Federal Water Tap, November 10: U.S. Supreme Court Steps into Florida-Georgia Water Dispute

The Rundown

Florida and Georgia will meet in the U.S. Supreme Court. Georgia files a separate water lawsuit against federal dam managers. The nation’s water withdrawals continue to drop, while Arkansas’s groundwater withdrawals rise. A new water data website tracks river flows in two countries. The U.S. Justice Department levies a Clean Water Act fine. A water experiment begins in the Everglades.

“The U.S. Geological Survey collects almost no data for the report because we don’t have the regulatory authority. The data are collected by other agencies and we compile it.” — Joan Kenney, U.S. Geological Survey, referring to the survey’s report on the nation’s water use.

By the Numbers

13 percent: Decrease in water withdrawals in the United States from 2005 to 2010 (USGS)

774 percent: Increase in groundwater use in Arkansas between 1960 and 2010 (USGS)

Reports and Studies

Arkansas Aquifers
Groundwater is the one of Arkansas’s most important natural resources, yet the state’s farmers are using twice as much groundwater as is sustainable, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report. Irrigation accounts for 94 percent of the state’s groundwater withdrawals, most of which come from farms in the Mississippi River Valley.

U.S. Water Withdrawals
The United States is pulling less water out of rivers, lakes, and aquifers than any period in the last four decades, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Freshwater withdrawals dropped 12.3 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to the report, which is published every five years.

Withdrawals dropped for electric power generation, farming, municipal supply, and industrial use. The only increases were for mining and fish farming. The 39 percent increase in the mining category is most likely because of a change in methodology, according to Joan Kenney, who helped compile the report. Kenney told Circle of Blue that the mining increase did not capture the increase in water used for hydraulic fracturing, an oil and gas production technique which spread widely after 2010.

News Briefs

Lawsuits: Florida v. Georgia
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia over the amount of freshwater flowing into the Apalachicola Bay, an estuary on the Gulf of Mexico. No court date has been set yet. Florida alleges that Georgia’s water use is harming the bay’s ecosystem and the state’s oyster industry. For more than two decades the two states, along with Alabama, have tussled in court over the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.

Lawsuits: Georgia v. Army Corps
Georgia is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over a river basin shared with Alabama. Georgia wants the federal agency that manages five of the nine major dams in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin to decide whether the state can use a reservoir in Georgia for additional water supply.

Water Data
Real-time data on river flows in both Canada and the United States are available now from a single website, a helpful feature for states and provinces along the border.

A small-scale experiment to mimic the natural flow of water through the Everglades began last week outside of Miami. Results from the test will inform scientists and water managers who are leading a multibillion-dollar initiative to revive the degraded wetland ecosystem in South Florida by repairing aquatic habitat and improving water storage capacity.

Oil Spill Fine
A Texas oil-trading company will pay a civil fine of $US 1.6 million for violating the Clean Water Act. In February 2010, some 262,330 liters (69,300 gallons) of oil spilled from two storage tanks near the Texas Gulf Coast owned by Superior Crude Gathering. The oil flowed into wetlands and a lake on the property, according to court documents. The fine will be paid into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, used to help pay for spill cleanup.

On the Radar

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release national irrigation data on November 13. The Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey is published every five years as part of the Census of Agriculture, which came out in May.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will prepare an environmental review of a liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for the Maine coast. Comments on the scope of the review for the Downeast LNG Import-Export project are due December 1. Submit them at www.ferc.gov referencing docket number PF14-19-000.

Water Projects
Proposals from local governments for water infrastructure projects that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should consider for further study are due December 3. Submitted projects could make the list that Congress will use to allocate federal funds.

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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