About Air and Water

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Interior Department racing to weaken endangered species rules

By The Associated Press, Oct. 22, 2008
WASHINGTON — Rushing to ease endangered species rules before President Bush leaves office, Interior Department officials are attempting to review 200,000 comments from the public in just 32 hours, according to an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has called a team of 15 people to Washington this week to pore through letters and online comments about a proposal to exclude greenhouse gases and the advice of federal biologists from decisions about whether dams, power plants and other federal projects could harm species. That would be the biggest change in endangered species rules since 1986.

In an e-mail last week to Fish and Wildlife managers across the country, Bryan Arroyo, head of the agency’s endangered species program, said the team would work eight hours a day starting Tuesday to the close of business Friday to sort through the comments.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., whose own letter opposing the changes is among the thousands that will be processed, called the 32-hour deadline a "last-ditch attempt to undermine the long-standing integrity of the endangered species program."

At that rate, according to a committee aide’s calculation, 6,250 comments would have to be reviewed every hour. That means that each member of the team would be reviewing at least seven comments each minute.

It usually takes months to review public comments on a proposed rule, and by law the government must respond before a rule becomes final. How fast the rule is finished could determine how hard it is to undo.

A new administration could freeze pending rules. But if the regulation is final before the next president takes office, reversing it would require another review and public comment period — a process that could take months and sometimes years.

North Texas agencies near deal to pump in water from Oklahoma

By MAX B. BAKER - Fort Worth Star Telegram - Oct. 22, 2008
FORT WORTH — In a sweeping cooperative agreement to provide water to North Texas’ growing population, the Tarrant Regional Water District, the city of Dallas and the North Texas Municipal Water District say they will work together to pipe water out of Oklahoma, a massive project that could cost several billion dollars.

Under the agreement, the Tarrant district will be the lead agency in negotiating with Oklahoma officials and in fighting any legal challenges.

The district approved the agreement Tuesday, and the Dallas City Council is scheduled to consider it today. The North Texas district approved it last month.

"I think it is a very positive step toward coordinating a regional water supply approach in North Texas," said Hal Sparks, vice president of the Tarrant district board.

By working together, the three agencies would also be able to share water stored in their own reservoirs to prevent shortages in the area, said Jim Oliver, general manager of the Tarrant district.

It is the first step to a regional water supply that would make the Metroplex "almost drought-proof," Oliver said.

So far, the estimated cost of the pipeline is about $3 billion, he said.

Details of how the cost may be shared by the agencies have yet to be determined, officials said.

Cost sharing

Last year, the Tarrant district, searching for water for its exploding population, developed a plan to pump hundreds of millions of gallons from Oklahoma creeks and streams into its reservoirs.

Called a "robust project," it would provide enough water to serve the 4.3 million people who are expected to live in the district’s service area by 2060.The district now provides water to about 1.6 million people.

The Tarrant district wants to capture water from the Kiamichi River, Cache Creek and Beaver Creek basins before it enters the Red River and takes on too much salt. The first pipeline would pump water about 60 miles, from near Lawton, Okla., to Lake Bridgeport.

About the same time it filed permits for the water, the Tarrant district filed a lawsuit contending that a 2001 Oklahoma moratorium on out-of-state water sales violates federal law concerning interstate commerce.

Oklahoma contends that it can enforce the moratorium until a study of its water supply is completed. The lawsuit is pending before a federal appeals court in Denver.

The Tarrant district has spent about $2.4 million in developing its Oklahoma water plans, about half of it going for the legal challenge, said Wayne Owen, the district’s planning director.

He said Dallas and the North Texas Municipal Water District have agreed to retroactively share in those costs.

"The water we are all going to try and get into the Metroplex is going to be coming from farther and farther away," said Denis Qualls, senior engineer for the Dallas water department. "To partner in that and share the costs is a prudent thing."

How much each agency would contribute could depend on the amount of water used, Qualls said.

So far, the agreement only mentions the Kiamichi River basin near McAlester.

"We will be looking at this as it progresses into how much, when and how," he said.

Irving deal

The agreement could prove problematic for Irving, which reached a deal in August with the southeast Oklahoma town of Hugo to buy millions of gallons a year.

Under the contract, Irving would pump the water from Hugo Lake into North Texas, initially paying about $1.7 million a year.

Hugo, using money provided by Irving, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s ban on out-of-state water sales.

Tarrant district officials have painted Irving as looking out for its own interests to the detriment of everyone else.

Under the three-party agreement, Owen said, the water districts and Dallas may use the available capacity in many local reservoirs, making it harder for Irving to store water.

Irving Mayor Herbert Gears said that the city has spent millions developing its plans for Oklahoma water and that he doesn’t think the new agreement will affect them.

"In the end, we will all be partners in bringing water to North Texas," he said. "We’ll need pipelines, water treatment plants and reservoirs. And we’ll all have to win some court cases."

Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

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