Federal Water Tap, May 18: Colorado River Basin Report Examines Water Solutions

The Rundown

Conservation is the talk of the Colorado River Basin, but saving water is not a cure-all. A solar power proposal in Nevada would use no water. The USDA hands out water conservation grants, while the Bureau of Reclamation offers money for drought planning. Legal charges in North Carolina coal ash spill. Alabama sues the Army Corps over a water management plan, and the House tries to block a Clean Water Act rule.

“In 2015, major cities in the most advanced nation with the largest economy in the world provide drinking water to their homes and businesses through pipes made out of wood. It is appalling and frustrating, but we can do something about it. We should start with robust and responsible funding from the federal government, increased technical support through creative partnerships, and a sharper focus on energy efficiency. We must help our communities solve the problems they have today before they become disasters tomorrow.” — Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), writing in an opinion column about his three-point plan for the federal government’s response to aging water infrastructure.

By the Numbers

$US 102 million: Amount in fines and environmental restoration that Duke Energy subsidiaries must pay for spilling coal ash into the Dan River, in North Carolina, in 2014, after pleading guilty to Clean Water Act violations. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
$US 6.5 million: Federal grants for water conservation and water pollution reduction in the Ogallala Aquifer region. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Reports and Studies

Colorado River Basin Report
Conservation — particularly by cities, industries, and farms — is still the top choice in federal discussions of how to confront a drying future in a river system where demand already exceeds supply. The Moving Forward report, a collaboration between the Bureau of Reclamation and basin stakeholders, outlines some of these steps.

Albuquerque, Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and other major cities that receive Colorado River water plan to reduce demand by 700,000 acre-feet per year by 2030 through conservation measures. That is roughly three and a half times Denver’s annual water use.

The report, which is broadly rah-rah about the benefits of conservation, comes with a large caveat. Page 62 of Chapter 3 notes that cities generally use conservation to grow larger, not to reduce pressure on the stressed river:

“However, in many of the major metropolitan areas, conservation and reuse may not result in substantial reductions in diversions of Colorado River water because conservation and reuse are typically used to meet future growth or offset or delay the need for future water supplies. Municipal water providers are planning to use their full entitlements to Colorado River water.”

This is also true of the four states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — that are not yet using their full legal entitlement. They want to take more water from the river.

Solar Power Development in Nevada
No water. A 100-megawatt solar power project proposed for tribal land in Nevada will use no water to generate electricity, according to the draft environmental review. Located on the Moapa River Indian Reservation, the Aiya solar project will use photovoltaic panels. Roughly 500 acre-feet of water will be needed during the 15-months of construction, to keep down dust. Operating the facility will require a negligible amount of water – just five acre-feet per year.

News Briefs

Waters of the United State Rule
The U.S. House voted largely along party lines to block the Obama administration’s attempt to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act, according to The Hill.

Republicans have railed against the rule for more than a year, saying that it will dramatically extend the regulatory reach of the federal government. The EPA contends that the water bodies identified in the rule have traditionally been protected waters and opponents overstate their case.

Drought Planning
The Bureau of Reclamation is offering two grant programs to help communities recognize and prepare for drought. One is for technical assistance in writing drought response plans. The other is for water projects that improve water supply management. The federal government will pay for half the cost. Applications are due June 25.

Alabama Water Lawsuit
Alabama filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water management plan in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa watershed, shared with Georgia.

Alabama objects to more water being stored upstream, the Associated Press reports.

On the Radar

Water Legislation Advances
Two water bills moved out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently.

The Water Resources Research Act provides up to $US 9 million per year through 2020 to state water research institutes.

The Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act offers technical help for complying with federal water regulations.

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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