[Senate Report 109-170]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]

                                                       Calendar No. 271
109th Congress                                                   Report
 1st Session                                                    109-170

                   ALASKA WATER RESOURCES ACT OF 2005


                October 27, 2005.--Ordered to be printed


   Mr. Domenici, from the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, 
                        submitted the following

                              R E P O R T

                         [To accompany S. 1338]

    The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, to which was 
referred the bill (S. 1338) to require the Secretary of the 
Interior, acting through the Bureau of Reclamation and the 
United States Geological Survey, to conduct a study on 
groundwater resources in the State of Alaska, and for other 
purposes, having considered the same, reports favorably thereon 
with an amendment and recommends that the bill, as amended, do 
    The amendment is as follows:
    On page 2, lines 12 through 14, strike ``in the 
Municipality of Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough'' 
and insert ``and in the Municipality of Anchorage, the 
Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the city of Fairbanks, and the 
Fairbanks Northstar Borough''.

                         PURPOSE OF THE MEASURE

    The purpose of S. 1338 is to require the Secretary of the 
Interior, acting through the Bureau of Reclamation and the 
United States Geological Survey, to conduct a study on 
groundwater resources in the State of Alaska, and a survey of 
water treatment needs and potential technologies.

                          BACKGROUND AND NEED

    Alaska has more than 3 million lakes, of which only 100 or 
so are larger than 10 square miles. The State also has more 
than 12,000 rivers, including 10 major ones (Yukon, Porcupine, 
Koyukuk, Kuskokwim, Tanana, Innoko, Colville, Noatak, Kobuk and 
Birch Creek), along with thousands of streams, creeks and 
ponds. Combined, these water bodies comprise approximately one-
third of all the fresh water found in the United States.
    From early spring with the ice breakup, to fall with its 
heavy rains, Alaskans are subject to substantial flood threats. 
For example, the Yukon, which originates in western Canada, 
runs 1,400 miles and discharges from 25,000 cubic feet of water 
per second in early spring to more than 600,000 cubic feet per 
second in May during the spring thaw. Despite these flood 
threats, Alaska has fewer than 100 stream gauging stations 
operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)--less than 10 
percent of the stream flow information available to other 
States. Alaska averages one working gauge for each 10,000 
square miles. In contrast, States in the Pacific Northwest 
average one gauge for each 365 square miles. To equal the 
Pacific Northwest, Alaska would require over 1,600 total gauge 
    Alaska also has the Nation's least modern and undeveloped 
potable water distribution system. Water for rural Alaska towns 
comes mostly from surface water sources--which are prone to 
freezing, resulting in both supply and storage problems. Such 
surface water sources are also vulnerable to water-borne 
contaminants, including wildlife fecal matter, human waste from 
inadequate or nonexistent sewage treatment facilities, and 
natural mineral deposits (natural arsenic levels in mineralized 
zone creeks frequently exceed Environmental Protection Agency 
standards). Other areas, such as the densely populated 
``Railbelt,'' rely on groundwater sources. However, there is 
limited knowledge of the nature and extent of the aquifers that 
support those critical groundwater supplies, a problem 
exacerbated by extensive permafrost.
    According to the Alaska Department of Environmental 
Conservation, the State has about 16,000 homes in 71 Native 
villages that are not served by piped water or enclosed water 
haul systems. There are still 55 villages in Alaska where up to 
29 percent of the residents are not served by sanitary water 
systems, with more than 60 percent of residents not being 
served in 16 villages.
    In order to plan effectively for these locations, better 
information as to the availability and extent of the water 
supply is needed, along with an analysis of new technologies 
that could be used for water system installations, including 
possible desalination for some island and coastal communities. 
The studies authorized by S. 1338 will help Alaska to plan and 
design water systems and transportation infrastructure and 
better prepare for floods and summer wildfires.

                          LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

    S. 1338 was introduced by Senator Murkowski on June 29, 
2005 and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural 
Resources. The Water and Power Subcommittee held a hearing on 
S. 1338 on July 12, 2005. At the business meeting on September 
28, 2005, the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources ordered 
S. 1338 favorably reported, with an amendment.

                        COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATION

    The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in open 
business session on September 28, 2005, by unanimous vote of a 
quorum present, recommends that the Senate pass S. 1338, if 
amended as described herein.

                          COMMITTEE AMENDMENT

    An amendment was adopted to include the city of Fairbanks 
and the Fairbanks Northstar Borough in the study.

                      SECTION-BY-SECTION ANALYSIS

    Section 1 sets forth the short title.
    Section 2 sets forth definitions.
    Section 3 (a) directs the Secretary of the Interior, acting 
through the Commissioner of Reclamation and the Director of the 
USGS to conduct water studies in the State of Alaska. These 
studies include a survey of accessible water supplies, 
including aquifers, on the Kenai Peninsula, in the Municipality 
of Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the city of 
Fairbanks, and the Fairbanks Northstar Borough; a survey of 
water treatment needs and technologies, including desalination 
treatment; and a review of the need for enhancement of the 
National Streamflow Information Program administered by the 
USGS as it relates to critical water needs such as 
infrastructure risk to State transportation, flood forecasting, 
resource extraction, and fire management.
    Subsection (b) directs the Secretary of the Interior to 
report the results of these studies to the Senate Committee on 
Energy and Natural Resources and the House Resources Committee 
within two years of the Act's enactment.
    Section 4 authorizes such sums as may be necessary to carry 
out the Act.


