Federal Water Tap, October 6: EPA Regulations Provide Inadequate Protection against Hazardous Chemicals in Waterways

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations are insufficient for guarding against pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, and other hazardous chemicals being put into waterways from sewage treatment plants, according to an investigation by the agency’s internal watchdog.

Hazardous chemicals come under two sets of regulations. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) applies to most circumstances, and the act outlines how chemicals should be handled, transported, and disposed. However, an exception is when hazardous chemicals are sent to sewage treatment plants. At that point, they are regulated by the Clean Water Act (CWA), which covers fewer pollutants.

The EPA has not updated its list of 126 priority pollutants for the CWA since 1981. The Office of the Inspector General’s investigation found 300 chemicals regulated by the RCRA but not the CWA. Federal pollution permits for sewage plants tend to include only pollutants on the CWA list.

Several other factors contribute to the regulatory problem. Sewage treatment plants have few requirements to monitor the chemicals in their waste stream. Toxicity tests are not required for all plants, and even when they are, poor communication between agency departments means that enforcement of the rules does not occur as often as it should.

California Water Funds
California will get an additional $US 183 million in federal money to repair sewer lines, expand water treatment plants, and reuse water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced.

The money will be distributed to local water agencies through California’s state revolving fund, a low-interest loan program. Projects ready to start construction by June 2015 will be eligible, Kathie Smith, state water board spokeswoman, told Circle of Blue.

California Water Transfers
The Bureau of Reclamation proposes allowing a full suite of five options for transferring water in federal and state canals between sellers in northern California to buyers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, according to a draft environmental review.

Those options include: 1) pumping groundwater and selling the supply from reservoirs; 2) purchasing extra water held in a reservoir; 3) not growing crops and selling the water instead; 4) growing crops that use less water and selling the remainder; 5) conserving water on the farm by other means

California Climate Change
California’s Central Valley, the nation’s leading farm region for fruits, vegetables, and nuts, will be warmer and, in certain areas, drier as the world emits more heat-trapping gases, according to a Bureau of Reclamation assessment.

Temperatures will increase by slightly less than 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century, but areas farther from the climate-moderating Pacific Ocean will see larger increases. Precipitation changes depend on location – slight overall increases in the northern Sacramento Valley and decreases of as much as 10 percent in the southern Tulare Lake basin. Water availability will decrease as more precipitation falls in the winter as rain rather than snow, a natural reservoir.

Threatened Species
Water scarcity and mankind’s manipulation of river flows prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the yellow-billed cuckoo as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The listing applies to the segment of the species that lives west of the Continental Divide and west of the Pecos River watershed, in New Mexico and Texas. The management plans that emerge from the listing may affect how water supply projects are operated in these states.

EPA and Algae
The EPA plans to issue by May 2015 its first informal health guides for a toxic form of algae that has choked Lake Erie recently, Bloomberg BNA reports. So-called “health advisories” are not standards or regulations; rather, they provide the best available information on illnesses and diseases that can result from exposure.

Water Systems Breaking the Law
The EPA’s internal watchdog is beginning an investigation of small drinking water systems that are in violation of federal contamination standards. The Office of the Inspector General wants to know what the agency is doing to help these systems comply with the law.

Transmission Line
The Department of Energy approved a 1,000-megawatt transmission line that will carry hydropower from Quebec to markets in the northeastern United States. The high-voltage line will primarily be buried in the beds of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.

Small Businesses
A center for water technology innovation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin will receive $US 500,000 from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help mom-and-pop water-tech outfits grow their businesses.

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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