Federal Water Tap, August 25: Obama Administration Offers Guidance on Broad Environmental Reviews

In a set of draft guidelines meant to improve federal environmental reviews of new projects and policies, the White House Council on Environmental Quality recommended three circumstances in which broad “programmatic” analyses should be undertaken:

    1) before setting national or regional rules
    2) before adopting a plan for managing multiple resources
    3) before making decisions about a series of related projects

Programmatic reviews allow agencies to look at how multiple actions affect a region. Individual environmental impact statements then examine the local consequences.

That’s the theory. Some have raised the concern that a programmatic review is a route for sidestepping pointed questions in the individual reviews. Thus, the CEQ’s draft guidance seeks to clarify what goes into the broader review.

Federal law requires that construction projects involving federal land, funding, or permits go through an environmental review. In recent years federal agencies have completed programmatic reviews for solar power development in six western states and oil shale mining in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

Water Use in California
California is adding people and growing its economy while taking less fresh water out of rivers, lakes, and aquifers than at any time in the last 45 years, according to U.S. Geological Survey data released Wednesday.

A new report is released every five years, and the most recent survey reflects data from 2010. The national figures will be released later this year, but because of a historic drought, the USGS decided to publish the California data ahead of the official report.

Great Lakes Chemicals
People who eat fish frequently from a polluted lake in New York state will be monitored by a federal agency that studies toxic substances to gauge the effectiveness of a pollution-reduction program for the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, approved by Congress in 2009, doles out hundreds of millions of dollars each year to erase a history of industrial contamination.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will take blood and urine samples from people who regularly eat fish from Onandoga Lake, near Syracuse, New York. The results will set a baseline for the chemicals that have accumulated in human tissues.

Money for Lake Erie
The U.S. Department of Agriculture made available $US 2 million to pay farmers in the western Lake Erie watershed to prevent soil erosion.

The funding, available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, will pay for the planting of cover crops, which are sown post-harvest to hold soil and nutrients in place. Excess nutrients flowing into the western Lake Erie basin contribute to algae blooms, which shut down the Toledo, Ohio water system earlier this month.

New York City Water Deadline
After missing a federally imposed deadline to build a filtration plant for one of its water supply systems, New York City has negotiated a new ultimatum: begin full operations by May 17, 2015 or pay a $US 65 million penalty.

The threat comes from a revised federal consent decree between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the water system.

Signed in 1998, the original consent decree required that water from the Croton system, one of three that quench the metropolis, be filtered to remove bacteria and harmful compounds produced during chlorination. The result is a $US 3.2 billion facility, one of the most expensive capital projects in New York’s history, a project beset by delays over contracts and contractors, city officials argue.

For the other two systems, the city’s meticulous watershed protection led the EPA to grant a waiver that lifts the filtration requirement.

Drinking Water Council
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to fill six seats on the 15-member body that gives counsel on matters related to federal regulation of drinking water.

The six new members will serve for three years, starting in December. Follow the link to find directions for nominating a candidate.

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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