    The following estimate of costs of this measure has been 
provided by the Congressional Budget Office.


S. 1338--Alaska Water Resources Act of 2005

    S. 1338 would direct the Secretary of the Interior to 
conduct a study of water resources in five areas of Alaska. The 
study, to be completed within two years of the bill's 
enactment, would include a survey of accessible water supplies 
and water treatment needs. Based on the cost of similar 
studies, CBO estimates that carrying out the proposed study 
would cost the department about $8 million over the next two 
years, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts. 
Enacting S. 1338 would not affect direct spending or revenues.
    S. 1338 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector 
mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and 
would impose no costs on state, local, or tribal governments.
    The CBO staff contact for this estimate is Deborah Reis. 
This estimate was approved by Peter H. Fontaine, Deputy 
Assistant Director for Budget Analysis.


    In compliance with paragraph 11(b) of rule XXVI of the 
Standing Rules of the Senate, the Committee makes the following 
evaluation of the regulatory impact which would be incurred in 
carrying out S. 1338.
    The bill is not a regulatory measure in the sense of 
imposing Government-established standards or significant 
economic responsibilities on private individuals and 
    No personal information would be collected in administering 
the program. Therefore, there would be no impact on personal 
    Little, if any, additional paperwork would result from the 
enactment of S. 1338, as ordered reported.

                        EXECUTIVE COMMUNICATIONS

    The testimony provided by the Department of the Interior at 
the Subcommittee hearing on S. 1338 follows:

 Statement of Leslie Holland-Bartels, United States Geological Survey, 
                    U.S. Department of the Interior

          s. 1338, the ``alaska water resources act of 2005''

