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Federal Water Tap, December 30: U.S. Geological Survey Data on Pesticides, Groundwater Baselines

Pesticide Use
The U.S. Geological Survey updated its maps of pesticide use in the United States to include preliminary data from 2010 and 2011. The use of glyphosate jumped by roughly 13 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to the preliminary data. Glyphosate, an herbicide marketed by Monsanto under the name Roundup, is one of the most widespread agricultural chemicals.

The estimates will be revised next year using data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, to be released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in February. Data collection methods can be found here.

Methane in New York
Methane in groundwater is common in a region in south-central New York that has not been hydraulically fractured for natural gas, but the concentration and the source of the methane depends on geology, according to a U.S. Geological Survey assessment.

In all, 15 percent of the samples had methane concentrations above levels recommended by the U.S. Department of the Interior – that is, 10 milligrams per liter.

Since 2008, New York has imposed a moratorium on fracking for natural gas. If the ban is lifted, the USGS study will help researchers track the effect of natural gas drilling on groundwater quality.

Fracking Contamination Report
An investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog found that the agency took proper action when it issued an emergency order against an energy company accused of contaminating wells just west of Fort Worth, Texas. The EPA withdrew its order and settled with Range Resources after the company instituted a water monitoring program.

But the Office of Inspector General said that the EPA lacks information from Range Resources to verify the quality of the company’s monitoring program. The finding opens the possibility of further EPA action against the company.

Chesapeake Bay: Better Soil, Water
Voluntary conservation practices are improving soil health and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Cover crops, manure management, and tilling fields in a less disruptive manner have reduced erosion and cut the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment flowing into the nation’s largest estuary.

The report revisits a study published in 2011 that looked at farm conservation practices in the region. The data from that first assessment established a baseline for evaluating how changes in farming methods affect soil and water. The use of cover crops, for instance, increased by 40 percentage points between 2003-06 and 2011.

The next study in the series will assess conservation practices in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley. The USDA is collecting data from farmers and ranchers through February 2014.

Chesapeake Bay Shore: Sinking
The Chesapeake Bay region has the highest rates of sea-level rise on the Atlantic Coast because the land is sinking too, a process called subsidence. According to a U.S. Geological Survey report, man is to blame for most of the damage. More than half the subsidence is due to pumping water from the region’s aquifers.

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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