Federal Water Tap, November 25: Water Use in the U.S. Report Update and Draft EPA Water Strategy

Better Late than Never
The U.S. Geological Survey’s comprehensive report on water use in the United States will be published next year, having been delayed because of new methods to account for water consumption, according to Joan Kenny, a USGS scientist involved in the study.

“One of the biggest hurdles has been the additional work on thermoelectric use,” Kenny told Circle of Blue. Thermoelectric sources, a.k.a. power plants, take more water out of rivers, lakes, and aquifers than any other sector.

Two changes are in store for the report’s next edition, which will cover data from 2010. The USGS will once again track the water consumed by power plants, a statistic the agency stopped calculating after the 1995 report, a move that garnered criticism in 2009 from the Government Accountability Office, the government’s internal watchdog. Water withdrawals have been measured in every report.

For the report being published next year, the methods used to calculate the amount of water that power plants lose to evaporation, known as consumption, will “change course dramatically,” Kenny said.

The USGS is developing a model for estimating power plant water consumption, which will allow the agency to fact-check the traditional data source: self-reported figures from the plant operators themselves.

Last Friday evening the USGS released a report describing the heat budget model it is using to estimate consumption at the nation’s 1,284 power plants.

EPA Water Strategy
Assisting small water-supply systems and improving the management of pollutants from farms and pavement – called “nonpoint” sources – are the top drinking water priorities for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency next year, according to the agency’s draft five-year strategic plan.

Areas of emphasis for the duration of the plan include:

  • Incorporating climate change adaptation into grant and loan programs for water infrastructure
  • Regulating drinking water contaminants by group instead of individually, in order to decrease the cost of compliance
  • National assessments of water quality in rivers, wetlands, and lakes, as well as in coastal ecosystems

Comments on the strategy are being accepted through January 3, via this link.

Land Subsidence and Groundwater
Parts of California’s San Joaquin Valley, an agricultural powerhouse, are sinking because farmers and cities have pumped too much water from the ground. This land subsidence threatens the structural integrity of the Delta-Mendota canal, a vital link in the valley’s water delivery network, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study. Land northeast of the canal sunk 54 centimeters (21 inches) between 2008 and 2010 when groundwater pumping increased in response to lower river flows caused by a lack of rain.

Lead in Fire Hydrants
Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-New York) introduced legislation to exempt fire hydrants from an EPA rule designed to reduce lead in drinking water. Cities and water-industry lobby groups have complained that requiring lead-free hydrants is expensive and provides almost no public health benefit.

Under a law passed in 2011, nearly all pipes and fixtures used to deliver drinking water must have a drastically reduced lead content by January 4, 2014. Shower valves, toilets, and pipes used for industrial processing or manufacturing are among the exempted uses.

Water Trust Fund
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) introduced legislation to establish a trust fund for repairing and replacing wastewater treatment facilities. Money for the fund would come from voluntary contributions by businesses that rely on clean water. Companies that sign up would place a label on certain products they sell and deposit $US 0.03 into the fund for each unit that gets a label. Slap the sticker on 100 water bottles, for example, give $US 3. An existing federal clean water loan program would administer and distribute most of the funds.

The U.S. lost less than 1 percent of its coastal wetlands between 2004 and 2009, but the rate of loss increased compared to the previous reporting period, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assessment. The Great Lakes saw a net increase in coastal wetlands, while the biggest losses occurred along the Gulf Coast.

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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