STATEMENT OF VICTOR KNOX, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING,
FACILITIES AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE
INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS,
AND PUBLIC LANDS OF THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE,
CONCERNING H.R. 5791, THE EMERGENCY WATER SUPPLY RESTORATION
June 8, 2012
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 5791, the “Emergency Water Supply Restoration Act.”
The Department strongly opposes H.R. 5791. We understand that this legislation is a response to concerns about a specific situation in southern Arizona regarding municipal water facilities within the Miller Peak Wilderness managed by the USDA Forest Service. However, the Department believes that this site-specific concern does not require the sweeping legislative response represented by H.R. 5791. Under existing law, federal agencies that manage wilderness can work cooperatively with local interests to find solutions that both protect wilderness values, as required by law, and ensure continued water supplies for local communities.
H.R. 5791 grants state decision-making authority to access water sources within wilderness areas when a state of emergency is declared by the Governor of the State. The decision-making authority includes both vehicle access as well as access for the permanent construction of structures. The bill restricts federal agencies from impeding any action taken by the state to gain access for the duration of the state of emergency.
The legislation could have significant consequences for the Department since our bureaus manage large amounts of wilderness. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 221 wilderness areas totaling 8.7 million acres (3% of BLM's total acreage). The National Park Service (NPS) manages 60 wilderness areas totaling 44 million acres (50% of NPS's total acreage). The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) manages 75 wilderness areas totaling 20.7 million acres (14% of FWS total acreage). The wilderness areas under the Department's jurisdiction are spread among 44 states.
Emergencies are devastating, but transient events. Federal agencies have protocols and experience with using motorized vehicles, mechanized equipment and implementing construction projects within wilderness areas. This legislation does not allow the federal government to have any involvement in state-approved actions, once the state of emergency is declared. Those actions may have lasting effects on lands not related to the state of emergency. For example, in many instances, the construction of water catchment structures, or diversionary flumes, and the use of mechanized equipment would adversely impact the wilderness character of an area, would impact the public's ability to use the area, and would pose a threat to the health and safety of persons within the area. This legislation has no provisions to ensure the public interest is protected after the state of emergency ends. After the state of emergency, the federal land management agencies would have the burden of restoring these lands.
We are concerned that this bill disregards not only the Wilderness Act, but also the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act. Among other things, these laws require the federal land management agencies to maintain the wilderness character of these critical areas, preserve the nation's wilderness heritage for future generations, protect other important values that serve the public interest, and disclose the environmental impacts of federal actions to the public. Yet each of these statutes has provisions enabling the federal land management agencies to make exceptions in the case of emergencies. For example, NEPA provides the flexibility to respond to emergencies without delay, while still considering potential impacts to resources and communities. In a wide range of emergency situations—including needs of law enforcement, threats to human health and property, and response to fire and weather emergencies—Federal land managers authorize motorized access to wilderness areas on an expedited basis.
For that reason, we believe H.R. 5791 is not necessary for ensuring access to water supplies in an emergency.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to respond to any questions that you may have.