Position on Water Resources

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National
Position in Brief: 

The key concept is a strong federal role in formulating national policies and procedures. The issue of water management led the League toward later interrelated positions on air pollution, solid waste disposal, and land use—all focused on management policies to protect natural resources. 

Details: 

Resource management decisions must be based on a thorough assessment of population growth and of current and future needs. The inherent characteristics and carrying capacities of each area’s natural resources must be considered in the planning process. Policy makers must take into account the ramifications of their decisions on the nation as a whole as well as on other nations. To assure the future availability of essential resources, government policies must promote stewardship of natural resources. Policies that promote resource
conservation are a fundamental part of such stewardship. Resources such as water and soil should be protected. Consumption of nonrenewable resources should be minimized.

Beneficiaries should pay the costs for water, land, and energy development projects. Reclamation and reuse of natural resources should be encouraged. The League believes that protection and management of natural resources are responsibilities shared by all levels of government. The federal government should provide leadership, guidance, and financial assistance to encourage regional planning and decision making to enhance local and state capabilities for resource management.

The League supports comprehensive long-range planning and believes that wise decision-making requires: 
•   adequate data and a framework within which alternatives may be weighed and intelligent decisions made;
•   consideration of environmental, public-health, social, and economic impacts of proposed plans and actions; 
•   protection of private property rights commensurate with overall consideration of public health and environmental protection; 
•   coordination of the federal government’s responsibilities and activities; 
•   resolution of inconsistencies and conflicts in basic policy among governmental agencies at all levels;
•   regional, interregional, and/or international cooperation when appropriate; 
•   mechanisms appropriate to each region that will provide coordinated planning and administration among units of government, governmental agencies, and the private sector; 
•   procedures for resolving disputes;  
•   procedures for mitigation of adverse impacts;
•   special responsibility by each level of government for those lands and resources entrusted to them; 
•   special consideration for the protection of areas of critical environmental concern, natural hazards, historical importance, and aesthetic value;
•   special attention to maintaining and improving the environmental quality of urban communities.

BACKGROUND

Water Resources Passage of an expanded Safe Drinking Water Act in 1986 and the Clean Water Act of 1987 marked important milestones in the League’s effort to ensure safe drinking water for all Americans and safeguards against nonpoint pollution. Groundwater, virtually unprotected by national legislation, became the focus of state and local League efforts in 1990, when LWVEF undertook a project to increase citizen awareness of the importance of protecting groundwater supplies, the source of 50 percent of the nation’s drinking water.

Leagues in 17 states sponsored public forums, conferences, action guides, educational videos, “water-watcher” teams, and media outreach. The local efforts were documented in a citizen handbook: Protect Your Groundwater: Educating for Action. In 1994, LWVEF sponsored a national videoconference on groundwater protection with more than 140 downlink sites nationwide. The education efforts were complemented with LWVUS lobbying to address groundwater concerns in the renewal of the Clean Water Act of 1994. Leagues across the country conducted surveys of local drinking water officials and held educational forums under the LWVEF Safe Drinking Water Project. The project’s publications, Safety on Tap and Crosscurrents, were used widely by Leagues and other citizen groups. In 1994 and 1995, the League opposed amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act that would require EPA to conduct formal cost benefit analyses with comparative risk analyses for every regulatory action and urged Congress to restore funding and adopt improvements to the act.

In 1997, LWVEF sponsored a second, award winning videoconference, Tools for Drinking Water Protection, featuring protection strategies and mechanisms at work in diverse communities around the United States. It was downlinked to more than 750 sites in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Canada, and Brazil, and allowed citizens, officials, business leaders, and nongovernmental organizations to share information, winning the 1997 award for “Most Outstanding Broadcast for the Public Good” from the teleconferencing industry.

In 1998, LWVEF published Strategies for Effective Public Involvement in Drinking Water Source Assessment and Protection, a handbook to facilitate the public involvement required by the Safe Drinking Water Act amendments of 1996. The League also focused education efforts on wetlands protection. In 1996, LWVEF held a Wetlands Protection Workshop, bringing together members from 23 states, national environmental specialists, and local leaders to explore the value of coastal and freshwater wetlands, highlight measures and programs geared toward wetlands protection, and examine methods for effective communication of wetlands information in local communities.

In 1997-98, LWVEF provided passthrough grants to 11 Leagues to educate their communities on wetlands. In 1998, LWVUS supported the President’s proposed action plan to crack down on polluted runoff and to restore and protect wetlands. In related action, the League submitted comments to the Army Corps of Engineers urging revocation of Nationwide Permit 26 (NWP 26), which sanctions the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands every year. In May 2000, LWVEF sponsored “The Ech2O Workshop: An Introduction to the Watershed Approach,” where League activists learned how to take leadership in protecting their local watersheds and educating the public about watershed protection. In February 2003, LWVUS submitted comments to the EPA on attempts to redefine and limit the jurisdictional focus of the Clean Water Act, noting that the Clean Water Act covers all waters. “Whether large or small, they function as an interconnected system; excision of parts of the system [from regulation] will impair health and optimal functioning of the whole.” The threat to streams and rivers from mountaintop removal, a coal-mining technique that can bury those water bodies, was fought by the League. In 2005, the League urged Senators to protect women and children from toxic mercury by supporting a bipartisan resolution to reject the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule to delay reductions in mercury emissions from power plants.


Delegates at the 2010 Convention shared information about hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” a process by which high pressure water, sand, and chemicals are pumped underground to fracture geologic formations to release natural gas. This process, as well as other fossil fuel extraction, poses a threat to water and other natural resources. State Leagues, using LWVUS positions on natural resources—particularly clean water and drinking water—worked to reduce the environmental impact of mining processes that contaminate and pollute. In 2012, LWVUS made its voice heard to several regulatory authorities of the federal government in relation to “fracking.” Comments went to the EPA, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

In 2015, the League supported a set of five bills referred to as the Frack Pack. The legislation would help protect the environment and public health from the risks of hydraulic fracturing by ending exemptions for oil and gas production from major environmental laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act. State and local Leagues were active in the development of the development of the Waters of the United States regulation. This regulation would define the waterways, rivers, streams, and tributaries protected by the Clean Water Act. State and local Leagues sent in comments, participated in hearings, and worked with partners on the ground during the development of the regulation. They also worked to defend it when it was repealed by the Trump Administration. Together with coalition partners, the League participated in a final effort to push President Obama to permanently protect designated parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans from offshore oil drilling. The League was successful in its efforts and President Obama designated certain areas off-limit to oil and gas leasing.

The League continues to battle the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management on this issue, while engaging on this fight with our partners as the decisions of the previous administration are reversed.

Position History: 

The League’s 1956-1958 water resources study was the basis for action on a broad range of resource management issues. By 1958, the League had taken a position that, as rephrased and expanded in 1960, has formed one of two foundations for League action on water ever since. The key concept is a strong federal role in formulating national policies and procedures.