The biggest symbol of the climate change fight in North America is denied a permit. The EPA publishes its first national report on wetland health. The Senate votes against Clean Water rule. Mexico and the United States sign a water deal. The EPA’s internal watchdog is expanding an investigation of the Gold King mine spill. Permitting decisions for two Colorado dam projects are delayed. Salton Sea wetlands restoration begins. Power plant water pollution rules go into effect in January.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting.” — President Barack Obama speaking about why he rejected a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
By the Numbers
$US 314 million: Grants and loans to rural communities for water and wastewater infrastructure. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
$US 30 million: Funding in fiscal year 2016 to reduce agricultural water pollution in the Mississippi River Basin (Natural Resources Conservation Service)
$US 4 million: Funding for four research institutes or universities to study how drought affects water quality. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
Reports and Studies
National Wetlands Report
Forty-eight percent of the wetlands in the United States are in “good” condition, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s first national report on the health of the country’s wetlands.
Wetlands in the West — one of four regions that were assessed — are in the worst condition, with only 21 percent rated as “good.” Researchers evaluated biological, chemical, and physical stresses for wetlands in 1,179 sites. They found that biggest stressors nationally were the removal of vegetation and the hardening of nearby surfaces, such as paving or compacting the land.
Wildfire and Watersheds
Soil erosion may double by 2050 in one-quarter of the watersheds in the American West because of an increase in forest fires, according to U.S. Geological Survey research. Too much sediment in rivers harms fish, clogs reservoirs, and can muck up drinking water supplies. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, in Baltimore.
Obama Rejects Keystone XL
Arguing that, for various reasons, another pipeline from Canada’s tar sands was not in the national interest, President Obama denied a permit for the northern section of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Gas prices are already low, Obama said, and other investments would provide more jobs. Above all, he argued, the United States must take the lead in a global response to climate change and approving another conduit for one of the dirtiest sources of fossil fuel would not set a good example.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama said. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting.”
Senate Votes Against Clean Water Rule
After failing to pass a bill that would roll back the Obama administration’s new rule that defines the scope of the Clean Water Act, the Senate approved a resolution with the same goal. The White House said it would veto the measure.
U.S. and Mexico Sign Water Deal
The commission that administers water treaties between Mexico and the United States signed an agreement to address sediment and trash in the Tijuana River Basin, which spans the border. Called Minute 320, the agreement establishes a binational advisory group that will recommend measures to improve water quality in the basin.
President Obama Submits Ecosystem Restoration Policy
Certain federal agencies must strengthen policies to avoid and minimize environmental damage from development projects or compensate for the loss of natural habitat, according to a policy memorandum from President Obama.
The policy applies to the Department of Defense, Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
EPA Fracking Report
Members of the EPA’s science advisory committee are questioning how the agency worded its June 2015 report on fracking and drinking water, according to EnergyWire.
The report stated that fracking had no “widespread, systemic” consequences for drinking water supplies.
“There’s agreement the sentence needs to be modified,” David Dzombak, a Carnegie Mellon University professor chairing the EPA scientific advisory panel that is peer reviewing the report, told EnergyWire. “The sentence is ambiguous and requires clarification.”
Salton Sea Restoration
Local, state, and federal agencies broke ground on a wetlands restoration project for the Salton Sea, a looming environmental and health disaster near Palm Springs, California. The inland sea, really a lake fed by salty farm drainage, is shrinking and exposing toxic dust to the wind.
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) lauded the project in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Imagine a Salton Sea that hosts the largest renewable energy industrial park in the Nation, creating jobs in southern California, while preserving wildlife habitat and preventing the noxious dust our children may breathe. Imagine a Salton Sea that, once again, attracts
tourists from throughout the globe,” Ruiz said.
On the Radar
Power Plant Water Pollution Rules
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published in the Federal Register its new standards for reducing the discharge into waterbodies of arsenic, selenium, mercury, and other pollutants from power plants. Publication in the Federal Register begins the 60-day countdown until the rule goes into effect, on January 4, 2016.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is delaying a final decision on whether to issue Clean Water Act permits for two reservoir projects in Colorado. Both the Moffat Collection System and the Windy Gap Firming Project will divert water from the Colorado River Basin across the Continental Divide to cities on the Front Range. The permit decisions will be made in 2016.
Gold King Mine Investigation
The EPA’s Office of the Inspector General will broaden its investigation of the wastewater spill that happened August 5 at Gold King mine in southwestern Colorado. The letter addressed to officials in EPA Region 8 lists 14 areas of inquiry, including the expertise of the contractors working at the mine, legal requirements for notifying downstream parties of a toxic spill, and whether delays in notification resulted in any health problems.
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