Federal Water Tap, June 20: Flood Effects, Nuclear Power, Dam Removal

Pollution from the Mississippi
The deluge comes quickly, but the effects linger. The spring flood on the Mississippi River will produce the largest-ever hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and university scientists. The dead zone will cover a surface area up to 50 percent greater than the five-year average, equivalent to twice the area of New Hampshire.

Nuclear Emergency on the Missouri
Because of snowmelt and record releases from dams managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Missouri River has surrounded two nuclear power plants in Nebraska, creating atomic islands on the floodplain. In addition to traditional safety measures, water-filled polyethylene berms are being used as a line of defense to keep the river from inundating the facilities.

On Sunday morning, the Cooper plant, 70 miles south of Omaha, filed a “notification of unusual event” with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It is the lowest of four emergency classifications used by the NRC. The other plant, at Fort Calhoun, submitted such a notice two weeks ago. It has been shut down since April for refueling and won’t be restarted until the flood waters subside. The Omaha World-Herald has more details.

Nuclear Decommissioning
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed new regulations to guide the decommissioning process. The NRC is clarifying the language used in its statutes to make explicit that residual radioactivity in soil and groundwater should be accounted for in company records. These radioactivity surveys will be used to evaluate decommissioning costs.

Mining Cleanup
The Justice Department and a mining company operating in Idaho reached a settlement in one of the largest cases ever filed under the Superfund statute. Hecla Mining Company will pay $263 million to the United States, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the state of Idaho. For decades the company dumped mining wastes into the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.

Having received approval from two federal agencies, utility company PacifiCorp announced it will begin tearing down the 125-ft Condit Dam in October, the Portland Tribune reports. The dam, on a Washington state tributary of the Columbia River, will be the tallest dam removed in the U.S. after the 210-ft Glines Canyon Dam, also in Washington state, is dismantled in September.

The Senate voted to end a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit for companies that blend ethanol into gasoline and a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. The tax credit costs the federal government $6 billion per year. The House voted to prohibit the use of federal funds for blender pumps and storage tanks. Yet the measures are still a long way from becoming law. The ethanol industry, wasting no time, is positioning itself to recover that subsidy in a new form, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Can A Boat Travel Arizona’s Rivers?
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case from Arizona over the navigability of the state’s rivers, Cronkite News reports. At the moment, the rivers are deemed “non-navigable” and property along them is privately held. However, if a lower court ruling that the rivers are “navigable” holds up, land titles along five rivers could revert to the state. It would affect an unknown, but presumably significant, number of business and private property owners in many areas, including Phoenix.

Pennsylvania Fracking
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission—a river management agency created by Congress—released a list of consumptive water use applications from oil and gas companies that it approved this spring. The 82 approved withdrawals range from 2 million gallons per day to 8 million gallons per day, to be used for hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale.

USAID Finances Museum Exhibition in the Middle East
The U.S. Agency for International Development is giving the Children’s Museum of Jordan US$1.8 million to set up an interactive exhibit on water and energy, the Jordan Times reports.

Stormwater Comment Extension
The Environmental Protection Agency has extended the deadline to comment on its draft rule for stormwater discharges from construction sites. The new deadline is July 11. Comments, which become part of the public record, should be sent to ow-docket@epa.gov, referencing docket identification number “EPA–HQ–OW–2010–0782”.

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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