Federal-Interstate Compact Commissions:

Useful Mechanisms for Planning and Managing River Basin Operations

CED-81-34: Published: Feb 20, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 20, 1981.

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A review was undertaken of the two existing Federal-interstate compact commissions, the Delaware and Susquehanna River Basins Commissions, to evaluate their effectiveness in dealing with water problems. Federal-interstate compacts are formal agreements between two or more States and the United States to promote effective basinwide water resources management. They reflect a significant departure from traditional compacts in that: (1) the United States is a signatory party with the States, and (2) extremely broad powers are granted to the compact commissions. The commissions are responsible for multipurpose planning, management, and development of the river basins' resources.

GAO found that, although the commissions are currently encountering problems, including internal disagreements over their roles and funding, they contribute to consistency in water resources management throughout their respective basins and provide each basin State with a voice on interstate matters. The commissions can act in some cases when a member party cannot. The commissions are attempting to solve complex, controversial issues such as water allocation and adequate water supplies. Such issues affect a vital need of member parties. While no easy solutions exist to these problems, the commissions are working toward meeting the basins' water needs. Their progress has been slow, but GAO believes that the States rate high marks for initiating the compact arrangement and committing themselves to working through a regional river basin commission. Additionally, GAO believes that the future effectiveness of the intergovernmental commissions depends on all parties' commitment to support and fully participate in it even at the cost of occasionally sacrificing their individual prerogatives.

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