Federal Water Tap, July 25: Tar Sands Pipeline Review

Pipeline Update
The State Department expects to release a final environmental impact statement next month for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a department official said on Friday during a teleconference from Washington, D.C. After the final EIS is released, federal agencies will have 90 days to comment on whether building the 1,700-mile pipeline is a national interest. In September public meetings will be held in the six states the pipeline would traverse—Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Following the comment period the Secretary of State—or another official delegated authority by the secretary—will approve or reject the project.

Taking questions from reporters, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Clune said he didn’t know what would be addressed in the final EIS that wasn’t addressed in the draft EIS released in April because the document is still being written. He said pipeline safety would a key element, but he didn’t know if the recent Yellowstone River spill would be included. That rupture came from a pipeline carrying at least some tar sands crude, which is more corrosive than its light, sweet brethren.

GAO Calls EPA to Account, Again
Last week the Government Accountability Office criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for its ineffective implementation of the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. This week, the Congressional watchdog group points out flaws in the water quality data the EPA gathers from the states.

Using data from a 14-state audit in 2009 and interviews with state officials, the GAO determined that the states didn’t report or inaccurately reported 26 percent of health violations, and 84 percent of monitoring violations. Health violations occur when water quality exceeds the limit for a particular contaminant. Monitoring violations are less serious class: administrative errors or failures to keep to a testing schedule. The GAO report suggests that inadequate training and insufficient budgets are to blame.

Rice Dream
Rice provides nearly half the world’s daily caloric consumption, but because of climatic factors yields have dropped. According to a recently published study by a U.S. Geological Survey researcher, exploiting a natural symbiotic relationship between rice and fungi can improve the plant’s tolerance to drought and saltwater. The fungal-colonization process used by the research team changes rice’s natural adaptation, but does not alter its DNA. The fungus-rice union reduced water consumption by up to 50 percent while increasing plant growth and seed production. The next step is to improve heat tolerance.

Vital, But Unlikely to Go Viral
It’s not the next keyboard cat, but the U.S. Agency for International Development has a polished and informative video on its YouTube channel describing the agency’s efforts to improve water, energy and food security in India. The agency is replacing inefficient water pumps to cut the energy needed to pump groundwater. This, in turn, reduces the strain on the electrical grid and increases the chance that electricity will be available when farmers need to irrigate their crops.

Mekong Partnership
In June, the first exchange of the State Department’s Mekong-Mississippi “sister rivers” program took place, sending a team from the Mekong River Commission to the U.S. to learn about flood control, sediment transport and fisheries protection. On Friday the State Department announced the U.S. will spend $69 million in 2011 on environmental programs in the lower Mekong basin, including water quality research and water-use planning.

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.

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