Sound; it also may conduct oversight over the implementation of restoration activities in
the Everglades, Great Lakes, and Gulf Coast.

72 T he actual amount of CWIFP loans may be lower than $950 million, as it would be determined by various factors,
including the subsidy cost for each project receiving assistance.
73 For more information on CWIFP, see CRS Insight IN11577, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works
Infrastructure Financing Program (CWIFP): Status and Issues
, by Anna E. Normand and Elena H. Humphreys.
74 T his section was authored by Pervaze A. Sheikh, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy.
75 For example, see CRS In Focus IF11666, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Invasive Species Efforts, by Anna E.
Normand and R. Eliot Crafton.
76 For more information, see CRS In Focus IF11336, Recent Developments in Everglades Restoration, by Pervaze A.
Sheikh and Anna E. Normand; CRS Report R42007, Everglades Restoration: Federal Funding and Im plementation
, by Charles V. Stern; CRS Report R43249, The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Background and Issues,
by Pervaze A. Sheikh; and CRS Report R43380, Gulf Coast Restoration: RESTORE Act and Related Efforts, by
Charles V. Stern, Pervaze A. Sheikh, and Jonathan L. Ramseur .
77 For more information, see CRS Report R45278, Chesapeake Bay Restoration: Background and Issues for Congress,
by Eva Lipiec.
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Funding for existing and newly authorized restoration initiatives could be predicated on whether
restoration efforts contribute toward economic recovery and climate change adaptation. Several
stakeholders argue that ecosystem restoration efforts could create conservation jobs and provide
ecosystem services that help to mitigate the effects of climate change (e.g., provide habitat for
migrating species). Congress also may evaluate restoration initiatives on how wel they balance
demands for water resources and species’ conservation needs.
Flood Resilience and Natural and Nature-Based
The 117th Congress may consider, as past Congresses have, reducing the nation’s flood risk,
including through efforts to improve flood resilience, or the ability to adapt to, withstand, and
rapidly recover from floods. In the United States, flood-related responsibilities are shared. For
example, Congress has established various federal programs that may be available to assist U.S.
state, local, and territorial entities and tribes in reducing flood risks through investments in
structural and nonstructural measures, as wel as flood insurance and mitigation programs.79
States and local governments have significant discretion in land-use and development decisions
(e.g., building codes, subdivision ordinances). Congress has been and may continue to be
concerned about the nation’s and the federal government’s financial exposure to flood losses, as
wel as the economic, social, and public health impacts of floods on individuals and communities.
Natural features, such as coral reefs, mangroves, dune systems, coastal wetlands, and the like, can
dampen wave energy, slow erosion, and absorb floodwaters, among other benefits. Congress has
established several programs across a number of agencies to conserve and restore these types of
features. For example, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (P.L. 97-348) established the Coastal
Barrier Resources System in coastal areas with low development.80 The program aims not only to
limit future federal expenditures and protect habitat but also to preserve natural y dynamic areas
that may absorb flooding and erosion impacts. The 117th Congress may consider the costs and
benefits of protecting and restoring natural features that provide flood control and erosion
Approaches that mimic nature and are nature-based can be used as part of flood management and
risk reduction. These features sometimes are referred to as living shorelines or green
.81 Some local, state, and federal agencies and programs support nature-based

78 T his section was authored by Eva Lipiec, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy.
79 For more information, see CRS Report R44593, Introduction to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), by
Diane P. Horn and Baird Webel, and CRS Insight IN11515, FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation: The Building Resilient
Infrastructure and Com m unities (BRIC) Program
, by Diane P. Horn.
80 For more information, see CRS In Focus IF10859, The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), by Eva Lipiec and R.
Eliot Crafton. For information about other programs that conserve or restore coastal habitats, see CRS Report R45460,
Coastal Zone Managem ent Act (CZMA): Overview and Issues for Congress, by Eva Lipiec, and CRS Report R45265,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: An Overview, by R. Eliot Crafton.
81 T here are multiple definitions for the terms living shorelines and green infrastructure. Generally, the term living
“ encompasses a range of shoreline stabilization techniques along estuarine coasts, bays, sheltered coastline,
and tributaries.... A living shoreline has a footprint that is made up mostly of native material. It incorporates vegetation
or other living, nat ural ‘soft’ elements alone or in combination with some type of harder shoreline structure (e.g. oyster
reefs or rock sills) for added stability.” See NOAA, Guidance for Considering the Use of Living Shorelines, 2015, p. 7.
T he term green infrastructure oft en describes measures to mitigate stormwater problems. Under statute, green
includes a “ range of measures that use plant or soil systems, permeable pavement or other permeable
surfaces or substrates, stormwater harvest and reuse, or landscap ing to store, infiltrate, or evapotranspirate stormwater
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infrastructure, especial y if there are multiple benefits (e.g., erosion reduction, habitat restoration,
water quality benefits). Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, USACE, and EPA, support the restoration, protection, or
construction of natural and nature-based features.82 Continuing congressional interest in the
nation’s infrastructure and changes in environmental conditions, such as hydrologic conditions
associated with a changing climate in some areas, may prompt Congress to examine the
implementation and funding of nature-based infrastructure and the protection of natural features
that reduce flood and erosion risk.
Recharging Groundwater83
Groundwater, the water in aquifers accessible by wel s, is a critical component of the U.S. water
supply. It is important for both domestic and agricultural water needs, among other uses.84 Nearly
half of the nation’s population uses groundwater to meet daily needs; in 2015, about 149 mil ion
people (46% of the nation’s population) relied on groundwater for their domestic indoor and
outdoor water supply.85 The greatest volume of groundwater used every day is for agriculture,
specifical y for irrigation. In 2015, irrigation accounted for 69% of the total fresh groundwater
withdrawals in the United States.86
Congress general y has deferred management of U.S. groundwater resources to the states, and
there is little indication this practice wil change. However, Congress, various states, and other
stakeholders recently have focused on the potential for using surface water to recharge aquifers
and the ability to recover the stored groundwater when needed. Some see aquifer recharge,
storage, and recovery as a replacement or complement to surface water reservoirs, and there is
interest in how federal agencies can support these efforts.87 In the congressional context, some
have expressed interest in the potential for federal efforts to facilitate state, local, and private
groundwater management efforts (e.g., management of federal reservoir releases to al ow for
groundwater recharge by local utilities).
Although Congress has authorized aquifer storage, recharge, and/or recovery for some individual
projects, general congressional guidance in this area has been limited. Under the WIIN Act,

and reduce flows to sewer systems or to surface waters” (33 U.S.C. 1362(27)).
82 For more information about NOAA and USACE’s authorities and activities regarding natural and nature -based
infrastructure, see CRS Report R46145, Nature-Based Infrastructure: NOAA’s Role, by Eva Lipiec, and CRS Report
R46328, Flood Risk Reduction from Natural and Nature-Based Features: Arm y Corps of Engineers Authorities, by
Nicole T . Carter and Eva Lipiec.
83 T his section was authored by Peter Folger, Section Research Manager.
84 For more information, see CRS Report R45259, The Federal Role in Groundwater Supply, by Peter Folger et al.
85 Cheryl A. Dieter and Molly A. Maupin, Public Supply and Domestic Water Use in the United States, 2015 , USGS,
Open-File Report 2017-1131, 2017.
86 Cheryl A. Dieter et al., Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2015, USGS, Circular 1441, 2018. 2015 is the
most recent year for which these data are available. Nearly all groundwater withdrawals in 2015 were freshwater (about
97%); the remainder (3%) were saline water withdrawals.
87 An example of a major aquifer storage project currently operating within a larger water storage framework is the
Kern Water Bank, a water storage bank that operates on about 20,000 acres southwest of Bakersfield, CA. As of 2018,
the bank could store about 1.5 million acre-feet of readily available water underground, with the ability to recover
approximately 240,000 acre-feet within a 10-month period. Since its construction in 1996, the bank has formed an
important component of California’s water storage network. For more information, see http://www.kwb.org/index.cfm/
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Water Resource Issues in the 117th Congress

Congress provided general authority for Reclamation to support new and enhanced federal and
state surface and groundwater storage projects under certain, limited circumstances.88
In some states, federal water projects and state-implemented groundwater enhancement activities
are interrelated. A connection between federal water projects and groundwater enhancement
already exists in Arizona, as part of the Central Arizona Project,89 and is implemented via state
law. More recently, California enacted three groundwater laws known collectively as the
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which directed the California Department
of Water Resources to identify water available for replenishing groundwater in the state. Because
the CVP is integral to the water supply and delivery infrastructure of California, that project also
is recognized as part of the surface water resources potential y important for recharging aquifers
as the SGMA is implemented. Other western states with significant Reclamation water
infrastructure also may look to enhance their sources of water for aquifer recharge by using water
from federal projects.
A number of bil s introduced in previous Congresses would have addressed groundwater
recharge, storage, and recovery in various ways. Whereas some bil s addressed the concept
broadly, others attempted to facilitate and, in some cases, add requirements for groundwater
storage projects in specific locations. Similar legislation may be introduced in the 117th Congress,
particularly if drought trends continue in the southwestern United States and more groundwater is
pumped in lieu of surface water supplies, potential y leading to the broad and long-term
drawdown of aquifers.
Many factors shape water resource issues that the 117th Congress may consider. These factors
include demand for reliable water supplies; hydrologic conditions, such as droughts, floods, and
effects of climate change; issues regarding safety and performance of existing infrastructure; and
interests and concerns about alternative financing and public-private partnerships.
The 117th Congress may consider some measures proposed but not enacted in the 116th Congress,
as wel as new legislative proposals. In the water resource area, legislative activity often has been
specific to the federal water resource management agencies or to water use by particular sectors,
including energy, agriculture, navigation, recreation, and municipal and industrial use.
Occasional y, Congress takes up broader water resource policy issues, such as coordination of
federal water resource activities, programs, science, and research.
Congress and other decisionmakers often make water resource decisions within a complicated
context. These decisions may involve existing federal infrastructure and its beneficiaries, multiple
or conflicting objectives, various legal decisions, multiple environmental and natural resource
statutes, and long-established institutional mechanisms (e.g., water rights and contractual
obligations). These decisions also occur within a federalist framework in which water resource
responsibilities are shared with state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector.

88 For more information, see CRS In Focus IF10626, Reclamation Water Storage Projects: Section 4007 of the Water
Infrastructure Im provem ents for the Nation Act
, by Charles V. Stern. No significant federal restrictions apply to
Reclamation’s authorities to deliver water for purposes of aquifer recharge, storage, and recovery. USACE authorities
also do not restrict the nonfederal use for groundwater recharge of water stored or released from USACE reservoirs.
Both agencies acknowledge that some state restrictions affect the use of the delivered or stored waters for groundwater
89 For more information on the Central Arizona Project, see https://www.cap-az.com/about-us/background.
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Water Resource Issues in the 117th Congress

Author Information

Charles V. Stern
Anna E. Normand
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Nicole T. Carter
Eva Lipiec
Acting Deputy Assistant Director and Specialist
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Pervaze A. Sheikh
Peter Folger
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Section Research Manager

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should n ot be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in
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