Three water items are on the EPA’s list of enforcement priorities. USGS researchers study toxic algae in the Southeast. The EPA proposes a mining district Superfund site in Colorado. A House committee announces another hearing on the Flint scandal, while the CDC discusses the best way to monitor the health outcomes. An EPA science panel publishes another review of the agency’s fracking report. The Interior Department will hold public meetings on a new management plan for Glen Canyon Dam. The U.S. Supreme Court will consider taking on a Chesapeake Bay pollution lawsuit.
“On the Blue Marble, there is not enough water you can drink. Even if we crank up our efficiency, we will need new supply in certain areas.” — Ali Zaidi, associate director of natural resources, energy, and science at the Office of Management and Budget, speaking with Circle of Blue about the Obama administration’s $US 267 million budget request for water technology innovation.
By the Numbers
48: Number of mines in the Silverton, Colorado, area that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to bundle into one Superfund site. The town trustees and San Juan County commissioners will vote today whether to recommend that the governor request the federal listing. (Durango Herald)
Gold King Mine Spill Investigation
The House Natural Resources Committee subpoenaed documents from two federal agencies that completed a technical evaluation of the Gold King mine accident that occurred last August. The subpoenas concern the reservations expressed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ peer review of the Interior Department’s evaluation.
EPA Enforcement Priorities
Three of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s seven priorities for monitoring and enforcement in the next three years relate to water pollution. The priority areas are:
- Urban sewage and stormwater
- Animal waste
- Industrial pollution
Being named a priority area, however, does not mean high-level action. The EPA has designated animal waste a national priority since 2011, yet the number of federal inspections and enforcement actions dropped by more than half.
Studies and Reports
Toxic Algae Detected in Southeastern U.S.
U.S. Geological researchers sampled 75 streams in the Southeast for microcystin, an algal toxin. They found evidence of the toxin in 39 percent of the streams, though the median concentration was more than 30 times lower than human health guidelines set by the World Health Organization. The study is the first of several USGS regional studies on the prevalence of microcystin in streams.
EPA Fracking Report
The EPA’s science advisory board released a second draft of its review of the agency’s hydraulic fracturing report. The board continues to be at odds with the EPA’s claim of no “widespread, systematic impacts” on drinking water. The panel recommends more attention on local water stress as a result of hydraulic fracturing.
Flint, Lead, and the Federal Government
Congress’s research arm published a two-page summary of the federal regulatory role for lead in drinking water. The report notes that the EPA has not used its Safe Drinking Water Act authority to force a local system to comply with the law.
On the Radar
The House Oversight Committee, which held the first congressional hearing on the Flint drinking water scandal, announced that it will hold a second hearing. This time Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to testify. Also expected to sit before the committee: former EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedmon, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and Darnell Earley, the former emergency manager of Flint.
No date has been set.
Flint Health Testing
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group will meet on February 23 to discuss how to track the effects of lead poisoning in Flint. The meeting, being conducted by teleconference, is open to the public. Click the above link for dial-in information.
Administrators and number crunchers report — it’s budget season on Capitol Hill. Committees will hold hearings with cabinet members over the next few weeks to discuss spending goals. One of the first water-related hearing is February 23, when the Senate Energy Committee reflects on the Interior Department budget.
Meanwhile, Army Corps leaders will appear before the House Transportation Committee on February 24 to address how the Corps evaluates its water resources projects and to get updates on ongoing studies.
Glen Canyon Dam Management
The Department of Interior will hold public meetings in Arizona this week to discuss changes in how Glen Canyon Dam, on the Colorado River, is managed. The department released a draft environmental review in January, which is open for public comment until April 7.
The draft has provisions for maintaining hydropower production and improving habitat for the endangered humpback chub. It has provisions for monthly water releases as well as for high-volume releases that will rebuild sandbars in the Grand Canyon, downstream.
Chesapeake Bay Lawsuit
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide on February 26 whether to take on a legal challenge to an EPA pollution “diet” for the Chesapeake Bay, the Bay Journal reports. The challenge to the limit on nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment that flows into the estuary was brought by the American Farm Bureau.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton