Federal Water Tap, April 13: California Water Districts Defy Federal Order for Salmon Protection

The Rundown

The Bureau of Reclamation and two California water districts settle a dispute over releasing water for fish. A rural water supply project in North Dakota is reassessed. President Obama orders federal agencies to be more efficient with water. Pipeline regulator offers safety recommendations for times of flood. A handful of species in California and Nevada may deserve Endangered Species Act protection.

“Operators at Lake Tulloch were not willing to let water pass through. Reclamation never started the releases.” — Louis Moore, Bureau of Reclamation spokesman, confirming to Circle of Blue that local irrigation districts defied a federal mandate on April 1 to release water into the Stanislaus River to benefit the migration of endangered salmon. The districts were worried about draining scarce water supplies in two reservoirs. The two sides reached an agreement on April 10 and the water releases for fish began April 11.

By the Numbers

$US 244 million: Updated construction cost of a regional water supply project in northwest North Dakota (Bureau of Reclamation)
36 percent: Reduction in potable water consumption that federal agencies must meet by 2025, according to President Obama’s executive order (White House)

Reports and Studies

North Dakota Water Project
Though claiming the risk is minimal, the Bureau of Reclamation is altering a $US 244 million rural water supply project in northwest North Dakota to assuage concerns of the Canadian province of Manitoba. The bureau will add treatment facilities to block non-native aquatic species such as quagga mussels and certain fish pathogens, according to a supplemental environmental review of the Northwest Area Water Supply Project.

The project began construction in 2002, but the government of Manitoba sued the U.S. Department of the Interior later that year to halt the project. Manitoba argued that the pipeline threatened to transfer non-native species into the Souris River Basin, which flows into Canada.

The updated review shows an expected increase in spring runoff for the Missouri River Basin as the climate warms, and the project’s effect on water levels in Lake Sakakawea, the large Missouri River reservoir that the pipeline will tap.

Water and Energy
Better data on freshwater use and availability is needed to understand the connections between the nation’s water supplies and its energy sector, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report.

News Briefs

Water Fund Oversight
The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog is beginning a review of the agency’s oversight of a loan program for sewer infrastructure. The Office of the Inspector General will evaluate how the agency’s 10 regional offices are monitoring state spending of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The inspector general will focus on Region 4, which covers the Southeast, for the audit.

Pipeline Safety Recommendations
The federal pipeline safety regulator published a list of 14 measures that it urged pipeline operators to implement to reduce the risk of ruptures in two circumstances: during floods and because of river erosion.

Measures include technical evaluations of river flows, communications plans for emergency situations, and placing essential infrastructure out of the flood zone.

On the Radar

Salmon Plan
The Bureau of Reclamation is required to submit to the California water board a temperature management plan for winter-run Chinook salmon on the Sacramento River, and prepare a plan for operating New Melones reservoir on the Stanislaus River to protect fish.

Endangered Species Petitions
Five species in California and Nevada may deserve federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal protection for other listed species has prompted significant changes in water management in Texas, Tennessee, and other states.

More detailed analysis will be conducted for the Mojave shoulderband snail, Clear Lake hitch, Relict dace, San Joaquin flower-loving fly, and Western pond turtle. Public comments on the scope of the analysis are due by June 9

Algae Bloom Detection
Four federal agencies are collaborating on a satellite-based warning system for algae blooms. The $US 3.6 million project will help researchers understand the conditions under which algae blooms form, in addition to forecasting outbreaks.

Washington Water Week
Local officials and water policy wonks are flocking to the nation’s capital this week to impress upon Congress the importance of investing in water infrastructure.

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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