Federal Water Tap, September 21: EPA Agrees To Update Stormwater Pollution Rules

The Rundown

National stormwater rules are coming in 2016 as the EPA settles lawsuit with two green groups. Meanwhile, an Interior Department settlement forgives a big debt for a big California irrigation district. The EPA requires billions in sewer upgrades but does not track the success of the projects. A California recycled water project gets the green light. The USGS publishes a field guide for toxic algae. And the EPA asks the public for advice.

“The next stop for this settlement is Congress, where I will strongly oppose it and ask the tough questions necessary.” — Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), on the proposed settlement between Westlands Water District, the biggest irrigation district in California, and the Department of the Interior.

By the Numbers

$US 350 million: Debt forgiveness for California’s largest irrigation district, in a deal with the Department of the Interior to settle a conflict over polluted farm runoff. The debt is Westlands Water District’s portion of the cost to build the Central Valley Project canals and reservoirs. In return, Westlands will not farm 100,000 acres of salt-laden land. (Sacramento Bee)

186: Proposed new species to be added to the National Wetland Plant List, which is used to determine what qualifies as a wetland and as a guide for wetland restoration and development. There are currently 8,061 species on the list. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

$US 32 billion: Amount communities are spending to comply with federal mandates to reduce pollution from sewers that transport both sewage and stormwater. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not have a national tracking system to ensure that money equals better water quality. (EPA Office of the Inspector General)

Reports and Studies

Recycling City Water for Farms in California
The Bureau of Reclamation released a final environmental review of a proposed water recycling project in California’s Central Valley. The North Valley Regional Recycled Water project will send up to 59,000 acre-feet of treated water from the cities of Modesto and Turlock to farmers in the Del Puerto Water District. Reclamation selected a single pipeline that will cross beneath the San Joaquin River as its preferred option.

Read more about the project from Circle of Blue.

Field Guide to Toxic Algae
Can you tell your Microcystis aeruginosa from your Dolichospermum circinale? The U.S. Geological Survey published a field guide for identifying toxic algae. The guide has photos of algae in water bodies, as well as algae under the microscope. Is it helpful? You decide.

News Briefs

Stormwater Pollution Settlement
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed in federal court to several deadlines for setting rules to regulate pollution that is washed from urban streets and forest roads during rainstorms.

The draft rule for urban stormwater is due by December 17, 2015 and the final rule by November 17, 2016. The agency has a May 2016 deadline to determine whether runoff from forest roads requires a separate rule.

Two environmental groups sued the EPA in 2003 to force the agency to adopt stronger stormwater rules. The EPA did not respond to the court order that resulted from that lawsuit, which led to a second legal action last December.

California Irrigation District Settlement
In addition to the debt forgiveness and farmland retirement noted above, the Interior Department’s settlement with Westlands Water District includes changes to its water delivery contract. Westlands will receive a maximum of 75 percent of its current allocation but the contract need not be renegotiated every two years, as is currently the case. The district will also be in charge of cleaning up the polluted farm drainage.

Critics object to uncertainty in how Westlands will be held accountable for treating its wastewater; to the open-ended contract; and to the elimination of a 960-acre cap on the size of farm that is allowed to receive federal water.

The deal still must be approved by Congress. Click for the text of the settlement.

On the Radar

Land and Water Conservation Fund Expires September 30
Congress has not moved to reauthorize the program, which uses oil and gas royalties to fund parks and water protections.

Tell EPA What To Do
The EPA is soliciting advice. What should the agency’s enforcement priorities be in the next three-year planning cycle, which runs from 2017 to 2019? The six current priorities are:

  • Reducing air pollution from the largest sources
  • Cutting toxic air pollution
  • Assuring energy extraction and production activities comply with environmental laws
  • Reducing pollution from mineral processing operations
  • Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of the nation’s waters
  • Preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and ground water

Comments are due by October 14 and should be submitted at www.regulations.gov using Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OECA-2015-0628.

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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