California drought bill targets fish, water operations, and storage. NOAA releases nutrient pollution forecasts for Lake Erie and Chesapeake Bay. A new data tool hopes to reduce the risk of dam failure. EPA report looks at the financial costs and benefits of climate action while issuing new regulations for underground storage tanks. NOAA announces a new drought research center.
“This situation demands congressional action to tackle the man-made barriers that are needlessly choking off water supplies crucial not just for California jobs but for the food on American tables.” — Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) supporting, in a statement, the drought bill introduced by House Republicans from California.
By the Numbers
$US 2.4 million: Three-year grant to establish the Drought Risk Management Research Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
$US 150 million: Federal money for California, to improve forest health, reduce fire risk, improve agricultural irrigation efficiency, and provide drinking water for rural communities. (National Resources Conservation Service)
Reports and Studies
EPA Cost of Climate Change
The cost of flood damage in the United States will be highest in the eastern states and in Texas, and future droughts will be most severe in the Southwest, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analysis of the financial damages from climate change. The analysis looked at two climate models, one projecting wetter future conditions and the other, drier conditions.
In addition to water resources, the agency analyzed numerous other sectors: ecosystems, electricity, health, agriculture, and infrastructure, which all, needless to say, are affected by changes in water availability.
Pigs, Wetlands, and Water Pollution
Water pollution from hog operations in eastern North Carolina was lower in basins with more wetlands, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Researchers also found that spreading manure on land, a common practice for discarding hog waste, changed the chemistry of many streams in the study, adding salts and nitrates.
California Drought Bill
A congressman representing California’s San Joaquin Valley introduced in the House the latest bill to address drought conditions in the American West, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015.
The bill from Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) focuses almost exclusively on California. The main provisions emphasize fish, reservoir operations, and water storage. The bill requires a scientific review of the two endangered fish species — salmon and smelt — that constrain the export of water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, to Central Valley farms and Southern California cities.
Earlier this month, a Senate committee discussed drought legislation. The committee chair, Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, concluded that a broad, western-wide drought bill was needed.
Lake Erie Algae — Getting Worse
The latest forecast for Lake Erie’s summer algae bloom predicts a more severe outbreak than a previous assessment. Heavy rainstorms in the past few weeks flushed more nutrients into the lake’s shallow, algae-friendly western basin than the season’s first forecast accounted for.
Chesapeake Bay Dead Zone Forecast
The size of the low-oxygen, fish-killing “dead zone” in Chesapeake Bay is expected to be 10 percent below the 65-year average, according to a NOAA forecast. The dead zone, which is more severe in deeper waters, is a result of nutrients entering the bay and can fluctuate with wind and weather.
Underground Storage Tank Rules
The EPA strengthened safety measures intended to keep the underground tanks that store oil, gas, and other hazardous substances from leaking into groundwater. New tanks will be required to have a second containment wall, and certain equipment must undergo additional maintenance and periodic testing, both new mandates.
On the Radar
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a revised environmental review of two reservoirs proposed for northern Colorado to serve cities near Fort Collins, north of Denver. Glade Reservoir would submerge seven miles of U.S. Highway 287. The highway would be relocated. Public comments are being accepted through August 4 and should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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