Federal Water Tap, October 5: EPA Sets First Water Pollution Limits on Toxic Metals from Steam Electric Power Plants

The Rundown

The EPA issues first water pollution limits for toxic metals from steam electric plants and adds four groundwater sites to Superfund. EPA and pipeline regulators settle pollution cases. GAO analyzes Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. USGS researchers keep an eye on California groundwater levels. USAID says water is a pillar in reducing extreme poverty. Washington state lawmakers want more attention on Puget Sound. And the EPA still does not know when a sewer infrastructure needs survey, already delayed, will be published.

“USAID’s Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty recognizes the importance of clean water for ending extreme poverty and [USAID] will continue its work in this area,” U.S. Agency for International Development Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning, Alex Their, in an email to Circle of Blue about the agency’s recent report on ending extreme poverty.

By the Numbers

$US 194 million: Amount that a Pfizer subsidiary will pay to clean up a chemical manufacturing Superfund site in New Jersey that contaminated soil and groundwater. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

$US 1.68 billion: Federal funding, in fiscal years 2010 through 2014, for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Seventy percent of the funds have been spent. (Government Accountability Office)

$US 2.6 million: Civil fine levied by federal pipeline regulators against an ExxonMobil subsidiary for a 2013 pipeline rupture that spilled between 3,190 and 5,000 barrels of crude oil in an Arkansas subdivision. The company agreed to a $US 3.2 million fine in April over Clean Water Act violations stemming from the spill. (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)

$US 2 billion: Settlement with Mosaic Fertilizer, to clean up polluted wastewater at facilities in Florida and Louisiana and to dispose of the waste. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Reports and Studies

Ending Extreme Poverty: Add Water
Without adequate supplies of clean water, the world’s poorest will be stuck in poverty, according the U.S. Agency for International Development report Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty.

The report lays out a theory of change. The five pillars of broad economic growth — one of which is water, sanitation, and energy infrastructure — rest on a foundation of good governance and civic institutions.

“USAID’s Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty recognizes the importance of clean water for ending extreme poverty and [USAID] will continue its work in this area,” USAID Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning, Alex Thier wrote in a statement emailed to Circle of Blue.

Groundwater Monitoring in California
Fifty-five percent of long-term groundwater monitoring wells in California’s San Joaquin Valley are at or below record low levels, according to a journal article by U.S. Geological Survey researchers. The U.S. Geological Survey’s California Water Science Center also unveiled a new web page dedicated to land subsidence in the state, with maps, data, and photos.

News Briefs

Power Plant Water Pollution Rule
Electric power plants that use steam to drive a turbine must adhere to new limits on the amount of toxic metals discharged to rivers, lakes, and streams, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s first such national standards.

The EPA estimates that 134 electric power plants, 12 percent of the nation’s total, will need new pollution control technology to meet the requirements. Burning coal, most of these plants produce waste piles that are laced with arsenic, mercury, lead, selenium, and other metals, nutrients, and pollutants.

Green groups praised the agency’s action.

Puget Sound Cleanup
Denny Heck (D-WA) introduced the PUGET SOS Act, a bill to lift the stature of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem to the same level as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. That means more federal attention to the sound’s cold waters, which in turn means more committees.

The bill would establish an office within the EPA to coordinate federal activities related to the Puget Sound. It would establish a federal agency task force, a sort of roundtable for discussion among all the partners. It also would establish a tribal advisory committee and a state advisory committee.

Groundwater and Superfund
The EPA added four sites with groundwater contamination to the Superfund list. The sites are located in:

  • Bogalusa, Louisiana — Colonial Creosote, a wood treatment plant
  • Franklin, Massachusetts — BJAT LLC, a rubber and plastics manufacturer
  • Burnet, Texas — Main Street groundwater plume
  • Freeman, Washington — Grain Handling Facility

On the Radar

Water Dispute Delayed in Budget Bill Fight
The federal government did not shut down last week. It also avoided addressing a long-running water dispute between Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby had inserted language into a budget bill earlier this year that would have stopped the Army Corps of Engineers from updating its water supply plan for a river basin shared between Alabama and Georgia. That language was cut from the continuing resolution that Congress passed. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has all the gritty details.

Wells Instead of Pipes
Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House promotes the use of private or community wells in rural areas. The Water System Cost Savings Act directs federal agencies that provide funds for rural drinking water systems to educate utilities serving fewer than 500 people on the benefits of using wells instead of centralized piped systems.

Clean Watershed Needs Survey
Late. Well, sort of late.

The EPA is required to report to Congress every four years on the amount of money needed to maintain the nation’s sewer, stormwater, and wastewater infrastructure over the next 20 years. The 2012 report has not been submitted and there is no release data, according to Robert Daguillard, an EPA spokesman.

“It traditionally has taken several years for EPA to analyze the results of each needs survey, complete internal and interagency review, and produce the report to Congress,” Daguillard wrote to Circle of Blue in an emailed statement.

The 2008 report was published in May 2010. The 2004 report was published in January 2008.

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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