Federal Water Tap, August 17: Animas River Mining Spill Prompts Legislative Proposal

The Rundown

A New Mexico senator wants to institute royalties for hardrock mining. President Obama signs algae legislation. Clean Power Plan will deliver water benefits. Nuclear regulators release Yucca Mountain groundwater report. The EPA considers easing the path for Indian tribes to administer Clean Water Act standards. National Science Foundation gives out water-energy-food research grants. The National Park Service squares off against the bottled water industry.

“What it shows is that the existing policy doesn’t work. For 143 years, since the 1872 Mining Act was passed, we’ve been giving away federal minerals with no royalties being returned to the American people. What that means to communities like Farmington or the Navajo Nation or any of the communities along the Animas is that there is no dedicated funding stream to make sure these mines get cleaned up.” — Sen. Mark Heinrich (D-NM) talking about the spill of mining waste on the Animas River. Heinrich will introduce legislation in September to establish royalty payments for mining on federal land. Oil and gas leases on federal land require royalty payments, but mining does not.The funds will be used to clean up mine sites.

By the Numbers

$US 7.6 million: Grants approved this year for workshops and research into the connections between water, food, and energy. (National Science Foundation)
8 percent: Growth in installed wind power capacity in the United States in 2014. (Department of Energy)

Reports and Studies

Gold King Mine Spill Update
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visited Durango, Colorado on Wednesday, to speak with state and local officials about the response to the agency’s accidental spill of mine waste. She then traveled to Farmington, New Mexico, for another round of meetings to discuss the accident.

The EPA said it was providing water to Montezuma Creek, a community on the Navajo Nation that had only two days of backup supply. Navajo leaders vowed to sue the agency over the spill.

“EPA is an agency whose core mission is ensuring a clean environment and protecting public health, so it pains me to see this happening. But we are working tirelessly to respond and have committed to a full review of exactly what happened to ensure it cannot happen again,” McCarthy said, speaking in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Water quality data and official statements are being posted on the EPA’S Gold King site.

Yucca Mountain Groundwater Study
The potential harm from contaminated groundwater at a nuclear waste storage facility proposed for Nevada would be small, according to a draft report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The report found that the risk to local aquifers, people, and ecology from radioactive material stored at Yucca Mountain, a facility first proposed more than 30 years ago, is small because the radiation exposure would be a tiny fraction of the background radiation in the area.

News Briefs

Water Wins in Clean Power Plan
The Obama administration’s plan to cut carbon emissions will yield significant benefits for water, according to researchers interviewed by Circle of Blue. No statistical analysis of the plan’s effect on water has been done, but in general the transition to low-carbon energy will result in less water withdrawn from rivers, less water consumption, and less mercury pollution.

Algae Bill Signed
President Obama signed the Drinking Water Protection Act, a bill sponsored by Ohio Republicans that requires the EPA to prepare a plan for assessing and managing the risks to drinking water from toxic algae.

Clean Water Act Authority for Indian Tribes
The EPA is proposing to make the application process simpler for Indian tribes that want to claim authority to regulate water quality on tribal lands, just as states have the authority to do. The changes would not alter any regulatory requirements. Rather, they eliminate some of the legal hoops for a tribe.

Public comments on the proposal are being accepted through October 6 and can be emailed to ow-docket@epa.gov with the subject line EPA-HQ-OW-2014-0461.

Bottled Water in National Parks
The National Park Service said that even if Congress cuts funding to install water-bottle refilling stations, it is confident that booster groups or companies that run the concession stands will come up with money, the Washington Post reports. The park service is attempting to reduce litter in the parks by cutting out bottled water sales. That policy angered industry groups, which have lobbied for funding cuts.

Water Infrastructure Fund Oversight
The EPA Office of the Inspector General will begin an audit of the agency’s oversight of clean water spending by the states. The EPA conducts annual reviews of the money spent by the states through the Clean Water Revolving Fund, which is seeded with federal and state money. The audit will ensure that the EPA reviews are rigorous enough.

Colorado Wildlife Refuge Plan
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service released its final plan for managing three wildlife refuges in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, home to important sandhill crane and migratory bird habitat. The agency will restore riverside corridors and redesign waterways to mimic historical flow patterns.

On the Radar

Water Management in a Changing Climate
A workgroup representing more than a dozen federal agencies involved in water management will hold a public webinar to discuss how the agencies should change their practices in response to a warming climate. The webinar will be held on September 9 and sign up details are in the link above.

Lake Tahoe Algae Study
The U.S. Geological Survey will study the cause of an increase in algae in Lake Tahoe, a large lake on the California-Nevada border.

Great Salt Lake Data
The EPA is looking for data on mercury in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, to assess whether the well-known waterbody should be listed as “impaired.” Data can be sent to bunch.william@epa.gov.

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.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply