Federal Water Tap, August 24: Lake Mead Rises While California’s Central Valley Sinks

The Rundown

Wet spring boosts Lake Mead above shortage levels. Groundwater pumping causes parts of the Central Valley to sink. Scientists find low levels of insecticides in streams. An investigation of the EPA’s mining spill in Colorado begins while the EPA mulls new industrial water pollution standards. The White House issues a summary of its drought symposium, and conservation groups offer recommended federal responses.

“The occurrence of low levels in streams throughout the year supports the need for future research on the potential impacts of neonicotinoids on aquatic life and terrestrial animals that rely on aquatic life. These results will serve as an important baseline for that future work.” — USGS scientist Kathryn Kuivila, on a study showing that neonicotinoids, an insecticide that is harmful to bees, showed up at in more than half of streams sampled.

By the Numbers

13 inches: Distance the land near Corcoran, California, sunk in eight months in 2014, according to satellite data. So much groundwater has been pumped in California’s Central Valley because of the drought that the land is collapsing, a process called subsidence. (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
$US 5.2 million: Drought grants for 23 projects in the American West. (Bureau of Reclamation)

Reports and Studies

No Colorado River Basin Shortage in 2016
Thanks to a wetter than average spring, water levels in Lake Mead will be high enough in 2016 to avoid a first-ever restrictions for Arizona, California, and Nevada, according to Bureau of Reclamation projections. The study, a 24-month forecast, shows the bellwether reservoir yo-yoing above and below the shortage trigger of 1,075 feet in elevation for the next two years. Restrictions, however, are based on the projected January elevation in the August study.

Gold King Spill Investigation
The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog announced that its will investigate the causes of the accidental spill of mining waste in southwest Colorado as well as the agency’s response.

News Briefs

Industrial Effluent Rules
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its plan for updating federal pollution standards for industrial wastewater discharges.

According to William Swietlik, of the EPA’s Office of Water, the plan looks both backward and forward: backward at recent scientific analyses, to determine if pollution guidelines should be strengthened or established; and forward at what new industries might need to be reviewed.

The agency will review discharge standards for the metal finishing industry and manufacturers of pesticide chemicals. The agency will continue to study two aspects of the oil and gas industry, to determine if new pollution standards are required: treatment plants that accept oil and gas wastewater and petroleum refining facilities.

Drought Symposium Recap
The White House completed a summary of key ideas gleaned from a drought symposium on July 15 that was co-hosted with the National Drought Resilience Partnership, a forum for improving local response to drought. The ideas include:

  • Better coordination of federal water programs, which are scattered across agencies
  • More monitoring and data collection
  • Investment in water infrastructure, to prepare for 21st-century challenges, as well as exploring new ways of financing the projects such as through tax breaks or private funds
  • Focus federal dollars on projects that produce benefits for multiple sectors: ecosystems, farms, cities, industries
  • Facilitate watershed planning at the basin level by bringing together all interested parties
  • Encourage water marketing, to move water where it is most needed

Following the symposium, a trio of conservation groups issued a list of policy changes that federal agencies could make to better response to water scarcity. Most of the recommendations do not require approval from Congress.

Texas v. New Mexico
The lawyer appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to oversee Texas’s lawsuit against New Mexico over the Rio Grande held two hearings last week, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports. New Mexico petitioned the court to dismiss the case, and a New Mexico irrigation district sought a stronger legal position in the lawsuit. No rulings were made.

Drought Grants
The Bureau of Reclamation announced $US 5.2 million in grants to building projects that increase resiliency and to plan for such projects. The project grants went to 12 recipients in six states. Projects include a drought warning system in Texas, water quality monitoring in Lake Mead, and increasing the storage capacity of a small dam on the Tule River Indian tribe’s reservation, in California.

Planning grants were awarded to 11 recipients in seven states.

On the Radar

California Drought Forum
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) will bring together technology leaders, researchers, and government officials for a two-hour forum on August 25, in Stockton, California. It is open to the public.

Hydraulic Fracturing Analysis
The deadline to comment on the EPA’s draft assessment of hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources is August 28. Comments can be emailed to Docket_OEI@epa.gov with the subject line EPA-HQ-OA-2015-0245.

Clean Water Rule
The rule that defines which waterbodies are covered by the Clean Water Act goes into effect on August 28.

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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