Federal Water Tap, November 5: Savannah Harbor Expansion and Algal Biofuels

Circle of Blue’s 2012 Election Guide breaks down the presidential candidates’ positions on water issues, and it identifies state and local ballot initiatives related to water.

A Green Light for Dredging
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave its final approval to deepen 50 kilometers (32 miles) of Savannah Harbor by 1.5 meters (5 feet), a US$652 million project that will allow the Georgia port to accept the larger container ships coming through a newly expanded Panama Canal.

The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, ruled last week that the state agency that signed off on the project did not have the authority to do so and that the project would need a water quality permit from the state’s maritime commission instead. The Associated Press reports that the corps is petitioning the U.S. Congress to circumvent the need for a new permit. The Savannah River, on which the harbor sits, forms the border between Georgia and South Carolina.

Algae Needs a Breakthrough
Thanks to ethanol’s shortcomings, algae has been handed the mantle as the next great hope for a renewable liquid transportation fuel. But the National Academy of Sciences throws some cold water on that idea in a new report, concluding that increasing the use of algae-based fuels to even 5 percent of U.S. demand would place severe burdens on land, water and energy resources with currently available technologies.

However, the devil, as always, is in the details. Some systems produced less energy that what went into the process; others returned three times as much. The least water-efficient systems consumed 3,650 liters per liter of biofuel; the most-efficient consumed only 3.15 liters.

The report suggests that more research is needed in four areas: selecting the most productive algal strains; improving the energy return for algae; using wastewater to reduce freshwater demand; and recycling nutrients.

Sandy Aftermath
The Army Corps of Engineers is leading the effort to suck all that standing water out of New York City. The corps is using 50 pumps to clear out the city’s transit system. Each minute the pumps discharge more water than would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey is taking water samples in the Chesapeake Bay region and in the Delaware River watershed to document Sandy’s effects.

“When looking at long-term water quality trends and year-to-year variation, this hurricane could be a defining event for the past few decades, and it’s important that USGS captures a complete picture of what happens,” said Charles Crawford, coordinator of the sampling effort.

The Value of Water
On December 4 in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will host a symposium on the importance of water to the U.S. economy. Registration is now open for both the webinar and the live event.

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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