Federal Water Tap, September 29: New List of Water Contaminants Coming Soon from the EPA

Last month, the White House office that oversees new regulations completed its review of a list of water contaminants that could be subjected to federal regulation.

On August 27, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs returned the list to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will make it public later this year, according to agency spokesman Robert Daguillard.

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the EPA to publish and periodically update a list of contaminants that occur in drinking water and could be regulated. From that list, the EPA must issue a “regulatory determination” for at least five contaminants, meaning that the agency must state publically whether it will regulate them. This the fourth update to the list.

But the EPA still needs to make a regulatory determination based on the third update, which came out in 2009. Those decisions – a yes or no on setting limits in drinking water for at least five contaminants – will be published soon, Daguillard said.

“EPA will be publishing preliminary determinations on whether or not to regulate contaminants from the third Contaminant Candidate List (CCL 3) this fall,” Daguillard told Circle of Blue. “We will be seeking public comment on those preliminary determinations prior to making final decisions. Our plan is to publish the draft of the fourth Contaminant Candidate List after we have published the preliminary determinations for CCL 3 contaminants.”

How Much Water Do Power Plants Use?
Every five years the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the amount of water withdrawn from rivers, lakes, aquifer, and oceans. But how accurate are these figures? New research from the USGS suggests large discrepancies in the reported numbers for power plants.

Using a model that accounts for water-use based on a plant’s heat and electrical output, USGS researchers found that total water withdrawals from the nation’s 1,290 water-using power plants were 24 percent less than figures published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Self-reported by the power plants, the EIA figures are used in the USGS water-use reports that are published every five years.

However, the headline number for national power plant water use might be less important than the method used to derive it, according to Timothy Diehl, the lead author of the heat-budget model report. Power plant water use affects a watershed or a state more than the country as a whole, Diehl explained. And those self-reported figures appear to be off.

“It’s important to have an independent estimate to see if the reported measurements are in the ballpark,” Diehl told Circle of Blue. “Enough are not in the ballpark to make it worth doing.”

The latest report on water use in the United States, assessing the year 2010, will be published in November. That report will use the figures that were self-reported by the power plants, not the heat-budget numbers, Diehl said.

Florida-Georgia Water Lawsuit
The U.S. Supreme Court should not take up Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia over a shared river basin until the Army Corps of Engineers finishes writing new water-use rules. That is the conclusion reached by the lawyer who represents the U.S. government in cases before the nation’s highest court.

Florida filed the lawsuit earlier this year, claiming that Georgia is taking more than its share of water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, a dispute that has simmered for more than two decades.

Great Lakes
The Obama administration initiative to clean up the Great Lakes has a new five-year plan. Four areas, each made a priority at the initiative’s start in 2010, will be emphasized: 1) removing toxic contaminants from heavily polluted areas, 2) preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species, 3) reducing nutrient pollution from farms and cities that contributes to algae blooms, and 4) restoring fish and bird habitat.

Funding, however, has fallen short of initial expectations. Congress approved $US 475 million for the plan in 2010. By this year, appropriations had slipped to $US 300 million.

Water Quality Standards for Agriculture
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing new standards for the microbial content of irrigation water used to grow fruits and vegetables. First proposed in January 2013, the standards have been held up by concerns that they are too burdensome.

The presence of E. coli will be used as a proxy for microbial contamination, and the FDA will use the EPA’s standards for recreational waters – those used for swimming. The rules also require that irrigation water be regularly tested. If tests show E. coli in excess of the standard, farmers must stop using that water source, inspect their water-delivery system, and retest; or, they may treat the water.

Public comments are being accepted through December 15 at www.regulations.gov using docket number FDA-2011-N-0921.

Earthquakes and Fossil Fuels
An increase in earthquakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico between 2001 and 2013 was caused by underground injections of polluted water from coal-bed methane production, according to U.S. Geological Survey research.

Water and Natural Gas in Pennsylvania
The commission established by Congress to manage the Susquehanna River Basin, one of the largest in the East, is expanding its definitions of oil and gas production, which will affect permits for water withdrawals.

Because of the broader definitions, more hydrocarbon development activities, including all uses on the well pad, will require permits to remove water from the basin’s rivers and creeks. The Susquehanna basin includes most of Pennsylvania, home of the Marcellus shale formation, one of the largest sources of natural gas in the United States.

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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