Federal Water Tap, February 18: Climate Change a Financial High Risk to U.S. Government

Climate Change Risk
The U.S. government’s internal watchdog added two new items to its list of high-priority risks to the federal government: financial risk from climate change-related catastrophes and insufficient data from weather-monitoring satellites. The Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list – which emphasizes areas vulnerable to fraud, waste or mismanagement, or areas in need of more effective governance – is updated every two years.

Surplus Water Goes to Energy Company
An energy company will get to withdraw some 1.6 billion gallons of water free of charge from a reservoir in North Dakota operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, according to the first-ever surplus water agreement for Lake Sakakawea. Last year the Corps proclaimed that 100,000 acre-feet in the lake were surplus because they were not being used for their authorized purpose, irrigation.

North Dakota’s congressional delegation and the state’s governor issued a joint statement that urged the Corps not to charge for water from the lake. The Corps is studying a national pricing system for surplus water.

Missouri River Forecast
Due to below normal snowpack and dry soils lingering from the 2012 drought, runoff into Missouri River Basin reservoirs will be 80 percent of normal this year, according to Army Corps of Engineers forecasts. If the drought deepens it may cut the 2013 navigation season by as much as 28 days, said Michael Swenson, the power production team leader, who added that spring “pulse” flows to aid fish species will not occur this year to conserve water. Electrical generation at the basin’s dams is forecasted to be 80 percent of a normal year.

Protecting Species and Springs in Texas
Eight local, state and federal partners formally approved a 15-year agreement to protect eight endangered species that rely on the Edwards Aquifer in central Texas. The habitat conservation plan, signed to prevent lawsuits, includes measures to protect aquatic habitats and spring flows. One voluntary measure will offer payments to farmers to stop irrigating when aquifer levels drop below a certain standard.

Superfund Site Removal
The Environmental Protection Agency announced it will remove a Chicago-area sewage treatment plant from the Superfund list because all required clean up actions have been completed. More than a half-century ago, the Kerr-McGee site was contaminated with radioactive thorium that came from a milling facility operated by a chemical company. Soil from that milling facility was used as land fill at the sewage treatment plant, where some of the sediment washed into a nearby river.

Florida Dike Project
The Army Corps of Engineers will prepare a draft environmental review of a safety study for the 230-kilometer (143-mile) Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in Florida. The project is part of the Corps’ Dam Safety Modification program, which seeks to reduce the risk of failure for its dams and levees that are rated “unsafe”, as is the Hoover Dike. The draft review will be available in summer 2014.

Children’s Health Study
The National Institutes of Health is seeking information about how to design a children’s environmental health study that was ordered by Congress in 2000. Study researchers are considering methods for prenatal data collection. The Children’s Health Study will follow 100,000 children from birth to age 21, examining how factors such as air and water, diet and genetics affect health and development.

Wind Project EIS
The Bureau of Land Management published a final environmental review of a wind farm proposed for public lands in Southern California. The BLM prefers a smaller Alta East wind project than what the developer proposed, cutting its land footprint by 15 percent and its electrical capacity from 318 megawatts to 291 megawatts. Public comments are being taken on the review until March 18.

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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