Federal Water Tap, May 23: Tribal Rights, Energy Projects, and Clean Water

Tribal Water Rights
Owing to the cut-at-all-costs political fervor in Washington, an $800 million water rights settlement between the federal government and American Indian tribes in the Southwest is unraveling, the Arizona Daily Sun reports. Arizona Republican Senator John Kyl has asked negotiators for the more than 30 participating parties to lower the cost of the proposal in order to get it approved by Congress. Kyl, a former water rights lawyer who has said he will not seek re-election next year, has guided the settlement process and wants to see the legislation passed before he leaves office.

Last November the Navajo Nation Council agreed to a proposal that would quantify water rights from the Colorado River Basin and provide $800 million to build pipelines and other infrastructure to access the water. The settlement would also end a lawsuit filed in 2003 by the Navajo Nation against the Department of the Interior, as well as separate cases in the state courts. If the terms of the settlement are changed, however, the new agreement would return to the Navajo council for approval.

Smart Water Use
The Department of the Interior has announced the recipients of its WaterSMART grants for water and energy efficiency for fiscal year 2011. Some $24 million will be spread across 54 projects in western states. The largest grants ($1 million) will go toward irrigation improvements, aquifer recharge, and rebates for residents in southern Nevada who replace their laws with desert landscaping. The department estimates the projects will reduce water use by 102,000 acre-feet, or enough for 400,000 people.

Oil Down, Gas Up
The North American energy union draws ever tighter: Canada sends tar sands oil south and the U.S. sends shale gas north. While approval for the latest tar sands pipeline still hangs in the balance, a new gas pipeline connecting northeastern gas producers to Canada was approved May 19 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Providing access to gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation, the 15-mile connector line will link existing lines in Pennsylvania to the Empire line in New York that extends to Canada. Pipeline capacity will be 340 million cubic feet per day. Last year, the U.S. exported slightly more than two billion cubic feet per day to Canada, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Midterm Test for Oil Shale
The U.S. Geological Survey will update its assessment of the Bakken Formation, a shale formation underlying North Dakota and eastern Montana. In its 2008 assessment, the USGS estimated between 3 billion and 4.3 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in the rock. Since then, oil drilling (and water use) has proceeded furiously, supplying new geological knowledge to underpin the re-evaluation.

Clean Water Data at a Keystroke
The Environmental Protection Agency has updated its data disclosure website to make it easier for the public to see if the community water utility has violated the Safe Drinking Water Act. The website, called ECHO, shows violations in the last three years for all drinking water systems in the U.S.

Carbon Captured
The Department of Energy has filed notice that it will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Future Gen 2.0 program. Supported by $1 billion in federal money, the program will upgrade a coal-fired power plant in Meredosia, Illinois with an oxy-combustion boiler which will allow the plant’s carbon emissions to be captured. The carbon will be injected three-quarters of a mile below ground. Department officials will hold public meetings to hear about issues the EIS should evaluate. Meetings will be held June 7-9 in Illinois. Comments can also be emailed to FG2.EIS@netl.doe.gov.

Poop Patrol
“Concentrated animal feeding operation” (CAFO) is the euphemism given by the Environmental Protection Agency to feedlots that confine thousands of animals in areas without vegetation or much space. Last week the EPA sent notice to seven CAFOs in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska that they are in violation of the Clean Water Act. Infractions include: wastewater discharges without a permit, improper wastewater disposal, failure to properly store wastes on site, and failure to protect surface waters.

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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