Despite a request for termination from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog will continue investigating how well state and federal agencies are managing threats to water from hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique that has catalyzed America’s energy renaissance while raising questions about pollution of groundwater and streams.
In a letter, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins reminded the senator that neither Congress nor the EPA is allowed to interfere with the inspector’s work. Elkins asserted that he found enough evidence that the investigation was worthy.
“In the end, I have to make a judgment call on whether a matter is within the purview of this office and if there is value in the work we would be doing to pursue it,” Elkins wrote. “Here, after considering all outside viewpoints presented to me, and the results of preliminary staff work, I have concluded that we will proceed with the review.”
The Office of the Inspector General began its investigation in February. The EPA is nearing the end of its own study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on drinking water supplies.
Private Companies Can Now Tap Subsidized Water Loans
Under a rules change that took place October 1, private companies are now allowed to use federal low-interest loans to finance water recycling systems at their facilities.
Signed in June 2014, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act authorized $US 12.3 billion for river navigation, harbor improvements, and coastal restoration projects. The bill also allows private companies for the first time to tap into loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to pay for recycled water projects. The revolving fund is a pot of money given to states to loan out at reduced interest rates. Until now, the funds were available only to public utilities. The WateReuse Association, an trade group, has published a white paper on the changes.
U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics on farm irrigation practices will be released November 13, department spokesman Donald Buysse told Circle of Blue. Released every five years, the survey is the most complete source of U.S. irrigation data – statistics on the amount of water used, water sources, yields of irrigated crops, and types of irrigation system used.
Great Lakes Water Levels
Are you an urban planner, Michigan dock owner, or map fiend? Ever wonder what a six-foot rise in Lake Michigan looks like? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a dynamic map that shows foot by foot the shoreline inundated along the Great Lakes as lake levels rise by six feet. The tool also shows the opposite: a six-foot water recession.
Corn for Cars
The amount of corn used to produce ethanol has been flat since 2011, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. A decrease in gasoline consumption and a limit on the amount of ethanol that can be blended into fuels are the reason; some 39 percent of the U.S. corn crop is used for ethanol. A record corn harvest is forecasted for 2014.
Money for Rural Water
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $US 175 million in loans and $US 165 in grants for drinking water and sewer projects in rural communities. The department also announced $US 12 million in grants for similar projects in Alaskan villages.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton