Federal Water Tap, December 24: U.S. Coast Guard Restricts Mississippi River Traffic and Contemplates Fracking Waste

Because of low water levels from the ongoing drought, the U.S. Coast Guard will impose stricter regulations on barge traffic on 298 kilometers (185 miles) of the Mississippi River, from Cairo, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri. In place until March 31, 2013, the restrictions cover — but are not limited to — barge configuration, time of day for travel, speed, and draft.

Fracking Wastewater On Barges?
For the last year, the Coast Guard has been considering whether to allow barges to carry wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, Public Source reports. The agency is weighing the risk of spills and barge workers’ exposure to chemicals against the convenience of river transport.

Total Coliform Rule
The Environmental Protection Agency changed its reporting, monitoring and evaluation criteria for total coliform, updating a rule first set in 1989. The revised rule narrows the health standard to E. coli, instead of the broader measure of total coliform, which now serves as an indicator that triggers further assessments. Some 154,000 systems will have to comply with the rule beginning April 1, 2016.

Hydraulic Fracturing Study
The EPA published a progress report on its investigation into the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Among its 18 individual studies, the agency is analyzing existing data provided by nine companies, doing laboratory tests, assessing the toxicity of fracking fluids, and compiling case studies from sites in Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The agency expects a draft report in 2014.

Drug Exchange
Each year billions of medications are prescribed or sold over the counter in the U.S. Last week the Drug Enforcement Agency submitted new rules making it easier to collect and dispose of unused medications so that they do not end up in landfills, the water supply or the wrong hands or mouths. The proposed rule, required by an act of Congress, gives retail pharmacies and long term care facilities the authority to collect both basic medications and, in some cases, controlled substances such as narcotics and painkillers. The DEA is accepting comments through February 19.

Clean Water Act Enforcement
The sewer authority for the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania agreed to pay a $US 340,000 fine and develop a plan to reduce the number of sewer overflows into the Lackawanna River and its tributaries by 2037. Like many recent Clean Water Act consent decrees, the agreement includes provisions for green infrastructure — the wetlands, grass roofs, and other natural buffers that moderate urban runoff.

Senate Climate Caucus
Senate Democrats will hold weekly meetings to discuss climate change policies, Barbara Boxer, the head of the environment and public works committee, told The Hill. Republicans are invited to attend the forum, which will work on a major climate bill, Boxer said.

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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