Lean year again for the west side of California’s Central Valley. Federal coal program undergoes a comprehensive review. Two engineering competitions seek better designs for water problems. Senate committee will discuss water affordability. California groundwater recharge project seeks public comments while a government watchdog says the EPA is failing at overseeing underground waste injection. Supreme Court hears a Clean Water Act case. Finally, snowpack is…average.
“While we are on track for near-average precipitation season this year, the ongoing and residual impacts of the multi-year drought continue. The impacts this summer will be greatest on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and some areas served by New Melones Reservoir.” — Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo, talking about the initial water supply allocations from the federal Central Valley Project canals. The farmers on the west side of the valley are due to receive 5 percent of their full contract amount. Farmers and cities north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will receive 100 percent of their supply.
By the Numbers
5 percent: Share of their full water allocation that California farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will get from the federal Central Valley Project. (Bureau of Reclamation)
$US 20,000: First place prize in competition to design a better way to move fish downstream of tall dams and to detect internal erosion in earthen dams and levees. (Bureau of Reclamation)
306: Number of federal coal leases. The Obama administration is beginning a review of the federal leasing program. (Bureau of Land Management)
The Bureau of Land Management will undertake a comprehensive review of the federal coal program, which was ordered by the Interior secretary in January.
More than 40 percent of U.S. coal production is from federal lands, most of which comes from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming. The review will address whether a federal coal program is compatible with the Obama administration’s pledge to cut carbon emissions. It will also account for water use and pollution.
Comments on what topics the study should address can be sent to BLM_WO_Coal_Program_PEIS_Comments@blm.gov.
Clean Water Act in the Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court appears likely to rule that property owners can have a judge review federal agency determinations that their property is subject to Clean Water Act permitting, Reuters reports. The court heard oral arguments on March 30 and a ruling is expected in June.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released standards for cadmium that are designed to keep fish and other water creatures hale and hearty. States can use the federal standards to guide their own rule-writing, but they are not required to do so.
Studies and Reports
And the Snowpack Is…
April 1 is the traditional, if not actual, end of the snow season, the time of year when snow melts rather than accumulates. According to federal data, most basins in the American West — except the Rio Grande — are right at the 30-year normal.
EPA Failing to Monitor Underground Injection
The EPA could do a much better job of collecting inspection data and regulating the underground injection of oil and gas wastewater, brines, and other wastes, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The GAO recommended that the EPA collect inspection data by well and analyze agency resources needed to improve its inspection record. The EPA said that it does not plan to do either.
California Groundwater Banking
The Bureau of Reclamation released a draft environmental review of a groundwater recharge project in the San Joaquin Valley.
Comments are due April 28 and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Predicting Groundwater Contamination
With limited resources for monitoring groundwater pollution, where should regulators and health officials train their eyes? A model that predicts the most likely locations would help.
U.S. Geological survey researchers have done that, building the first statistical model that shows at a regional scale the estimated concentrations of certain agricultural chemicals in groundwater. The model simulations corresponded well with measurements taken from more than 1,400 sites across the United States.
On the Radar
Senate Hearing on Affordable Water
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on April 7 to discuss the federal government’s role in affordable water infrastructure.
Because of the rising cost of water and incomes diverging between the haves and have-nots, a water affordability movement is growing in the United States.
Prize Competitions for Water
The Bureau of Reclamation wants to open the sometimes stodgy water world to new ideas. The water management agency is holding two prize competitions: for fish passage at tall dams and for detecting internal erosion at earthen dams and levees. In selecting the competition strategy, Reclamation is seeking “innovative solutions from those beyond the usual sources of potential solvers and experts.”
First place in each contest earns $US 20,000. Entries are due by May 10.
Toxic Algae Meeting
The EPA will hold a public meeting on April 29 to gather information from state regulators and utility managers on how they are responding to the risk of toxic algae in drinking water.
The event will be streamed live on the internet. To register, click here.
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