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Federal Water Tap, August 26: Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy (Plus, Food Safety)

“Smarter and Stronger”
Better data and coordination, financial protections for homeowners, and resilient infrastructure are major pieces to the federal government’s rebuilding plan for the Mid-Atlantic states struck by Hurricane Sandy. President Obama created a task force in December 2012 to give cabinet-level gravitas to the rebuilding plan. The resulting 200-page document and its 69 recommendations will guide federal investments and policies.

Meanwhile, three federal science and construction agencies announced they would produce new maps of coastal areas rearranged by Sandy. Work by the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers will lead to new nautical charts and land maps.

Water Security
To improve the security of the nation’s public water supply systems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should better monitor and measure the progress of existing programs, according a report from the agency’s internal watchdog.

The inspector general praised the EPA for several programs, including a pilot water-contamination warning system in five large cities and a national laboratory network for testing water supplies after a disaster or attack.

Water Affects Food Safety
The Food and Drug Administration is finding that a proposed rule for food safety is complicated by water scarcity. In January the FDA put forward a rule to reduce the risk of microbial contamination in the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables. Public comments suggested that irrigation water in some areas of the country would not meet the FDA’s proposed microbial standard, in which case groundwater might be a preferred alternative. However, many of those same areas are places where groundwater is being depleted and additional withdrawals due to the FDA rule would “significantly affect the quality of the human environment,” according to the Federal Register listing. Thus, the FDA will prepare an environmental review of its proposed rule.

Rio Grande Salinity
The concentration of salts in the Rio Grande increases significantly below Elephant Butte Reservoir in southern New Mexico, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Salinity doubles between the reservoir and El Paso and is five times greater at Fort Quitman, Texas, some 80 miles south of El Paso. The researchers place the blame on agricultural and urban runoff and salt-laden groundwater.

Endangered Species
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made final determinations on the critical habitat for several aquatic species now listed under the Endangered Species Act. Two salamander species in the Edwards Aquifer region of central Texas will get 1,800 hectares (4,451 acres) of protected habitat. And in West Virginia and Kentucky, the FWS designated 198 kilometers (123 miles) of river as critical habitat for the diamond darter, a small fish. Species listed under the ESA often catalyze lawsuits to protect water quality and quantity.

Surplus Water
The Western Governors’ Association, which represents the leadership of the 18 Western U.S. states, sent a letter to the head of the Army Corps of Engineers raising concerns about the corps’ current rule-making process for selling surplus water from reservoirs it operates.

The rule’s broad effects on water allocations warrant more interaction with the states than the corps has taken, said Nathan Bracken, legal counsel for the Western States Water Council, which coordinates on water issues with the WGA.

“The rule-making effort is going on, but there is not a whole lot of consultation,” Bracken told Circle of Blue. “We’re not sure what the rule says, but we want to make sure it protects state water rights.”

The corps did not immediately return email and phone messages.

Water Cooperation
The world must cooperate over water, said a State Department deputy assistant secretary at a conference on water cooperation in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

“There really is no choice,” said Daniel Reifsnyder. “The history here is clear – without cooperation economic growth is slower and insecurity grows.”

Tailings Pond
The Army Corps announced it will prepare a draft environmental review of a proposed tailings pond for a copper mine in Pinal County, Arizona. The facility will be able to store 751 million tons of mine waste, which will be transported in slurry form, via pipeline. To comment on the scope of the study, email michael.w.langley@usace.army.mil with the subject line “Ray Mine Tailings Storage Facility Project,” and include a mailing address. The draft should be completed by the end of 2014.

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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