Federal Water Tap, September 14: El Nino To Increase Tidal Flooding This Winter

The Rundown

Higher seas, higher tides: more floods, says NOAA analysis. EPA criticizes a Colorado reservoir proposal. GAO finds more water recycling in oil fields. A Great Lakes senator says ‘Clean up the Great Lakes!’ Congressional hearings on Gold King mine spill and western drought are on the calendar. EPA Inspector General begins investigation of how the agency communicates risks of mercury in fish.

“We have to take significant, meaningful action now to clean up the Great Lakes. Over 24 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water are estimated dumped into the Great Lakes every year. We must push forward efforts to clean up Lake Michigan and not focus on half measures that endanger our drinking water and one of America’s most precious natural resources. This threat to our clean water highlights the need for continued planning, investment of resources and infrastructure updates to properly manage wastewater and protect our natural resources.” — Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Il), in an op-ed published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

By the Numbers

71: Days that Wilmington, North Carolina, experienced nuisance flooding from high tides in 2014, a 20 percent increase over 2013. (NOAA)

Reports and Studies

Higher Tides, More Floods
The rate of tidal flooding that closes roads and backs up sewer drains is accelerating on the mid-Atlantic coast, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analysis of tidal gauges. The number of tidal floods is increasing because sea levels are rising. NOAA expects that, based on historic patterns, a strengthening El Nino will worsen tidal flooding this winter.

The Changing Nature of the Water-Energy Relationship
Scarcity, cost, and regulations are reducing the amount of water used in the energy sector, according to a Government Accountability Office report that was requested by members of Congress.

The GAO found that oil and gas producers were turning to hydraulic fracturing techniques that used liquids other than freshwater, liquids such as the salty water that flows out of wells, foams, gels, and brackish water. The report also noted new power plant cooling technologies that could reduce water use in electricity generation. However, these technologies are currently too expensive or too untested for commercial use. Water use in electricity generation has already been slashed with the increasing use of combined cycle turbines.

News Briefs

Proposed Colorado Reservoir Criticized by EPA
A reservoir proposed for northern Colorado, near Fort Collins, has the potential to violate federal water quality standards and has inadequate statistical analysis, according to comments from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 office that were sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project manager.

The Northern Integrated Supply project would result in warmer river temperatures and less water available to dilute pollutants, EPA Region 8 claims. The project would also result in a 35 percent decrease in the number of days in which Poudre River flows are high enough for boating and rafting, according to the draft environmental review.

On the Radar

Drought Hearing
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee plans to hold a hearing in October on drought in the American West, Politico reports.

Mercury in Fish Investigation
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog will assess the agency’s success in protecting the public from mercury contamination in fish. The Office of the Inspector General will focus on how well the agency communicates risk.

Gold King Mine Hearings
Two hearings are on the docket as Congress clocks in for its first full work week after the August holiday. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will testify in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on September 16 and the House Natural Resources Committee the next day. The House hearing includes Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

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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