Federal Water Tap, April 21: Delays for Keystone XL Pipeline and EPA Fish Rule

The slow dance between the Obama administration and a controversial oil pipeline that has become a symbol of an era will take another spin around the floor.

The White House delayed a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, through which heavy crude from the Alberta tar sands will flow.

Senior State Department officials blamed the extension on two factors. A Nebraska Supreme Court case could result in a new route through that state. A new route could change how federal agencies assess the potential environmental and social effects of the pipeline. Officials would not say if a new route would require a new environmental review, a process that would add considerably more time.

The second factor is the volume of public comments submitted. The State Department, which is handling the evaluation because the pipeline crosses international borders, received more than 2.5 million submissions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency delayed a final rule for protecting fish from being sucked into power plant cooling pipes and killed.

Saying it needed more time to consult with collaborating federal agencies, the EPA will issue the rule by May 16, Bloomberg reports.

California Water Supply
A series of storms in March allowed the Bureau of Reclamation to increase water deliveries from the Central Valley Project, a federal canal system. Two types of contractors will benefit.

Municipal and agricultural agencies north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will get 75 percent of their full allocation, up from 40 percent in February. Wildlife refuges in the delta will see the same increase. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, south of the delta, will still get no water from the federal canals this year.

California Salmon
The Bureau of Reclamation released 54,000 hatchery salmon into the San Joaquin River as part of a long-term project to revive salmon runs in the river’s upper reaches.

Inspector General to EPA: Say Everything
The EPA’s internal watchdog said that the agency needs to state clearly its assumptions when it claims that more wetlands have been gained than lost in the U.S.

The EPA reported that no net loss of wetlands occurred between 2009 and 2011. The unstated assumption is that the ponds that companies build to replace destroyed wetlands function perfectly.

But they do not function perfectly. The Office of the Inspector General cites a 2011 report assessing these “mitigation projects” in North Carolina. Three projects out of four met their goals for water quality.

Water Efficiency Bills
Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, introduced four water bills. The first provides grants for “smart” water systems that quickly identify leaks. The second allocates money to the EPA’s WaterSense program, which sets efficiency standards for appliances.

The third bill targets homeowners, dangling a tax credit for purchasing WaterSense products. The fourth offers grants to small communities whose drinking water supplies are at risk from drought.

Census of Agriculture Release Date
Complete data from the statistical survey of American agriculture will be published online May 2 at noon Eastern, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The census, which tallies data at the county-level, is updated every five years.

Florida’s Disappearing Coast
The Senate committee in charge of scientific research and ocean policy is going to Florida for spring break.

Committee members will convene April 22 in Miami Beach to hear how local governments in South Florida are adapting to rising sea levels. The low-lying Sunshine State, with glitzy hotels and nuclear power plants on the coastal front lines, is one of the most vulnerable to a swelling ocean. A tide of salt water also threatens drinking water aquifers.

Oil Pipeline Comment Period
Public comments for a 217-kilometer (135-mile) oil pipeline near Salt Lake City, Utah are due April 22.

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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