Federal Water Tap, September 19: Resource Disputes

Salmon and Gold
A Senate Democrat from Washington state says she plans to ask the Environmental Protection Agency to use the Clean Water Act to block a mine planned in Alaska, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The Pebble Mine project would exploit some of the world’s richest gold, copper, silver and molybdenum deposits. The mine is also upstream of Bristol Bay, one of the world’s most fecund salmon habitats, providing half the global sockeye harvest.

Washington’s junior senator Maria Cantwell is entering the fray because nearly a thousand state residents have commercial fishing licenses for Bristol Bay. The EPA is assessing how mining would affect water quality and fisheries. American Rivers, an environmental advocacy group, named the rivers flowing into Bristol Bay to its ‘Most Endangered’ list for 2011.

Chesapeake Bay
The Government Accountability Office has released its first assessment of the federal government’s efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. In May 2009 President Obama signed an executive order authorizing the federal government to lead the restoration and protection of the nation’s largest estuary.

The GAO found that federal and state officials are working toward different sets of goals, with state officials focused on an earlier agreement. Three things, according to GAO interviews with those involved, could derail the process: a lack of collaboration to align goals, insufficient funding, and vague metrics for defining improvements to the bay’s health.

In dirtier Chesapeake Bay news, NASA’s Earth Observatory has released pictures of the sediment cloud that mucked up the bay’s waters in the wake of Tropical Storm Lee in early September.

Florida’s New Water Rules
The Environmental Protection Agency is allowing Florida’s environmental agency to relax the state’s water quality rules so that the state does not have to clean up certain waters it says are not worth the cost. The St. Petersburg Times reports that the state will create a special classification for waters that are not clean enough to swim in, but are acceptable for some uses. The EPA will have to approve any such designation. Specific rules for using the waterways will be determined for each site.

Hydropower in South Asia
At the latest Pakistan-United States Energy Dialogue held last week in Islamabad, the U.S. Agency for International Development confirmed that its construction and rehabilitation of three dams and three thermal power plants in Pakistan will add 900 megawatts of power to the country’s energy grid by next year.

Desalination Research
The Congressional Research Service, a research body working exclusively for members of Congress, has written a report on the federal role in desalination technology. The report is descriptive: it explains the desalination process and the scope of federal involvement, but it does not make recommendations. Congress is considering whether to renew a bill that provides $2 million annually for desalination demonstration projects.

Power in the Pipes
A House subcommittee heard testimony regarding a bill to exempt small-scale hydropower development (capacity less than 1.5 megawatts) in ditches, canals and pipelines from having to undergo environmental impact assessments. The bill, sponsored by Colorado Republican Scott Tipton, was supported by the representatives of irrigation districts as a way to cut red tape and maximize power production from manmade water structures. However, the deputy commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that owns most of the canals in question, did not think that environmental reviews should be waived.

This final item nearly slipped through the summer cracks (cracks caused by irrepressible drought, no doubt). In July, USAID released its annual report on water-sector activities. The report covers fiscal year 2010, a year in which the agency’s water investments increased by two percent, to $642 million, over the previous year. Nearly three-fourths of the money was spent in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

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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