Inhofe Signals Support for Drought Relief in WRDA Bill

Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter

Published: Thursday, April 21, 2016

Next week’s massive water resources bill could include a boost for desalination projects and other efforts to increase water supply for droughts, the top senator on the Environment and Public Works Committee said yesterday.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) teased the possibility of authorizing more desalination facilities in the upcoming Water Resources Development Act after hearing testimony from two experts on the technology to remove salt from ocean water.

“Right now we are getting into the WRDA bill, and that’s what this is all about,” said Inhofe at the hearing on improving water supply yesterday. “This is the type of thing that we’re wanting to do.”

The Senate version of WRDA is set for introduction next week.

EPW Committee ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) thanked Inhofe for his support of the technology, which will likely be a necessary tool to deal with the drought in her home state.

“That is music to my ears,” Boxer told Inhofe.

Boxer in her opening statement for the roughly half-hour hearing touted technologies to increase the supply, like desalination and systems for turning wastewater into potable drinking water.

“We don’t have to fight over these supplies, we need to work together to expand the pool,” she said.

Denis Bilodeau, first vice president of the Orange County Water District board of directors in Southern California, touted his water district’s groundwater replenishment system, or GWRS. The system treats wasterwater and injects it into an aquifer, where it is pumped by 19 cities and specialty water agencies for drinking water. The wastewater is treated with microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light.

The GWRS was built with $20 million from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Title XVI program and has leveraged more than $70 million in state, local and private funding. The overall project cost more than $480 million and provides drinking water for 850,000 people.

“In Orange County, we live in a desert,” he told the lawmakers.

Kevin Price, senior science and technology adviser at the Middle East Desalination Research Center and a former Bureau of Reclamation scientist, said that he knew decades ago that the water struggles in desert nations like Israel would soon come to California.

But the size and population of the Golden State make water transfers much more complicated than in Israel, said Price. His organization works to resolve water conflicts in the Middle East.

“The opportunities to move water throughout Israel are much bigger than in California,” he said.

Bilodeau told Boxer his district could make use of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, a pilot program that provides lower-interest Treasury loans for water infrastructure needs.

Boxer said she hoped to push for desalination and other technologies in her role as ranking member.

“A little spark in this committee could drive change and alleviate one of the biggest problems that we face as a nation,” she said.

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