WASHINGTON, DC - After a three-year effort the U.S. House of Representatives late Tuesday gave final approval for a study of Alaska’s water resources, first proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2005, and approved a Denali Park land bill, originally introduced by Representative Don Young, that will enable the Alaska Railroad to build a much-needed train turnaround track in the park.

The Senate had approved the measures April 11th. The bill containing them now heads to the President for signature.

The overall measure, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (S. 2739), contained 62 bills including the Alaska Water Resources Act, (S. 200 ) a bill introduced by Murkowski in the Senate and by Rep. Young in the House and co-sponsored by Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. It also contained the lands bill (Bill Number) that allows the Park Service and Alaska Railroad to exchange land easements so that the Railroad can build a turnaround track, called a “wye track” in the park. That bill was originally introduced and passed by Congressman Young in the House and had been introduced in the Senate by Murkowski and co-sponsored by Stevens.

“It has taken an amazing amount of effort to win approval of these two measures, but they finally are headed to the White House for signature. Passage of the water study certainly is long overdue. With Railbelt Alaska towns increasingly dependent on aquifers to meet growing drinking water needs, it is only reasonable that the federal government, like it’s done in most every other state, help identify the size and recharge abilities of urban area groundwater supplies,” said Sen. Murkowski. “We want there to be water when people turn on their taps in the future.”

The water bill requires the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey to study the availability of water supplies, especially groundwater supplies and their aquifers, on the Kenai Peninsula, in Anchorage, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and in the Fairbanks Northstar Borough and Fairbanks. The study, besides determining the quantity of groundwater available for population growth, is supposed to survey water treatment needs in the Railbelt and propose future technologies to meet portable water needs.

The measure also requires the U.S. Geological Survey to review the need for more streamflow gauging stations in Alaska and how more stations could improve flood forecasting for rivers and large creeks, how it could reduce the threat to state infrastructure from floods, how it might promote resource extraction, and aid in wildlife control efforts. Currently there are fewer than 100 such stations in Alaska, the state having less than 10 percent of the stream flow information that is taken for granted by all other states.

The railroad easement exchange will help to handle the rising numbers of tourists entering Denali Park. The Denali Park Station platform cannot handle longer passenger trains and currently trains can’t be turned around at the park. This means that trains going to Denali must continue on to Anchorage or Fairbanks. The existence of a wye track at Denali would allow more frequent trains and more flexible rail schedules, thus accommodating the ever increasing number of rail passengers visiting the park.

“Increased rail access means less highway traffic, and presumably fewer RVs to get stuck behind,” said Senator Murkowski, who noted that the Alaska Railroad will pay for the costs associated with the exchange, including the costs for land surveys and the necessary environmental assessments.

The consolidated lands bill, which also contained a provision imposing new immigration rules on the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, a measure co-authored by Murkowski, passed the House 291-117. It had passed the Senate earlier in the month by a 91-4 vote. The President has indicated he will sign the bill.