Federal Water Tap, July 21: Obama’s Climate Programs, Bristol Bay Restrictions, Money for Drinking Water

Before a meeting of his climate change task force, comprised of state, local, and tribal leaders, President Obama announced a slew of investments, tools, and partnerships to help prepare the nation for a warming world.

The programs include:

  • Two stages of funding for the $US 1 billion natural disaster resilience competition, a pot of money announced in June for helping communities rebuild smarter from hurricanes and floods;
  • $US 10 million to provide data and training to Indian tribes;
  • $US 236 million for rural electric transmission lines and technologies that better monitor electricity use and demand;
  • $US 13 million for advanced mapping to identify flood, erosion, and landslide hazards;
  • funding and training for communities to install natural systems to store water such as rain gardens and grassy roofs;
  • a guide for public health departments to plan for climate-related diseases and illnesses.

Bristol Bay
Claiming the need to protect world-class salmon habitat, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed strict thresholds for a copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed – thresholds so strict that the mine would not be allowed as currently designed.

The EPA invoked its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, which regulates the burial of streams and wetlands from dirt and debris dredged during construction.

The thresholds are: the elimination of no more than eight kilometers (five miles) of streams home to salmon, or 31 kilometers (19 miles) of non-salmon stream; the destruction of no more than 445 hectares (1,100 acres) of wetlands; a change in river flows of no more than 20 percent.

In May the partnership seeking to open the mine sued the EPA for trying to block the project before a completed application had been filed. Alaska native tribes, concerned about salmon fisheries, have sided with the EPA while the state of Alaska is backing the Pebble Limited Partnership.

Comments are being accepted through September 19. Send them to ow-docket@epa.gov with EPA–R10–OW–2014–0505 in the subject line.

California Water Assistance
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 25 small towns and water districts in California threatened by drought will share $US 9.7 million in grants to improve their drinking water systems.

Spend the Money
States are sitting on federal funds that could be helping communities improve their drinking water systems, according to the EPA’s internal watchdog.

The Office of the Inspector General assessed lending practices for five states sitting on large piles of cash from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Missouri, and New Mexico. The five account for $US 231 million that could be put to work, the report found.

Aware of the investigation, which was completed this spring, the EPA issued a new strategy in April to address the idle money. States will now focus on matching funds with the most suitable projects, with a goal to get the dollars in the recipients’ hands within two years.

Foreign Aid for Water
U.S. foreign assistance in the water sector totaled $US 784 million in fiscal year 2013, an 18 percent drop. Most of the decrease came out of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a foreign aid program in which countries compete for grants.

Agencies involved in drinking water, sanitation, and water management assistance are required to report water-related outlays each year in accordance with the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005, which made water an explicit U.S. foreign policy goal.

State of the Climate
Last year was one of the 10 hottest since the Gilded Age, according to an annual climate review edited by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Some well-known trends held fast: the oceans rose at a steady rate and glaciers continued to melt. Circle of Blue pulled graphics from the report, on extreme events, global temperatures, and glacial melt.

Climate Research Plan
Climate extremes, water resources, coasts, and marine ecosystems are the four top research priorities for NOAA’s climate office in its five-year plan. Within the water resources section, understanding and preparing for drought is the primary emphasis.

Carbon Rules
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will answer questions from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday about the agency’s proposal to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Water Infrastructure Financing
How should the EPA implement a new program to fund large-scale water infrastructure projects, a program that was part of the $US 12 billion water resources bill that Congress passed in May? Let the agency know at a public listening session on July 22 at the Region 5 headquarters in Chicago. To attend, email WIFIA@epa.gov.

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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