Healthy Forests, Healthy Waters
The National Forest Service was created, in part, to safeguard the wooded areas supplying most of the nation’s drinking water. An ongoing rules review will put greater emphasis on watershed protection and restoration. On February 10, the NFS proposed a new forest planning rule, the agency’s first comprehensive rules revision since the Reagan administration. The planning rule will guide management decisions in 193 million acres of forests and grasslands. Specific actions will be a local decision, but each agency unit must identify priority watersheds for restoration, describe watershed conservation practices and monitor their progress. The draft rule is available for public comment until May 16.
Duck, Duck, Reviews
A management review for the National Wildlife Refuge System(Adobe PDF) is also underway. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has posted a draft ‘vision plan’ for managing the 150 million acres in the refuge system. Among the nearly 100 broadly-worded recommendations are appeals for greater scientific involvement and assessments of water quantity and quality to ensure ecosystem health.
Parts of the Great Plains and Midwest are at risk of major floods this spring because of saturated soils and a heavy snowpack, according to forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Areas of concern include Devil’s Lake in North Dakota; the Red River, which forms the North Dakota-Minnesota border; the mainstem of the Mississippi from St. Paul, Minn. to St. Louis; and the James River and Big Sioux River in South Dakota.
To Dust You Shall Return
As the phenomena contributing to climate change become better understood, scientific focus is emphasizing feedback loops—the interaction between processes that can speed up warming trends. One such case in the American Southwest is documented in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California, Los Angeles used a 20-year land cover record in southeast Utah to show that sustained drought conditions coincided with a decline in vegetation and an increase in airborne dust. This follows a joint NASA-USGS study released last September showing that dust accelerates the melting of snow and reduces runoff from the mountains that feed the Colorado River. More dust, less runoff. Less runoff, less vegetation. Less vegetation, more dust… Dry and repeat.
Southwest Water Shortages, You Say?
The Utah Board of Water Resources has applied for a permit to study the feasibility of the Lake Powell Pipeline project. The 139-mile pipeline, still in its planning stage, would deliver water from Lake Powell to St. George, Utah, one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S. The permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allows the water board to study the energy generating capability of turbines placed throughout the system. Turbines would be located at regulating reservoirs and within the pipeline itself to recover energy from the moving water. The permit does not allow for any construction. Public comment on the application ends April 23.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton