Federal Water Tap, November 23: Georgia and Florida to Seek Mediation in U.S. Supreme Court Water Case

The Rundown

Longstanding opponents Florida and Georgia are attempting to work out their differences over water use in a contested river basin while the Supreme Court appoints an expert to oversee a groundwater lawsuit. An EPA advisory committee offers recommendations for updating the agency’s lead and copper rule. A Senate committee advances a bill to improve water reliability and fish habitat in the Yakima River Basin. A House committee passes a ban on microbeads in personal care products. An Interior Department decision on the Gila River diversion is expected today, November 23. Texas representatives want reservoir permits, and quickly.

“At this point, Georgia believes that the best way to advance the process is to engage a mediator acceptable to both sides who can create a framework for formal in-person discussions and periodic exchanges of information specifically directed to settlement.” — Text from documents filed by Georgia in its Supreme Court lawsuit with Florida over a shared watershed.

By the Numbers

$US 615 million: Damages sought by Mississippi in a Supreme Court lawsuit against Tennessee over groundwater pumping (Bloomberg BNA)

$US 2 million: Grant funding to help establish a national network to monitor groundwater. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Studies and Reports

Lead and Copper Rule
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council approved a series of recommendations for improving a revised rule that aims to reduce the risk of lead and copper contamination in public water supplies.

Development of the rule comes as a high-profile case of lead contamination is unfurling in Flint, Michigan. In April 2014, the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The chemical composition of the river water caused old pipes to corrode and introduced dangerous levels of lead into drinking water.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), whose district includes Flint, his birthplace, testified before the council last week. The current lead and copper rule did not require Flint officials to model how the new water source with interact with city pipes, he said. It also did not require officials to address the potential for corrosion in the pipes.

“This new lead and copper rule must have greater transparency in order to restore public confidence and protect public health and ensure the safety of drinking water,” Kildee asserted.

News Briefs

Let’s Talk
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Florida and Georgia will seek a mediator to help resolve a dispute over water use in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which the two states share.

Florida filed the lawsuit in the Supreme Court, which has original jurisdiction over interstate water disputes, in October 2013. The court, as it frequently does with water cases, appointed a special master to conduct hearings and recommend a resolution. A mediator would work with the states while the lawsuit proceedings continue.

Mississippi v. Tennessee
There are other water conflicts in the South. The Supreme Court appointed a special master to oversee a lawsuit that Mississippi brought against Tennessee, according to Bloomberg BNA. Mississippi contends that groundwater pumping by the city of Memphis is reducing the subsurface flow of water into its territory. Mississippi seeking $US 615 million in damages.

Senate Committee Approves Yakima Basin Plan Bill
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill to improve water reliability and repair fish habitat in the Yakima River Basin, in Washington state. The act authorizes construction of fish passage at two dams and a pipeline between two reservoirs, expands storage capacity at Cle Elum reservoir, and encourages water trading.

Another key agreement for a troubled watershed in the American West, the Klamath River Basin Agreement, still awaits committee action.

Bill Banning Microbeads Passes Committee
The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved a bill that bans the use of pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters in personal care products such as shampoos, soaps, and toothpastes. The ban would go into effect January 1, 2018. A similar bill introduced in the Senate is still in committee.

On the Radar

Gila Diversion
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has a decision: allow an environmental review of the controversial Gila River diversion to begin or reject the project. The deadline is today. The diversion, a network of canals, reservoirs, and pipelines in southwest New Mexico, could cost as much as $US 1 billion and disrupt the watershed’s ecology. Interior Department statements to Circle of Blue indicate the secretary is likely to move ahead with the review.

Texas Reservoir Permits
Three Texas congressmen are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to quickly issue permits for a $US 1 billion reservoir, the Dallas Morning News reports. The reservoir would serve the fast-growing communities in North Texas.

Infrastructure Council Meeting
The National Infrastructure Advisory Council will hold a public meeting on December 1, in Arlington, Virginia. The council will hear presentations on water resilience and recovery after a disaster.

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.