Federal Water Tap, June 30: Dead Zone and Algae Forecasts for U.S. Waters

Computer models forecast a low-oxygen “dead zone” of average size for the Gulf of Mexico this summer and a slightly above-average fish-suffocation zone for the Chesapeake Bay, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The standard unit for comparing the size of dead zones is the “New England state.” The Gulf of Mexico will see a water hazard the size of Connecticut this year, according to the computer models.

A Great Lakes algae bloom forecast will be released July 10, Ben Sherman, NOAA spokesman, told Circle of Blue.

The dead zones and algae blooms are caused by too much phosphorous and nitrogen running off farm fields and out of urban sewers and into rivers.

Earlier this month, six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement that limits nutrient pollution into the bay — one of ten ecosystem goals covered in the plan.

Congress Talks Oil and Water
Before clocking out for the Independence Day recess, members of the House and Senate debated several bills of note.

The House discussed and passed H.R. 3301, the North American Energy Infrastructure Act, which would establish new permitting procedures for oil and natural gas pipelines and electricity transmission lines that cross international boundaries.

The original bill would have prohibited environmental reviews for such pipelines. The version passed by the House broadens that a bit, allowing a review of the bit of pipe that straddles the border. House Democrats objected.

“These pipelines, these transmission lines, they are major infrastructure projects,” said Lois Capps of California. “They can span hundreds of miles. They cross through private property, water bodies, farms, and many other sensitive areas, and they carry substances that can catch fire or spill and pollute the environment. To understand the potential environmental impact of such an energy project, we need to look at the project as a whole.”

Here is the full transcript of the floor debate.

Meanwhile, two Democratic senators from coastal states — Ben Cardin of Maryland and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island — took the floor to defend the EPA’s recent rule that clarifies which water bodies are regulated under the Clean Water Act.

The duo noted that upstream pollution is funneled into the bays and estuaries in their states. As they proclaimed the net benefits of landmark federal regulations such as the Clean Water Act, they seemed exasperated with the tendency of current Republicans to eye only one side of the ledger.

“They have blinders on that oblige them only to consider the point of view of the polluters,” Whitehouse said. “I never hear anything else. I urge and I challenge my colleagues to get out of that trap. The American people are not with you on this. You are wrong on the science. This general attack on the environment at this stage in our history will stain the party’s brand if it is not corrected.”

Water Rights Settlement
Members of Arizona’s congressional delegation submitted bills in both the House and Senate to settle water rights claims for two state rivers.

Lake Ontario
A new management plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River has been approved by the bi-national commission that oversees waters shared by Canada and the United States.

Plan 2014 allows lake levels to rise and fall more than the previous set of rules. This will help revive coastal wetlands but will increase the cost of protecting the shoreline from flooding and erosion. Several New York counties have loudly opposed what they see as a degradation of their property values.

North Dakota Water Network
The Bureau of Reclamation released a supplemental environmental review of a project that will provide drinking water supplies to 10 counties in northwest North Dakota.

The $US 207 million project began construction in 2002 but court challenges by the province of Manitoba, over possible movement of non-native species into the Hudson Bay watershed, and the state of Missouri, over the effect on the Missouri River, slowed progress. The supplemental review addresses both issues, claiming minimal effects on each.

Comments are being accepted through August 11. They should be emailed to awaters@usbr.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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