Federal Water Tap, April 22: EPA Proposes Rules to Clean Up Power Plant Wastewater

Steam-generating electric power plants, the biggest source of industrial water pollution in the United States, will have several options to reduce the amount of toxic substances in their wastewater, under a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule released on Friday.

EPA estimates that the rules would lead to a 15 percent reduction in pollutants discharged to lakes and rivers – manly arsenic, mercury, and selenium – and a 33 percent reduction in water withdrawals. Power plants are the largest source of water withdrawals in the U.S.

EPA claims that no coal plants would close because of the rule and that a majority of existing plants will not have to spend any money to comply with the rule because they already have the technology to meet the standards.

EPA is also considering how this wastewater rule will dovetail with a separate rule, not yet proposed, on how to handle coal ash, the waste that remains after coal is burned. Coal ash is often stored in manmade ponds that have broken and despoiled rivers, which happened in 2008 in Tennessee.

Comments will be accepted for 60 days and can be emailed to OW-Docket@epa.gov, with the subject line “Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2009-0819″.

Mississippi River Floods
Much of the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries are seeing major flooding following a series of spring storms last week. The National Weather Service says that the Mississippi River will remain above flood stage for most of the week in Missouri and Illinois.

Drought Outlook
In the lee of those Midwest storms, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center foresees some improvement in drought conditions in the Great Plains through July.

Clean Water Act Costs in Seattle
The city of Seattle and King County, Washington will make an estimated $US 1.46 billion investment in the region’s sewer and stormwater systems to prevent polluted water from flowing into Puget Sound and local streams, according to an agreement signed with the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Both the city and the county violated Clean Water Act permits in recent years. The Justice Department estimates that the upgrades will reduce discharges of raw sewage by up to 99 percent. The two jurisdictions will be the first in the nation to test a new, more flexible EPA planning policy for managing sewage overflows.

The Value of Hydropower
Improvements to many existing hydroelectric plants are economically justified, but new pumped storage facilities, which help to balance electricity demand, would not generate revenues to cover their costs, at least under market economics forecasted through 2020, according to a Department of Energy report.

California Keeps Federal Money in the Bank
The EPA says that the state of California is violating the Safe Drinking Water Act by not spending federal money allocated to the state for water projects, the Sacramento Bee reports. Projects that are selected are often not ready to break ground, meaning still more delays in spending the money, the EPA says.

EPA Contaminants Meeting
The EPA will hold a public meeting on May 15 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to discuss the testing methods it uses when considering whether a drinking-water contaminant should be considered for regulation. The meeting will also be broadcast on the internet. To attend or to view the webcast, send an email to UCMRWebinar@cadmusgroup.com by May 1.

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.

Author: Brett Walton  is a Seattle-based reporter for Circle of Blue. He writes our Federal Water Tap, a weekly breakdown of U.S. policy. Interests: Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Pricing, Infrastructure.

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