Federal Water Tap, August 4: Western U.S. Water Legislation Introduced and Agreements Signed

New legislation proposes that the federal government spend $US 700 million over five years to subsidize the purchase of appliances, fixtures, and related products that save water and energy.

Introduced by four western U.S. congressional representatives, the Water in the 21st Century Act includes several other provisions. The bill

  • establishes a grant program for helping water and wastewater utilities adapt to climate change, though it does not mention funding.
  • sets aside $US 250 million over five years in loan guarantees for a variety of water projects in 17 western states – projects such as recycling water, improving energy efficiency, repairing distribution systems, and removing salt.
  • allocates $US 150 million over five years to distribute and store recycled water or to improve regional management.
  • reauthorizes the act that created water research institutes in each state and territory and provides $US 9 million per year in funding through 2020.

Even if the bill passes, Congress would still have to approve funding each year during the budget process.

In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by California’s Democratic delegation, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. The House version is sponsored by Grace Napolitano of California and Peter DeFazio of Oregon, both Democrats.

Colorado River Partnership
The four largest municipal water providers in the Colorado River Basin signed an agreement with the Department of the Interior to spend $US 11 million over two years to boost water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

The federal government will contribute $US 3 million and each water utility – serving Central Arizona, Denver, Las Vegas, and Southern California –will chip in $US 2 million. Water users in the basin are seeking to keep the big reservoirs from dropping below the level at which water cuts would occur or hydropower generation would stop.

Water-saving projects will be evaluated based on more than one dozen criteria including cost, geography, and size of savings. Most observers assume that farmers will be paid not to use water for farming.

Protecting Watersheds from Fire Damage
Interior Secretary Michael Connor announced $US 187,500 in additional funding for a local-federal partnership in Colorado that seeks to prevent forest fire damage to water infrastructure.

The new funds more than double the money available to remove trees killed by bark beetles around reservoirs in Colorado operated by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The partnership is one of six in western U.S. watersheds that President Obama created as part of his climate change agenda.

Fires can increase soil erosion and clog a reservoir with debris and sediment, which happened in June 2012 in northern Colorado.

Rail Car Safety Plans
As shipments of crude oil by rail rapidly increase, the federal regulator for hazardous materials is considering revisions to Clean Water Act safety regulations that apply to the transportation of oil.

PHSMA is taking public comments on whether it should change the volume thresholds that trigger a more-detailed plan for responding to an oil spill. Current thresholds of 159 cubic meters (42,000 gallons) refer to the capacity of a single tanker car. Cars carrying oil usually do not exceed those limits. PHSMA might look at the entire train’s capacity or the number of cars in a train that carries oil.

Comments are due by September 24 and can be submitted at www.regulations.gov using docket number PHMSA–2014–0105 (HM–251B).

Water Funds
The Senate Appropriations Committee in its budget bill for land and water agencies recommended restoring two funds for drinking water and sewer infrastructure to 2014 spending levels. President Obama’s budget proposed a cut of more than $US 500 million.

Groundwater Contamination
A U.S. Department of Commerce science laboratory published a study on an emerging risk to the nation’s 500,000 tanks that store gasoline underground at gas stations: ethanol.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology found that steel alloys used in pumps connected to the tanks corroded quickly when exposed to a bacteria in ethanol-blended fuels. The tanks and their component parts often were not designed for blended fuels. Leaks from the tanks could contaminate groundwater.

Costs of Climate Change
Not acting to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere increases the cost of action by 40 percent for each decade of delay, according to an Obama administration report.

NOAA Flood Report
Minor flooding along U.S. coasts during high tide because of a rise in sea levels is becoming more noticeable, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Tidal gauges in New Jersey, the Chesapeake Bay, North Carolina, South Carolina, and southern Texas showed the greatest number of “nuisance” floods – more than 20 between 2007 and 2009.

Though nuisance floods are increasing throughout the U.S., these areas see a greater effect because the land is sinking in tandem with rising seas.

Clean Water Act Consent Decree
An Oakland, California-area water utility and seven communities that serve 650,000 people agreed to a set of actions that will reduce sewage flowing into the San Francisco Bay during heavy rainstorms.

The goal of the agreement signed with the U.S. Department of Justice is to eliminate the periodic flows of sewage by 2035.

Water Information Meeting
A group that advises the federal government on water data collection will hold a public meeting August 19-20 in Reston, Virginia at the headquarters of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Topics include: water monitoring on a shoestring budget, groundwater monitoring, and the national climate assessment.

The meeting will be available via telephone and Internet as well. Details are at the bottom of the draft agenda.

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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