Federal Water Tap, September 8: Mississippi River Basin States Fail to Set Nutrient Pollution Targets

More than five years ago, a state and federal task force charged with developing a strategy for shrinking the low-oxygen dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico called on the 12 member states to produce plans by the end of 2013 for addressing the root cause: too much fertilizer flowing from farm fields into rivers; or, to put it crudely, streams loaded with plant steroids.

Yet many of the states have not met the deadline for writing those plans, according to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s investigative arm. Moreover, the states do not have enforceable targets for reducing nutrient pollution and they do not have the data to monitor progress.

Only two of the 12 states had a final strategy as of February, when the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted its review. Only three states had set nutrient goals and only Minnesota set a timetable for achieving them.

The EPA agreed that better monitoring and assessment are necessary. The agency outlined a series of measures – evaluating state strategies and collecting and reporting data – that it will take. These will be published in an annual report starting in June 2015.

In its investigation, the OIG interviewed EPA regional staff and state officials in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri, which contribute nearly half of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the basin. The inspectors also interviewed federal and academic scientists and reviewed state nutrient plans.

Iraq Dams
For the second time in a month, the U.S. military is bombing militants to protect a dam in Iraq.

In August, U.S. airstrikes helped Iraqi forces retake the strategically important Mosul Dam, some 362 kilometers (225 miles) upstream of Baghdad on the Tigris River.

On Sunday, U.S. warplanes hit Islamic State fighters attempting to take control of Haditha Dam, on the Euphrates River in western Iraq, Reuters reports.

Iraq’s central government requested the attack, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters while in Tbilisi, Georgia.

San Joaquin Dam Study
The Bureau of Reclamation released the draft environmental impact statement for Temperance Flat, a new dam proposed for the southern Sierra Nevada foothills some 32 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of Fresno.

Temperance Flat would be the largest dam by capacity built in California since the late 1970s. Goals for the $US 2.6 billion dam are to increase water supplies and improve the temperature and flow of water for salmon downstream.

More water would be stored but very little will be available for farmers, the main beneficiaries. Between 61,000 acre-feet and 87,000 acre-feet of water would be available on average – an amount equal to what several large alfalfa farms use in a year. In dry years, such as 2014, less than one-half the water would be released.

Public comments are being accepted through October 21 and should be emailed to sha-mpr-usjrbsi@usbr.gov. Public meetings will be held October 14 and 16 in Sacramento and Fresno, respectively. Details here.

Crop Insurance
Federal crop insurance premiums, which cost U.S. taxpayers $US 42 billion from 2003 to 2012, could be reduced without much harm to farm profitability, according to the U.S. government’s internal watchdog.

The Government Accountability Office reckons that cutting insurance subsidies for corn by 20 percentage points in 2012 would have increased production costs per acre by 1.7 percent.

Lake Erie Algae
After an eye-opening example in August of the economic and health threats posed by toxic algae, the EPA is providing $US 12 million for water monitoring and incentive payments in the Lake Erie watershed.

In August, a perfect storm of factors – wind, location, and algae – pushed the unsightly muck into the Toledo water system, which was shut down for several days affecting more than 400,000 people.

The EPA funds will be split between state and federal agencies in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

Chesapeake Bay Hearing
During a hearing earlier today a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee considered nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and how voluntary measures can produce cleaner water.

Fracking Rules
The Interior Department’s proposed rules for fracking on federal lands are in the last stages of review. The Hill reports that the proposal has been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which reviews the costs and benefits of new regulations.

The rules require companies to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process, though they can submit the report after the job is completed.

Forest Service Groundwater
For a second time the U.S. Forest Service has extended the public comment period for its proposed new rule on groundwater management. Comments are being accepted through October 3 and can be sent to fsm2500@fs.fed.us.

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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