Federal Water Tap, November 4: President Obama Unveils New Elements in Climate Action Plan

What Should We Do?
Continuing to flesh out a plan he outlined in June, President Barack Obama issued an executive order creating two climate change advisory bodies. The Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience is a federal conglomeration, comprising senior officials from at least 30 agencies. The other is a task force of prominent state, local, and tribal officials.

Also, within nine months federal agencies must assess their water policies, programs, and regulations for changes that might be necessary to adapt to a warming world.

Coal Funding
As part of the president’s climate plan, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it would support the funding of overseas coal projects only in rare circumstances. That support is through money given to institutions such as the World Bank, which then give out loans to developing countries. The U.S. would support a coal project only if it uses carbon capture technology or if no other economically feasible alternative exists.

Treasury officials would not discuss a proposed coal project in Kosovo because it has not yet been submitted to the World Bank, Reuters reports. The Kosovo project is seen by many as the first test case for the Obama administration’s new policy.

Fracking Waste
The U.S. Coast Guard released a policy letter outlining the conditions under which waste fluids from fracking operations may be transported by barge. Most of the barge traffic would move waste from Pennsylvania to Ohio, Louisiana, or Texas. Today it is moved by rail or truck.

Fracking waste does not fit under the Coast Guard’s current regulations for hazardous waste because its chemical composition is not standard and the waste may contain radioactive isotopes. The draft policy says that:

  • Barge owners must have each load of fracking waste chemically analyzed, and radioactive isotopes must not exceed certain limits.
  • Barge tanks must be vented to avoid the build-up of radon.
  • Barges would be subjected to an inspection before carrying cargo other than fracking waste and must meet contamination standards.

Comments on the policy should be submitted by November 29 at www.regulations.gov using docket number USCG-2013-0915.

Yakima Basin
The Bureau of Reclamation will begin an environmental review of a proposed tunnel between two existing reservoirs in Washington state and an additional outlet that would allow more of the reservoir’s water to be released during droughts. A separate review will consider a proposal to increase storage at a third reservoir. All the works are part of the $US 4 billion Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan, signed in July. Comments on the scope of the reviews should be sent to yrbwep@usbr.gov.

Water Quality
Nitrate pollution rose and fell in the Mississippi River Basin since 1980, the U.S. Geological Survey reports. Eight sites were measured. Nitrate concentrations at the Illinois River and Iowa River sites fell by 11 to 15 percent, but concentrations at the Missouri River site rose by 79 percent. Nitrates, which come from fertilizers washed off of farm fields, can be toxic to infants, and they contribute to the annual low-oxygen dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

When water levels in rivers were low, nitrate concentrations increased, suggesting that nitrates from fertilizers applied in ages past are seeping into rivers from groundwater. A separate study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that hypothesis to be true, discovering that as much as a quarter of the nitrates were still in the soil or groundwater three decades later.

Flood Insurance
Under a law passed last year, flood insurance premiums for the riskiest properties started to rise on October 1. Now a bipartisan group in Congress wants to delay the increases, according to McClatchy. The group introduced legislation that would require new studies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that could take four years to complete.

Senate Hearing
On Tuesday the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will discuss methane leaks from natural gas operations. Slated to testify are two energy company executives, an EPA official, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the University of Texas engineering professor who led a recent study of methane leaks. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found lower emissions than earlier estimates.

Great Lakes
Predictive models used by the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor water quality performed better than standard monitoring methods, which can take up to 18 hours to deliver results. The USGS tested its model at 45 Great Lakes beach during from 2010 to 2012, and it will expand the program.

Food Research
The University of Illinois received a $US 25 million federal grant to improve soybean yields in Africa. The Illinois research program is one of 21 “innovation labs” operating under the aegis of the Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative. Most soybeans are used in livestock feed.

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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