Federal Water Tap, May 28: Number of High Hazard Dams in the U.S. Increases

Roughly one in every six structures in the Army Corps of Engineers dams database is rated as “high hazard,” meaning a dam failure would kill people, according to a recent update. Since 2009, the number of high hazard dams has increased by six percent, to 14,726. Three-fifths of the high hazard dams have an emergency action plan in place.

Updated every two years, the National Inventory of Dams categorizes some 87,000 dams according to their size, location, purpose, ownership, and potential for failure.

Sequestration Hurts Research
U.S. Geological Survey funding to state water research institutes will be cut by 40 percent and a national grant program will be eliminated this year due to federal budget cuts. The institutes, housed at state universities, were informed of the survey’s decision via letters sent two weeks ago, several directors told Circle of Blue.

Keystone XL
The State Department received more than 1.2 million comments on its latest environmental review of the Canada-to-Oklahoma Keystone XL pipeline. (The pipeline’s southern section, from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast is nearly complete and did not require a State Department permit.) The first set of comments, one of several batches to be released each week, are now posted online.

Chemicals in Agriculture
The U.S. Geological Survey posted the first maps showing trends in pesticide and herbicide use by U.S. county. The data cover the period from 1992 to 2009.

“What we’re showing are the tools we use to understand water quality,” Wes Stone, a USGS hydrologist, told Circle of Blue.

Fracking Wastewater
The technology for treating wastewater generated by the extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is rapidly evolving, according to an Environmental Protection Agency engineer.

“So much has changed in the last few years that we’ve changed our research focus,” said Chris Impellitteri, during a webinar about the EPA’s on-going study of fracking’s effect on drinking water. A draft of the study is expected by the end of 2014. Impellitteri said the EPA is seeing “an increased emphasis on advanced treatment” from energy companies.

Infrastructure Permitting
The Obama administration seeks to cut the federal permitting process for infrastructure projects in half, according to a memo from the president to his cabinet heads. In the next 60 days, a committee created last year by executive order will review federal regulations, policies, and procedures for ways to trim the temporal fat. The administration claims the review will ensure better environmental outcomes at the same time — through interagency coordination, regional management plans for land and water, and better data.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing that nine sites be added to the Superfund list — sites with a toxic legacy that pose a threat to public or environmental health. Two of the sites, both in Indiana, involve groundwater contamination.

River flows in Georgia were the lowest in the state’s 83-year historical record last year, according to a U.S. Geological Survey review.

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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