    S. 1338 directs the Secretary of the Interior, acting 
through the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the Director of the 
U.S. Geological Survey, to conduct a study on ground-water 
resources in the State of Alaska. The role identified for the 
Department in this bill is consistent with BOR and USGS's 
leadership role in monitoring and assessing ground-water 
    The bill requires a study that includes a survey of 
accessible water supplies (including aquifers on the Kenai 
Peninsula, in the municipality of Anchorage and the Matanuska-
Susitna Borough), and a review of the need for enhancement of 
the streamflow information collected by the USGS in Alaska 
relating to critical water needs.
    The USGS has a long history of conducting ground-water 
assessments on both a local and regional scale. In the 1950s 
and 1960s studies were conducted across the nation to provide a 
basic understanding of geohydrologic conditions at a county-
level scale and, in the 1980s, 25 regional aquifer systems were 
studied in detail. However, Alaska was not covered in these 
studies. As a result, basic geohydrologic information is needed 
in Alaska so that specific resource management questions can be 
addressed. Congress directed the USGS in their fiscal year 2002 
appropriation to ``. . . prepare a report to describe the scope 
and magnitude of the efforts needed to provide periodic 
assessments of the status and trends in the availability and 
use of freshwater resources.'' That report, USGS Circular 1223, 
states that ground-water levels should be based on repeated 
observations at relatively large numbers of observation wells 
in a wide range of representative hydrogeologic environments, 
and we continue to work toward that goal.
    Many Alaska citizens depend on good quality ground water 
for domestic consumption and other uses. However, reliable 
assessments of ground-water availability and quality are 
limited for expanding population areas such as the Municipality 
of Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Fairbanks-North Star 
Borough, and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. In many of these 
areas, individual wells supply homes and businesses with 
drinking water, and wastewater is disposed of through onsite 
septic systems. As populations and development activities on 
the surrounding landscape increase in these areas, additional 
consumption and demand on these aquifers is coupled with an 
increased risk of ground-water contamination. Specific 
knowledge of the aquifer properties will support proper 
planning to protect the ground water from potential 
contamination and to ensure there is an adequate supply and 
recharge needed for both domestic and industry related 
    For example, recent observations have been made of elevated 
nitrate concentrations in drinking water in parts of the 
Municipality of Anchorage and the Fairbanks-North Star Borough. 
Arsenic concentrations in some shallow aquifers in the 
Fairbanks-North Star and Kenai Peninsula Boroughs exceed the 
new EPA maximum contaminant level standards. The information 
collected under this legislation would allow for the 
determination of sources of water to these wells, and for the 
identification of geochemical conditions that may contribute to 
these elevated concentrations and provide a basis for 
    Ground water is also important to sustaining streamflow 
during times of low precipitation and surface runoff. Alaska's 
world-renowned salmon fisheries are economically important to 
the State and to local communities. Salmon that spawn in 
streams throughout the State incubate eggs in the streambed 
gravels where infiltrating ground water sustains eggs during 
dry periods. Activities that disrupt the interaction between 
ground water and streams may have adverse effects on these 
fisheries. For example, increased withdrawals of ground water 
may lower water tables sufficiently that the connection to the 
streambed is lost. A lowered ground-water table in Juneau 
through natural geologic processes is likely responsible for 
the dewatering of some small streams that formerly supported 
significant runs of salmon. Current information on the 
interaction between ground water and streams is lacking for 
important salmon spawning areas in the Kenai Peninsula and 
Matanuska-Susitna Boroughs.
    Moreover, Alaska has abundant energy resources, including 
oil, natural gas, coal, and coalbed methane, the development of 
which may require the use or disposal of large amounts of 
ground water. Recent interest in the development of coalbed 
methane in the Matanuska-Susitna and Kenai Peninsula Boroughs 
highlights the need for detailed knowledge about ground-water 
resources. Resource managers need to understand the connections 
among aquifers to assess consequences of large scale dewatering 
of the coal aquifers. The USGS has conducted detailed studies 
related to development of coalbed methane in Wyoming and 
Montana, but not yet in Alaska.
    Infrastructure expansion is also necessary to support 
expanding populations. Gravel used in construction material may 
be available locally, but removal of gravels may alter ground-
water flow patterns in shallow aquifers. Gravel extraction and 
its potential effect on ground water has been a focus of 
attention for citizens in the Municipality of Anchorage, in the 
Homer/Anchor Point area of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and in 
the Fairbanks-North Star Borough. Shallow gravel deposits are 
often the aquifers that provide drinking water for individual 
residents and small communities, yet little information exists 
on the extent of these aquifers or alternative water supplies.
    Other types of resource extraction, such as development of 
world-class mineral deposits are ongoing or planned in Alaska. 
Newly discovered deposits, such as the Pebble gold-copper 
project near Iliamna, Alaska are in areas where minimal 
information exists on water resources. The Pebble gold-copper 
project is in the headwaters of salmon and trout fisheries 
important to subsistence users. An assessment of water 
resources that results in predictive models describing 
interactions between ground water and surface water will allow 
developers and regulators to evaluate alternative designs for 
development and operation of the project. The USGS has 
extensive experience in conducting detailed studies of 
hydrologic and water-quality conditions on such a scale. The 
National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program has provided 
valuable information on major river basins and aquifer system 
in the nation. One NAWQA study area was located in Alaska and 
included the Municipality of Anchorage and parts of the Kenai 
Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna Boroughs.
    S. 1338 also requests ``a review of the need for 
enhancement of the streamflow information collected by the USGS 
in Alaska relating to critical water needs.'' The USGS's 
program review process focuses on program relevancy, quality, 
and performance.
    The USGS has a program in place that can assist in 
developing data for this task. National Streamflow Information 
Program (NSIP) is currently operating 18 gages to provide 
surface water information. In 2004, 6.4 million acres of land, 
an area about the size of New Hampshire, were consumed by fire. 
While the four streamgages operated by the USGS within the burn 
area provided critical information, local land managers 
realized that they lacked sufficient credible stream data to 
assess watershed effects of fire on hydrologic response and 
recovery. This information will also assist in protecting life 
and property from flooding events caused, for example, by 
outburst floods on glacier-dammed lakes, and would allow the 
National Weather Service to do river and flood forecasting 
statewide with an appropriate level of certainty.
    The USGS in Alaska also works closely with a broad spectrum 
of partners, including other federal agencies, State and local 
agencies, and Alaska Native villages. Over $1.2 million dollars 
in federal cost share funds were used to partner with State and 
local agencies in jointly funding critical hydrologic 
information for their specific agency needs in 2005. For 
example, the USGS has a long-term relationship with most of 
these partners such as the Alaska Department of Transportation 
and Public Facilities, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and 
the Kenai Peninsula Borough. We expect these relationships to 
    Finally, also within the Department, the U.S. Bureau of 
Reclamation's Science and Technology Program finds solutions to 
complex water management challenges through research and 
development of state-of-the-art technology.
    Reclamation operates a network of automated hydrologic and 
meteorologic monitoring stations located throughout the Pacific 
Northwest. This network and its associated communications and 
computer systems are collectively called Hydromet. Remote data 
collection platforms transmit water and environmental data via 
radio and satellite to provide cost-effective, near-real-time 
water management capability.
    The expertise of these two Departmental bureaus is highly 
relevant to the tasks contemplated by the legislation. However, 
the Department is concerned with the funding requirements that 
accompany S. 1338. We note that there are no funds in the 
Department's FY 2006 budget to implement the legislation, and 
any future funding would have to compete with other priority 
projects for funds.

                        CHANGES IN EXISTING LAW

    In compliance with paragraph 12 of rule XXVI of the 
Standing Rules of the Senate, the Committee notes that no 
changes in existing law are made by the bill S. 1338, as 
ordered reported.