Federal Water Tap, March 17: A Second Look to Ensure Food Safety Rule Does Not Imperil Water Security

Three years ago President Obama signed into law sweeping reforms for how the nation’s food is grown, harvested, packaged, shipped, and stored.

At first an environmental review of the Food Safety Modernization Act was not deemed necessary, but after more analysis certain aspects of the new law are getting a second look. One aspect involves water use.

The law sets standards for the microbial content of irrigation water – specifically, the amount of E. coli, which itself is a proxy measurement for poop and manure. Bureaucrats realized that surface water supplies in some regions would fail to meet this standard during most of the growing season and would turn to groundwater as a backup source. Given recent concern about the health of U.S. aquifers, the Food and Drug Administration is now considering alternatives to the microbial standard.

Last week, the FDA published the list of alternatives (Table 1 in the link) it will study in an environmental review. Options include: no standard at all, keeping the standard as it is, loosening the standard, and exempting certain crops.

Public comments on the scope of the review are being accepted through April 18. Comments should be submitted via www.regulations.gov using docket number FDA-2011-N-0921

Winter Temperature Record
And it is not for record cold.

California just posted its warmest winter in 119 years of record keeping, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Temperatures in many Midwestern states ranked in the top 10 coldest. Arizona, California, and New Mexico each had their third-driest winter.

California Drought
What lessons does Australia’s decade of drought in the 2000s hold for leaders in California today, where a pernicious dry cycle, now in its third year, has taken hold? A panel of international water experts, moderated by Circle of Blue journalists, will respond to that question during an interactive conference call tomorrow, March 18. The panel (free registration) will address food production, water markets, desalination, and policy shifts.

Colorado River Pulse Flow
On March 23, water managers in the Colorado River basin will create a flood. They will open the gates on the river’s dams to send a one-time rush of water into the Colorado’s parched delta in hopes of reviving the marshes and wetlands that thrived there decades ago. The event, called a pulse flow, fulfills an agreement signed between Mexico and the United States in November 2012.

Mercury in Fish
The U.S. Geological Survey published the most comprehensive study to date of mercury levels in fish in western national parks.

The survey tested 1,400 fish from 21 national parks in the Western U.S. and found a wide range of mercury contamination, both within and between parks. Only 4 percent of sampled fish had mercury concentrations above the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for human consumption, and only 5 percent of the samples exceeded standards set for fish health. However, regional patterns varied. In Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park, some 49 percent of samples were above the fish-health standard.

Mercury is toxic to humans and wildlife above certain levels. It is a mining byproduct, it is belched into the air during volcanic eruptions, and it is found in some power plant emissions. Airborne particles can travel thousands of miles before being absorbed by water.

Flood Insurance Reform Drowns In Congress
Chastened by homeowners who saw their premiums spike, Congress reversed many of the changes it made just two years ago to federal flood insurance program. The bill, which President Obama is expected to sign, lifts the large rate increases for the riskiest policies and places an 18 percent cap on annual premium increases. The National Flood Insurance Program is $US 24 billion in debt, thanks largely to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

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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