Expand the Scope
In addition to recognized goals of hydropower production and flood control, a new Columbia River Treaty with Canada should protect salmon, according to draft recommendations from stakeholders in the Pacific Northwest. A “modernized” treaty should increase summer flows, allow flexibility to adapt to climate change, and consider dam modifications that allow fish access to the mainstem of the Columbia in Canada. The treaty can be cancelled, extended, or amended in 2024 with 10 years notice, thus the present discussions. Comments on the draft are being accepted through October 25 via this link.
Colorado River Study
The Bureau of Reclamation will collaborate with a ten-tribe partnership to study water supply issues affecting tribes in the Colorado River Basin. The study will be “separate but parallel” to three working groups that will provide recommendations for agriculture, cities, and the environment, said Carly Jerla, a program manager for the Bureau’s Colorado River Basin study. Jerla told Circle of Blue that the scope of the tribal study is not final but it could include: projections for tribal development, water demand projections, and ways to better develop water rights held by the tribes.
Which bodies of water does the Clean Water Act cover? That question, one of “connectivity” between applicable water bodies and fringe candidates such as ponds and isolated wetlands, has been kicking around for several years after an inconclusive U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2006. Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a 331-page draft report to address the jurisdictional debate. The report comes to three conclusions:
1) Streams, regardless of how often or frequently they flow, are always connected to downstream waters.
2) Wetlands in riparian areas or floodplains – those with a “bidirectional” flow between river and wetland – are connected to downstream waters.
3) “Unidirectional” wetlands in which water may only flow to a river and not vice versa are a diverse group about which general assumptions about connectivity are difficult. This group may be evaluated through “case-by-case analysis,” according to the report.
The draft report is open to public review through November 6. Send comments to Docket_OEI@epa.gov with the subject line “No. EPA-HQ-OA-2013-0582.” The EPA’s science advisory board will review the report and the comments in public meetings December 16 to 18 in Washington, D.C.
NAWQA Science Plan
The third decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program will focus on a vast range of monitoring tools for rivers, streams, and groundwater, according to the program’s science plan released by the U.S. Geological Survey.
A main goal is to track changes in water quality over time and attribute causes, either natural or manmade. For surface water, the plan envisions a national network that assesses water quality in real time. Increasing the number of monitoring stations, which dropped by nearly 80 percent since the program began in 1991, will be a primary task. For groundwater, large aquifers and wells that supply public water systems will be emphasized.
The federal flood insurance program is $US 24 billion in the red, largely because of payouts related to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, according to Alicia Puente Cackley of the U.S. Government Accountability Office who testified before a Senate subcommittee last week.
Congress passed legislation last year to reform the National Flood Insurance Program. A number of these reforms are being implemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the insurance program, but the GAO says that the agency does not have enough information about properties to set rates that reflect the true flood risk.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed off on modifications to a $US 1.8 billion project in North Dakota to divert flood waters around the Fargo-Moorhead area.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added an aquatic species to the endangered list: the Neosho mucket, a freshwater mussel found in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
A second species is getting another look. After a petition for inclusion, a federal denial, and a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Marine Fisheries Service has now determined that the Alabama shad, an anadromous fish, may warrant a spot on the list. The agency is soliciting relevant scientific information about the shad. Submit by November 18 via fax, 727–824–5309. Submissions should be addressed to “Kelly Shotts, Ecologist” and include the code NOAA–NMFS_2013–0142.
Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey developed a model for better understanding how groundwater pumping in Arizona and California affects return flows to the river. The model will be used to improve water accounting methods along the Colorado.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton