Federal Water Tap, March 25: Twenty Percent of U.S. River-Miles Are Healthy, EPA Says

Only one of every five miles of river in the United States is ecologically and biologically healthy, according to a first-of-its-kind assessment of national water quality. The Environmental Protection Agency used random sampling to estimate river and stream health in the lower 48 states. Based on data from 1,924 sites monitoring rivers, streams and ponds, the EPA found that phosphorous and nitrogen are the most common pollutants. Public comments are due by May 9 and should be sent to nrsa-hq@epa.gov.

Oil Shale
The Bureau of Land Management put a final stamp of approval on its plan to designate more than 324,000 hectares (800,000 acres) in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming for oil shale and tar sands development. For now, the BLM’s plan allows companies only to test production methods and tinker with the geology. Before any individual lease is granted, the agency will undertake an environmental review of that particular project.

Yet this is arid country. Since an October 2010 report, the Government Accountability Office has warned that developing oil shale in the Green River Formation could use significant amounts of water. A full analysis was not possible. The GAO did not have enough information on the region’s hydrology, the oil shale technology, or the scale of development to be able to say.

Drought Update
Dry conditions will persist through the end of June in California, Texas, and the Southwest, according to the latest drought forecast from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center. Because of historical trends and a lack of any clear climate signal, the Northern Plains states will see an improvement. Recent rains have alleviated drought in Georgia and South Carolina.

Water Cuts in California
Farmers in California’s Central Valley will get even less water from the federal government than they thought. The Bureau of Reclamation announced that farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will receive only 20 percent of contracted water supplies this year, down from a February estimate of 25 percent. A lack of snow is the culprit. The January-March period is on track to be the driest on record in parts of the Sierra Nevada.

Agriculture Preview
How will the drought affect farmers this year? A preview comes Thursday when the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases its “Prospective Plantings” report. The department asked farmers, as of March 1, which crops they planned to plant in 2013. The report will cover major commodities – corn, soybeans and wheat – as well as crops such as cotton, rice, and peanuts.

Kerry Made a Statement
Water is “fundamental to our diplomatic and development goals,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, in a brief, generic statement to mark World Water Day.

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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