The consequences of severe fires last long after the flames have been snuffed out. Watersheds and reservoirs, in particular, are at risk from debris, erosion, and pipe-clogging ash, all of which degrade water quality and increase the cost of treatment. So the Interior Department and the Department of Agriculture announced a plan to work with water users to reduce the threat of fire and to restore areas that have already burned.
The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, part of President Obama’s climate plan unveiled last month, will begin with work in two northern Colorado basins: the upper Colorado River and the Big Thompson. Other projects are proposed for Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington. Several western U.S. water utilities – Santa Fe and Denver, to name two – already work with the U.S. Forest Service to reduce the risk of fire in their watersheds.
Fracking Water Transfer
An agency created by Congress to manage the Susquehanna River will consider an application to use treated water from an abandoned mine for hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania’s vast shale beds. The applicant, Winner Water Services, a Battelle subsidiary, wants to transfer some 3,785 cubic meters (1 million gallons) of water per day from the Sykesville mine in the Ohio River Basin. Tanker trucks would carry the water to fracking sites in the Susquehanna River Basin.
The project will, in a small way, reduce the use of freshwater for fracking. “Companies see [the mine water] as a benefit because it allows them to be good environmental stewards,” John Ontiveros, CEO of Winner Water Services, told Circle of Blue. Winner made its first sale to a fracking company last summer.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has approved the use of the mine water, which has been treated to remove iron, for fracking within the Ohio River Basin.
After a year of observation at a single site, the Department of Energy found no evidence that chemicals used to help break open shale rock thousands of feet below ground moved up the well or through the rock layers to contaminate water supplies, according to the Associated Press. Final results from the study will be published over the next few months.
An ExxonMobil subsidiary agreed to a $US 100,000 fine for violating the Clean Water Act. In the fall of 2010, XTO energy spilled between 24 cubic meters (6,300 gallons) and 217 cubic meters (57,373 gallons) of fracking wastewater from a holding tank in Lycoming County, in north-central Pennsylvania. The pollutants, which entered a tributary of the Susquehanna River, were mainly dissolved metals and salts – strontium, barium, bromides, and chloride.
According to the settlement, XTO will be required to recycle at least half of its wastewater from fracking operations in the state. The company must also put in place a wastewater management plan that the federal government estimates will cost $US 20 million to develop.
Klamath Basin Negotiations
A work group brought together by Oregon’s governor and the state’s congressional delegation will have until September 10 to come up with recommendations for dealing with the basin’s water problems, the Associated Press reports. This group is separate from a much broader Klamath restoration initiative.
An Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee heard testimony last week on the future of the Colorado River. An archived webcast and witness statements can be found here. On Thursday, the committee will discuss aging water infrastructure.
Today, the Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on water management in two contentious river basins shared by Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
Texas Water Sampling
The U.S. Geological Survey released its 10-year plan for water monitoring in Texas under the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Five streams and two major aquifers will be part of a national network for assessing water quality. The USGS will develop a new groundwater monitoring network for public supply wells in the Texas coastal lowlands.
The USGS also developed a database for 141 springs in the Trinity aquifer of Bexar County, a high-growth area of central Texas where water demand has increased. The database will be used to assess changes in the aquifer.
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