Federal Water Tap, March 12: News from the Agencies

State Department Budget
The State Department released the second volume of its fiscal year 2013 budget justification, a document that serves as a “blueprint” for the coming year. This volume explains foreign operations, including water, which the department calls a “cross-cutting” issue. Water is an essential part of presidential initiatives on health, on food, and on climate change adaptation. This means water funding is spread across numerous projects and bureaus. Nonetheless, some $299 million is marked directly for water, a decrease of $2 million from the previous fiscal year.

Fracking Study Expanded
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would delay convening a panel to peer review its study of groundwater contamination in Wyoming so that the agency can take more water samples. The study’s goal is to determine whether hydraulic fracturing near Pavillion, Wyoming is causing benzene and methane to show up in wells used for domestic water supply.

And the Associated Press reports that the EPA is scrutinizing gas drilling practices in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation.

Snowpack Update
Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is less than 50 percent of the long-term average, according to the March update from the National Water and Climate Center. In the Colorado River basin, the Bureau of Reclamation estimates that cumulative inflows to Lake Powell in Utah will be 80 percent of normal through the end of September.

Sticker Shock
The EPA underestimated the cost of water pollution controls for the state of Florida, according to a report from the National Research Council. Three years ago, the federal agency proposed numeric limits on phosphorous and nitrogen to replace the state’s qualitative standards. The state is seeking to create its own set of hybrid rules. In the long run, however, the report acknowledges that Florida’s population growth, land use changes, and complex hydrology makes restoring polluted waters a “formidable and costly challenge, regardless of the regulatory paradigm used.”

The U.S. Geological Survey published a study on the herbicide atrazine and its prevalence in groundwater. According to the lead author, the study identifies where concentrations of the chemical are highest and thus, where monitoring should be most vigilant. Groundwater contamination is most likely in eastern Nebraska where the soil is highly permeable. In other parts of the Corn Belt, where soils drain poorly, atrazine is a much bigger problem in surface waters. Atrazine is banned in the European Union and it might cause certain cancers in humans and hormonal changes in aquatic species.

Early this month an EPA working group met for the first time to discuss how to make compliance for the national arsenic standard more affordable for small, rural or low-income communities. The group is required to submit a report to Congress by mid-year.

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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