Two western senators offer a bill to secure forested watersheds. The House approves a California drought bill and gets a prompt veto threat from the White House. The world’s glaciers continued to melt last year, while the U.S. government is banking on Nepal’s hydropower sector. Los Angeles takes another step toward reviving its eponymous river. And salmon protection on the Klamath River gets an environmental review.
“Sen. Heinrich and I have toured the forests of Eastern Arizona and have seen the success of forest restoration efforts in reducing fire risks, protecting communities and safeguarding our water quality. I am pleased to introduce this legislation to allow similar collaborative projects throughout other watersheds.” — Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), on the bipartisan watershed protection bill introduced in the Senate. Heinrich, a cosponsor, is a New Mexico Democrat.
By the Numbers
$US 9.8 million: Amount invested, over five years, in the Nepal Hydropower Development Project, an initiative to boost the use of rivers as electricity generators and to encourage private sector investment. (U.S. Agency for International Development)
$US 1.3 billion: Cost of Los Angeles River restoration plan that was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ review board. The project still needs top-level approval from the corps and Congress to authorize and allocate funding. (KCET)
853 millimeters: depth of water, on average and spread across the entire surface area, that melted in 2014 from 37 glaciers with long-term monitoring records. It represents the fifth-highest annual melt since 1980. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Reports and Studies
White House Drought Symposium
On July 15, the Obama administration brought together federal officials, trade groups, business representatives, academics, lawyers, and environmental advocates for a drought symposium. The topics of the day were data, investment, and planning for more resilient water systems. Here are links to the agenda and the participant list.
EPA Fracking Oversight
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a report from its internal watchdog, should strengthen the regulation of two aspects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. EPA should improve oversight of permitting the use of diesel fuels in fracking because the agency has not determined whether states and tribes are following federal guidelines.
In a weaker recommendation, the Office of the Inspector General said that EPA should acknowledge public concern over chemicals used in fracking. The agency should respond, the report asserted, by preparing a plan for deciding whether to require chemical disclosures. In other words, plan to write a plan.
EPA is taking steps to address the criticism, the report concluded.
State of Climate 2014
The Earth broke all sorts of temperature records in 2014, according to an annual review compiled by NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate. Last year was confirmed as the hottest on record. Sea surface temperatures were the highest ever measured, as were sea levels and the heat held in the upper layers of the world’s oceans.
Stream Protection Rule
Coal mining regulators released a draft rule for protecting streams from being buried or polluted by mining waste. The 1,238-page Stream Protection Rule puts in place stronger provisions for monitoring water pollution before, during, and after mining. The rule, however, is less strict than it could have been. The Charleston Gazette notes that it does not include a “buffer zone” requirement in which mining activities would be banned within 30 meters (100 feet) of streams.
Drought Bill Passes House and Earns an Obama Veto Threat
As expected, the Republican-led House passed, in a party line 245-176 vote, HR 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act, a bill related to the California drought and is primarily a vehicle for sending more water to farm districts in the Central Valley. The bill would repeal protections for the San Joaquin River that Congress passed in 2009 and sets minimum water allocation standards from federal water projects.
The White House responded with a veto threat, arguing that the bill complicates drought relief by setting standards for operating the state and federal canal systems that are incompatible with laws such as the Endangered Species Act.
Other provisions, such as the repeal of the San Joaquin settlement, have “little connection to the ongoing drought,” the administration asserted.
Watershed Protection Legislation
A Republican from Arizona and a Democrat from New Mexico introduced a bill to guard the nation’s forests against destructive fires that foul water supplies. The Restoring America’s Watersheds Act would establish a program within the U.S. Forest Service that will provide matching funds for collaborative restoration projects in forests that are key sources of drinking water for communities downstream.
On the Radar
The Bureau of Reclamation will prepare an environmental review of a plan to protect salmon runs on the lower Klamath River in California. The plan aims to increase river flows in the summer by releasing water from Trinity Reservoir. Higher flows will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks and mass fish deaths, which occurred in 2002.
Comments on the scope of the study should be sent by August 20 to sha-slo-klamath-LTP@usbr.gov.
Uranium Mining Hearing
For four days beginning on August 24, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hear objections to the relicensing of a uranium mine in Nebraska. The nuclear regulators assert that the mine has minimal effect on surface waters and poses no risk to drinking water aquifers. The Oglala Sioux, an Indian tribe whose reservation is just across the border, in South Dakota, argue that there is the potential for groundwater contamination and that a broader analysis is necessary.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton