Federal Water Tap, March 4: State Department Releases Keystone XL Environmental Review

The section of pipeline that would funnel tar sands oil from the U.S.-Canada border to the Kansas-Nebraska border would cross more than 1,000 water bodies and half of its length would cut through soils classified as highly erodible, according to a State Department environmental review released Friday afternoon.

The review, which stretches more than 3,600 pages, also analyzed pipeline alternatives, such as rail and tanker transport.

“With this preliminary analysis, we find in this draft that the approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including this proposed project, really remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of development of the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil in the U.S.,” said Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones, adding that the State Department is eager to hear the public’s opinion on the pipeline.

This week a 45-day public comment period on the report will open. Comments can be emailed to keystonecomments@state.gov.

Farm Bill Spending
The 2012 Farm Bill, if one had been enacted, would not have cut spending as much as once thought, according to new figures from the Congressional Budget Office. Last year, the CBO forecasted that the Senate’s version of the bill would reduce spending by $US 23 billion over 10 years. But because of new data on commodity prices and nutritional aid programs, the CBO now forecasts a cut of just $US 13 billion over 10 years. The 2012 bill has been reintroduced in the Senate, but not in the House.

Water Pollution, from the Air
The Government Accountability Office recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency assess whether it can gather reliable data on airborne pollutants that muck up water quality. This data – on nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, which come from vehicle exhaust and power plants, and on mercury, which comes from coal-fired power plants – would then be used to set air quality standards that protect water quality too.

California Water Allocations
Thanks to a thin snowpack in the northern Sierra Nevada, preliminary allocations for southern and central California from the federal Central Valley Project will be lower than average, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. Cities and industries south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will be allocated 75 percent of their historical use. Farmers, however, will be able to draw only a quarter of their contracted supply.

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
A project to turn two delta islands into water-storage reservoirs will need to go through an additional environmental review, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which will evaluate the project’s construction permit, required under the Clean Water Act.

New Orleans Water
The Justice Department is giving the New Orleans water and sewer utility more time to fix problems with its sewage treatment plant. The Sewerage and Water Board is under a federal consent decree for violating the Clean Water Act. It will now have until March 2018 to stop illegal sewage discharges in the Ninth Ward basin and until October 2019 to do the same in the East basin. The original deadlines were in 2013.

Open for Business
American companies are open for business in India,” said Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, in testimony to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. Blake mentioned water and sanitation systems and power plants while speaking about business opportunities for U.S. companies in the world’s second most populous country.

Mississippi River
The National Research Council began a study of water management in the lower Mississippi River and the river delta. The study, which will be published in early 2014, will give advice to the Water Institute of the Gulf, a new research group.

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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