The justices on the United States Supreme Court pondered water law last week, as Oklahoma and a Texas water district presented arguments about water allocations under the Red River Compact. The justices asked many questions about the compact’s language and the intent behind an equal rights provision. They also dipped into matters of engineering, state borders, and accounting for water use.
At times the justices seemed puzzled by the whole affair. Responding to the representative of the U.S. solicitor general, who supports Texas’s position, Justice Elena Kagan said, “You think of all the issues that you laid out that are going to have to be decided and the difficulty of those issues – I mean, you read this brief that you submitted, it gives you kind of a headache.” The court is expected to issue a ruling in June. Background on the case is here.
EPA Keystone Comment
The Environmental Protection Agency judged that the State Department’s draft environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline had “insufficient information.” The EPA criticized the review for not properly analyzing an route that parallels the existing Keystone pipeline through Nebraska and would reduce the risk to groundwater from a spill. The EPA also recommended that the State Department require a series of water-monitoring wells along the length of the route.
Toxic Sludge Is Held Behind Poorly Constructed Barriers
The contaminated residue from coal mining is not good for you, nor is the sludge good for rivers, critters, or communities when a containment dam breaks. And the risk of a break is a real concern, according to a summary of an engineering study obtained by the Washington Post. All seven of the sites that the Interior Department’s mining office examined in West Virginia failed performance tests, according to the unreleased report.
Drought in the U.S.
Congress’s research arm wrote a report on the U.S. drought. The report, which was made public by the Federation of American Scientists Secrecy blog, was written to keep representatives abreast of issues they might be voting on. Several drought bills have been introduced in Congress.
Last Thursday the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on how drought affects the energy sector. Several witnesses urged the committee to continue supporting federal programs dealing with drought and water resources. The Western Governors Association wrote in support of the National Integrated Drought Information System, the authorization for which expired last year.
The Bureau of Reclamation’s oldest water project can both meet water demand while reducing the risk of flooding from an aging canal system, according to a report that studied seven options for meeting the twin goals. But the bureau warns that these options for the Newlands project involve tradeoffs that appeal to different stakeholders in the canal system shared between California and Nevada.
Gateway West Transmission Line
The Bureau of Land Management submitted its final environmental review of a proposed 1,000-mile high-voltage transmission line from Wyoming to Idaho. The public comment period for the Gateway West project, which will balance the western electrical grid and open new markets for wind energy, closes on June 28. Comments can be emailed to Gateway_West_WYMail@blm.gov.
Colorado River Forecast
It is a drop in a rather dusty bucket, but the U.S. Southwest will take any water it can get. The April to July forecast for runoff into Lake Powell rose by three percentage points in April, to 41 percent of normal. Under the basin’s operating agreement, water releases from Lake Powell will not change.
Natural Catastrophe Insurance
A law passed last year to modify the National Flood Insurance Program requires a study of the current state of the market for natural catastrophe insurance. The Federal Insurance Office, which is leading the study, is soliciting information or research papers that would help it do a knock-out job. Submissions can be made via www.regulations.gov by June 24.
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