Statement of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining on June 7, 2022
S. 2568, Open Access Evapotranspiration Data Act
S. 2578, the Open Access Evapotranspiration Data Act (OpenET), would require the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Director the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), to establish an OpenET Data Program to operationally deliver satellite-based, field-scale estimates of evapotranspiration (ET) to advance the quantification of evaporation and consumptive water use to sustain and enhance water resources in the United States.
The bill specifies various duties and components of the OpenET Data Program which include that the USGS evaluate, use and modify sources of satellite-based ET data based on best available science and technologies, along with coordinating and consulting with relevant Federal agencies and partners. Program partners are defined as institutions of higher education, State agencies, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector.
Furthermore, in carrying out the program, the Secretary would support the development and maintenance of ET data and software systems, and associated research and development that are reflective of best available science.
The Department is supportive of continuing research to improve reporting of ET data. The value of improved ET reporting is widely understood in the water resources science and management community. Accurate information on ET is required to balance water supply and water demand in a watershed and ensure that adequate water supplies for multiple uses are available over time. The USGS has actively engaged with an OpenET team to help develop and test a prototype system. This engagement has provided USGS with unique insights into the program and its potential as well as current limitations.
Sections 4(a) and (b) of the bill authorize the Department to advance the quantification of evaporation and consumptive water use as well as provide data users with field-scale estimates of evapotranspiration data across large landscapes over certain periods of time. Although the Department is supportive of improving ET reporting at the national scale, we would like to work with the Committee to ensure that we can responsibly plan efforts to expand beyond the reporting currently being done as part of the OpenET consortium’s pilot effort for irrigated lands in the West. Specifically, the Department believes that satellite-based methods of determining ET values should be combined with other types of ET estimation methods that can validate and augment satellite-based delivery of nationwide ET data.
Section 4(f) of the bill would require USGS to enter into cooperative agreements with and provide non-reimbursable cost share to unspecified program partners for operational delivery. This is a productive way to research and test the applicability of various methods for estimating ET; however, relying on these partners to continually deliver ET data as part of a plan to operationally deliver ET data nationally is uncertain for the long term. External partners are an important contributor to researching potential techniques and methods, but the responsibility for operational delivery, and the mechanisms with which to do so, should belong to USGS to ensure long-term continuity and success.
Section 5 of the bill requires a status update on the operational incorporation of program data into modeling, water planning, and reporting efforts of relevant Federal agencies no later than 4 years after enactment. Given that the research-to-operations timeline would take 3-5 years, the Department would like to work with the Committee to extend the status report timeline to 5 years 27 instead of the 4 years currently included in the legislation. This will ensure that USGS has adequate time to conduct the research needed to bring the program to an operational status. Section 5 also authorizes $14,000,000 annually from 2022-2026; however, the full cost estimates for the program are not yet known as an assessment has not been done to date. The Department would like to work with the Committee to develop a timeline for developing an estimate of what the costs would be as the program is established at USGS.
The Department continues to be supportive of continuing research to improve reporting ET nationally, we would like to work with the Committee to address these issues.