Federal Water Tap, January 5: Yucca Mountain Lacks Necessary Water Rights

The Rundown

The Interior secretary talks about local fracking bans. Yucca Mountain needs water rights while Vermont Yankee nuclear plant shuts down. Water disputes accumulate on the Supreme Court docket. A Keystone XL hearing kicks off the 114th Congress. Environmental reviews begin for invasive species in the Great Lakes and an Arizona copper mine.

“I would say that is the wrong way to go. I think it’s going to be very difficult for industry to figure out what the rules are if different counties have different rules.” — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell talking with San Francisco radio station KQED about local bans on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas and oil.

By the Numbers

$US 6 million: funding for 50 studies to assess the consequences of a warming planet for society and ecology (U.S. Interior Department)
$US 200 million: amount Fort Smith, Arkansas, will spend over the next 12 years to upgrade its sewer system, according to an agreement with federal authorities that stems from Clean Water Act violations (U.S. Justice Department)

Reports and Studies

Yucca Mountain
The Department of Energy has not acquired the water rights necessary for the construction and operation of a nuclear waste storage facility planned for Nevada, according to federal regulators. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 181-page safety report assesses whether the proposed Yucca Mountain storage site meets federal regulations.

The NRC also approved of the Department of Energy’s choice of technology to prevent groundwater from being contaminated by the radioactive waste. The report is the fourth of five NRC reports evaluating the DOE’s licensing application and the safety of Yucca Mountain, which has been debated as an underground storage site for nearly three decades. The fifth and final report will be published this month, according to the NRC.

News Briefs

Nuclear Decommissioning
No groundwater cleanup will be necessary during the 60-year, $US 1.2 billion decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, according to a 218-page document filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The document was submitted by Entergy, the operator that is shutting down the 42-year-old plant.

Interstate Water Lawsuit
A special master ruled largely in favor of Wyoming in a legal dispute with Montana over water from the Tongue River. Montana claimed that Wyoming diverted more water from the river than it was entitled to.

Appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the evidence, Barton Thompson, a Stanford law professor, determined that in two of the nine years in question, Wyoming exceeded its water rights. The amounts at stake are miniscule: 1,464 acre-feet in 2004 and 62 acre-feet in 2006 — less water than a large farm would use in a year.

The case began in 2007 when Montana sued Wyoming over water use in two tributaries of the Yellowstone River. Oral arguments before the court, which is not required to follow the special master’s recommendations, could occur in 2015.

On the Radar

Keystone XL Hearing
Senate Republicans will begin their control of Congress with a hearing on a beloved topic. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will discuss the Keystone XL pipeline on January 7.

U.S. Supreme Court
In addition to Montana v. Wyoming, three other disputes between states over shared rivers are moving through the nation’s highest court. The justices have appointed special masters to hear arguments and offer legal guidance in two cases: Florida against Georgia, and Texas versus New Mexico. A third case, between Kansas and Nebraska, was argued before the court last October. A ruling will likely come in 2015.

Arizona Copper Mine
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will conduct an environmental review of a copper mine proposed for southeast Arizona. Constructing the open-pit mine will cause approximately 90 acres of stream bed or wetlands to be filled in. Comments on the scope of the review should be sent by February 20 to michael.w.langley@usace.army.mil with the subject line “Lone Star Ore Body Development Project.”

Great Lakes Invasive Species
An underwater electric fence, specialized locks, and changes to river management plans are a few of the strategies proposed for preventing invasive species from moving between the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers will evaluate these strategies for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, Illinois. Comments on the scope of the environmental review should be submitted by January 30 via http://glmris.anl.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.

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