Federal Water Tap, June 17: U.S. Supreme Court Rules for Oklahoma in Water Case

An interstate compact allocating supplies from the Red River does not allow Texas to pull water from within Oklahoma’s borders, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week.

Writing for the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argues that if the drafters of the Red River Compact meant for Texas to be able to draw water from Oklahoma, the language of the compact would have been much more explicit about the terms and mechanics. The justices used examples from other interstate water compacts to defend Oklahoma’s ability to restriction out-of-state water diversions.

“The Red River Compact does not pre-empt Oklahoma’s water statutes because the Compact creates no cross-border rights in its signatories for these statutes to infringe,” Sotomayor writes. “Nor do Oklahoma’s laws run afoul of the Commerce Clause.”

Weather-related disasters last year in the U.S. accounted for $US 110 billion in damages, the second highest in the nation’s history behind Katrina-led 2005, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Eleven disasters did more than $US1 billion in damages, topped by Hurricane Sandy at $US 65 billion.

Estimating Disaster
For rivers, the area in the U.S. with a one percent risk of flooding each year is expected to grow by 45 percent by the end of the century, according to a report prepared for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The report, from AECOM, an engineering consultancy, assessed the role of climate change and population growth in federal flood insurance policies.

Most of the increase in areas vulnerable to river flooding is due to climate change, but roughly 30 percent is attributed to how urbanization and population growth alter water flows. For the coasts, flood hazard areas are estimated to rise by 55 percent by 2100. Large regional variations occur for both river and coastal flooding.

Predicting Disaster
NASA scientists wrapped up six weeks of field research in northeastern Iowa last week in preparation for a satellite mission that will improve flood forecasting. Researchers collected ground data on precipitation, soil moisture, and temperature in addition to data from existing satellites and radar. The numbers will be used to fine-tune interpretations of the raw data from the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite, launching in early 2014.

Oil Spill Lawsuit
The U.S. Justice Department and the state of Arkansas sued ExxonMobil for Clean Water Act violations related to a pipeline rupture in late March north of Little Rock. The Los Angeles Times reports that the suit seeks to have ExxonMobil pay all cleanup costs as well as civil penalties for breaking a number of state and federal pollution laws.

Drinking Water Funds
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the revised allotments for money distributed to the states from a federal revolving fund for drinking water. The revisions are based on the EPA’s needs survey, released earlier this month.

Endocrine Disruptors
The EPA announced a final list of 109 chemicals that it will test for effects on human hormonal systems. Those that are found to have a potential effect on the endocrine system will go on to a second battery of tests designed to suss out the relationship between the dose and the effect. These chemicals have shown up with increasing frequency in water bodies.

Sewer Fix
Miami-Dade County estimates that it will spend $US 1.6 billion on its sewer system in the next 15 years to comply with the Clean Water Act, according to a consent decree negotiated with the Justice Department and the EPA.

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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