The sewer district for metropolitan Chicago has set a timetable for a completing a four-decade-old tunnel and reservoir project that will reduce sewer overflows into Lake Michigan, according to an agreement signed in December with the U.S. Justice Department. By 2029 the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District must complete the remaining two reservoirs in a system that will eventually hold close to 18 billion gallons of water. As part of the agreement, the district will also invest in “green” infrastructure—projects that use landscaping and porous surfaces to absorb stormwater.
Lake Mead: Bigger Than We Thought It Was
Thanks to the integration of data from a sediment survey and laser mapping, federal scientists have concluded that the storage capacity of Lake Mead is almost 1 percent greater than previously thought. Why? Since the upstream Glen Canyon dam was built in the 1960s, the amount of sediment flowing into Mead has decreased. Also, the sediment already at the bottom of Mead has been compacted. The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the reservoir, began using the new capacity tables yesterday.
On Dec. 20, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved a 300-megawatt solar power project planned for federal lands in the Arizona desert—but only after requiring a water-saving design revision. The Bureau of Land Management ordered the company behind the Sonoran Solar Energy Project to change its design from a concentrated solar thermal facility to photovoltaic (PV) technology. The PV panels will use 1 percent as much water—33 acre-feet per year, compared to 3,000 acre-feet for the solar thermal design.
Sec. Salazar also approved the Tule Wind Project, a 186-megawatt facility on federal lands in San Diego County, Calif.
Groundwater and Fracking
Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are reopening an investigation of potential groundwater contamination from natural gas drilling in a northeastern Pennsylvania township. The Scranton Times-Tribune reports that the EPA received data from a drilling contractor that has caused the agency to reconsider its assertion that well water does not pose an “immediate health threat to users.”
Eye on Texas
Nothing shows the magnitude of change quite like a “before and after” comparison. NASA’s satellites have captured two such photos of Lake Buchanan in central Texas. An image from October 2003 shows a full reservoir. After the 2011 drought, homes built on the full-pool shoreline now sit, in some cases, nearly a mile from the water.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton