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Statement of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior

November 14, 2023

before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries, on H.R. 5770 Water Data Improvement Act

Chairman Bentz and Ranking Member Huffman, thank you for the opportunity to provide this statement on H.R. 5770, Water Data Improvement Act, a bill to reauthorize certain U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) water research activities through the SECURE Water Act (P.L. 111- 11, Title IX, Subtitle F of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009).



Floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events present hazards for human lives and property. In the past five years, there have been 29 floods, tropical cyclones, and droughts each causing more than \$1 billion in damages and altogether accounting for more than \$390 billion in damages and nearly one thousand deaths. Climate change, growing populations in the droughtimpacted western U.S., sea-level rise, and aging water infrastructure add to the pressures on limited water resources. For more than a century, USGS national water-monitoring networks have formed the backbone of observations on current conditions and trends in surface water and groundwater. These observations inform real-time decision making and long-term planning. USGS water data are fundamental to national and local economies, protection of life and property, and effective management of the Nation’s water resources.

The Federal Priority Streamgage (FPS) Network, previously known as the National Streamflow Information Program, was established in 1999 in response to Congressional concern about the decline in long-term streamflow monitoring across the Nation. The FPS Network is a core, federally funded network of streamgages that are designated to meet the priorities of the Nation. In 2009, FPS (as the National Streamflow Information Program) was included in Section 9507 of the SECURE Water Act (42 U.S.C. 10367). The current network design includes 4,760 eligible sites that are strategically positioned across the country to address long-term Federal information needs. These needs include informing flood and drought forecasts, implementing interstate, international, and Tribal water compacts and decrees, and tracking trends in undisturbed watersheds. There are approximately active 3,500 FPS sites. About one quarter of these sites are fully funded through USGS appropriations, the remainder through a combination of funding from the USGS and from partners such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. USGS is in the process of updating the design of the FPS Network, using feedback from Federal agency partners, which will likely result in an increase in the number of eligible sites. This increase will likely be driven by an expanded list of flood-forecast locations identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service since 1999 and increasing demands for water information associated with population growth and extreme weather events and climate change.

The National Groundwater Monitoring Network (NGWMN) was designed in 2009 in response to passage of the SECURE Water Act. It is authorized as a collaborative groundwater network among intergovernmental agency data providers. Since initial appropriations were provided in 2015, the NGWMN provides access to water-level and/or water-quality data from nearly 20,000 groundwater wells that are supported by more than 45 Federal, State, local, and Tribal agencies. As part of the NGWMN, the USGS supports 695 Climate Response Network groundwater monitoring wells which represent 292 of the 370 NOAA climate divisions in the continental U.S. These monitoring wells are supported by a combination of USGS and partner funding. The NGWMN serves as a critical measure of current and long-term groundwater conditions and provides groundwater-level data that are beneficial to Federal, State, and local agencies and other stakeholders who use the data to monitor for drought and drought recovery, issue permits for groundwater withdrawals, and establish triggers for water conservation and/or pumping reductions. The data from the NGWMN are also foundational for decisions regarding the sustainable management of groundwater supplies, which are the source of drinking water for more than 130 million Americans each day and provide more than 40% of the Nation’s irrigation water.


H.R. 5770, Water Data Improvement Act

H.R. 5770 reauthorizes Section 9507 of the SECURE Water Act through Fiscal Year 2028. This includes authorities for the FPS Network, as well as the NGWMN. The USGS recommends additional amendments to Section 9507 of the SECURE Water Act, which the USGS feels would significantly improve its authorities. At paragraph (a), we recommend that “National Streamflow Information Program” be updated with the current name of the system, “Federal Priority Streamgages Network.” At paragraph (a)(4)(A)(ii) we recommend adding “precipitation” in addition to “water-quality” as types of sensors to be included at FPS sites, because this was identified as the highest need from a 2022 Federal users survey. The USGS also recommends that “temperature” be added as an important aspect of water-quality monitoring, based on the same survey. Paragraph (a)(4)(B) indicates that each streamgage should conform with the National Streamflow Information Plan as reviewed by the National Research Council in 2004. The USGS recommends the reference to that report be replaced with the USGS report titled Re-Prioritization of the U.S. Geological Survey Federal Priority Streamgage Network, 2022 (Openfile Report 2023-1032).1 This will reflect the most current design standards for USGS streamgages. At paragraph (b), authorizing the NGWMN, The USGS recommends adding Tribes as one of the entities with which the USGS can coordinate and partner.

The USGS recommends that paragraph (c), authorizing a brackish groundwater assessment, be stricken. This work was completed in 2017 with the publication of the report titled Brackish Groundwater in the United States (USGS Professional Paper 1833).2

The USGS also notes that reauthorization of Section 9507 of the SECURE Water Act, including the authorities for improved technologies at paragraph (d), will support the latest USGS innovations in water research such as the Next Generation Water Observing System. The USGS appreciates Congressional interest in reauthorization of Section 9507 of the SECURE Water Act. The USGS notes that other USGS water-research activities are authorized at Section 9508 and should also be considered, as well as important authorities, throughout the SECURE Water Act, undertaken by the Bureau of Reclamation. The USGS would fully support H.R. 5770 with the recommendations provided here. The USGS would be happy, at your request, to provide briefings with our subject-matter experts on the water research undertaken through the SECURE Water Act authorities.