Federal Water Tap, April 20: 2015 Begins with Record Heat

The Rundown

The first quarter of 2015 breaks a global heat record. Lawmakers and regulators argue about water while the EPA publishes timetables for coal ash regulations. California water managers propose temporary dams to help with salinity in the state’s hydrologic choke point.

“We are going to get it over the finish line…The final rule will provide the clarity you have asked us to [provide]. We will nail it.” — EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, speaking about a rule to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act. The White House is currently viewing the rule. McCarthy was addressing the National Water Policy Forum, Fly-in and Expo, a meeting of water managers held in Washington, D.C. on April 13-15.

“We need to come together and unify, and all the stakeholders have to. And I’m not going to be a party to any move to divide our state.” — Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), criticizing the actions of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) during efforts to craft legislation in the nation’s capital to respond to the California drought. McCarthy is the House majority leader, the second most powerful House Republican, and represents a district that is one of America’s top farming regions.

By the Numbers

30 months: Time that power companies will have to implement groundwater monitoring practices when disposing of coal ash and other waste products from burning coal. The new practices are required by federal regulations that come into effect on October 14. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Reports and Studies

Record Heat
The blistering temperatures of 2014 are not relenting. The global average surface temperature for March was 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.53 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th-century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is the seventh month out of the last 11 to tie or break a global monthly temperature record.

Global temperatures for the first three months of 2015 were the warmest on record for the first quarter of a year.

In the United States, the West was hot and dry and the East was cold.

News Briefs

Stormwater Legislation
Soak up the rain. That’s the goal of a bill introduced by New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall. The Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Act provides grants for three to five stormwater research institutes. It also authorizes individual grants of up to $US 3 million each for projects to keep polluted urban runoff from reaching rivers and lakes. The bill does not specify a total amount of funding.

Water Rights Legislation
Western representatives introduced bills that reinforce state power over water rights. The pair of bills from Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) prevents the federal government from requiring businesses that lease federal land to transfer water rights as part of a lease renewal or extension. The bill is in response to recent attempts by the U.S. Forest Service to reevaluate water rights for ski areas and for groundwater use on federal land.

On the Radar

Dams in California’s Delta
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing a proposal by the California Department of Water Resources to build temporary rock dams in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the state’s hydrologic choke point.

The state argues that the dams, which would be constructed in May and removed in November, will help control salinity in the delta by funneling fresh water toward the ocean instead of allowing it to spread out within the delta. Building the dams will conserve water in upstream reservoirs that can be released later in the year. Environmental groups contend that the barriers will block fish habitat and create high-salinity zones within the delta.

Maps of the three dam sites are found here. Comments are being accepted through April 22.

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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