Federal Water Tap, January 2: Land Use Politics Touch Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, and Washington

The Rundown

Michigan and Ohio representatives call for the EPA to label western Lake Erie “impaired.” Regulators propose to withdraw more than 340,000 acres of Washington’s Methow Valley from mining activity. President Obama declares national monuments in Nevada and Utah. Federal science agency debuts an interactive snow data display. Energy regulators say that environmental harm from two East Coast natural gas pipelines can be remedied. Water levels in Kansas aquifers both decline and improve. EPA finance advisory group holds a meeting and seeks new members. Wisconsin health officials will study the fish consumption habits of groups vulnerable to eating contaminated fish.

“We urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fulfill its obligation under the Clean Water Act and to list the open waters of Lake Erie’s western basin as impaired.” — Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

By the Numbers

340,079 acres: Land in Washington’s Methow Valley proposed to be withdrawn from mining and geothermal development. The off-limits period would last 20 years. Only Congress can permanently withdraw the land from leasing. Washington’s senators introduced such a bill last session. (Bureau of Land Management)

4.5 feet: Average water level decline between 2002 and 2015 in the Ogallala Aquifer beneath the Republican River Basin of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. (U.S. Geological Survey)

News Briefs

National Monument Designations
President Obama named two national monuments. Gold Butte covers roughly 300,000 acres in southeastern Nevada. The monument is adjacent to the Bundy Ranch, owned by the family that had several high-stakes standoffs with federal officials in the last three years.

Bears Ears traces nearly 1.4 million acres in southeastern Utah and is a sacred site to Indian tribes. In a rare move, federal officials will jointly manage the monument along with a coalition of five tribes. As High Country News notes, however, certain areas were carved out of the initial monument proposal, a concession to grazing and mining interests and an attempt to soothe the ill-will towards the federal government that monument designations often arouse.

Congressional Democrats Call for Lake Erie Impairment
Representatives from Michigan and Ohio asked the EPA to declare that the western basin of Lake Erie is “impaired,” a designation that could usher in nutrient limits for the algae-stricken waterway. Earlier this year Michigan declared its section impaired but Ohio has not done so.

“We urge you to use your legal authority under the Clean Water Act to bring Ohio’s list into alignment with the state of Michigan as an important step in addressing this public health threat,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) wrote to Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA.

Steps for Flint to Receive Federal Aid
The EPA’s Midwest regional office laid out the process for distributing $US 100 million to Flint for fixing lead pipes, MLive reports. The money was authorized as part of a water infrastructure bill that Congress approved in December.

Studies and Reports

Natural Gas Pipeline Environmental Reviews
Two East Coast pipelines proposals are under review. Federal energy regulators concluded that both would have small environmental impacts that can be remedied.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a draft analysis of the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which would run 333 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina.

Public comments are due April 6.

The second is a final review of the Atlantic Sunrise project, which will add 197 miles of new pipeline in Pennsylvania.

Kansas Groundwater Levels Recover
No, not the Ogallala. That’s still on a downward trend. Better news is found to the east, in the Equus Beds, an aquifer near Wichita.

The amount of water stored in the aquifer increased by 61,000 acre-feet between January 2015 and January 2016, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report. Nearly two-thirds of the storage that was lost before 1993, when levels began to rebound, has been recovered. Three factors account for the rise: less pumping, more natural recharge from rain, and an artificial recharge project in Wichita that injects recycled wastewater into the aquifer.

Managing Water in a Changing Climate
Federal agencies released an update to their action plan for not wrecking water supplies as the planet warms. The document focuses on three themes: data, resilience, and supporting communities. Appendix B, a list of federal water and climate data sets, is particularly helpful. It’s on page 41.

Florida v. Georgia Documents
The trial over water flows in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint ended in December. Florida and Georgia filed post-trial briefs and responses to the other side’s brief. They are found at the end of the document list.

Showcase Display for Snow Data
The National Water and Climate Center unveiled an interactive display for American West snow data. It includes both current and historical measurements for snow, rain, and streamflow.

On the Radar

Environmental Finance Board Holds Meeting, Needs New Members
The board, which consults with the EPA on utility financing and environmental restoration incentives, will hold a public meeting on February 21 and 22 in Washington, D.C. On the agenda: public-private partnerships, decentralized wastewater systems, and reducing lead in drinking water. To attend, register by February 6 by emailing williams.sandra@epa.gov.

The board is also seeking nominations for new members, particularly those who work in the Midwest, Northeast, and Pacific Northwest.

Nominations should be sent to crichlow.alecia@epa.gov by February 10. See the above link for items to include.

Great Lakes Fish Contamination Study
Thanks to a federal grant, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services will study fish consumption in vulnerable groups in the Milwaukee River Basin. The two groups: people with fishing licenses and Burmese refugees, who are known to eat a lot of fish from polluted areas.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.