Federal Water Tap, August 22: U.S. Geological Survey Creates Interactive Map of Dam Removal Science

The Rundown

Researchers compile dam removal studies into an easy-to-use online portal. President Obama declares four Louisiana parishes federal disaster areas, while FEMA updates its flood management policy. NOAA unveils a high-power water forecasting model. A Department of Energy lab tests the “salmon cannon.” The Air Force replaces a firefighting foam that was contaminating groundwater. Lake Erie algae bloom is concentrated in the lake’s western basin. Federal agencies review a North Dakota flood project and a natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina. And finally, the July heat broke another global temperature record.

“Over the past 50 years, our capabilities have been limited to forecasting river flow at a relatively limited number of locations. This model expands our forecast locations 700 times and generates several additional water variables, such as soil moisture, runoff, stream velocity, and other parameters to produce a more comprehensive picture of water behavior across the country.” – Thomas Graziano, director of NOAA’s Office of Water Prediction at the National Weather Service, praising the capability of a new river forecasting model.

By the Numbers

$US 7 million: Funding for eight new and two existing wetland mitigation banks. This is a conservation method in which wetlands are created or restored in one area to compensate for the destruction of a wetland in another area. (Natural Resources Conservation Service)

$US 6.2 million: Value of the contract to replace the fire-fighting foam used by the Air Force with an alternative that will not contaminate groundwater. The current foam contains perfluorinated compounds, which can cause kidney cancer and immune system damage in humans. The new foam, called Phos-Chek, will be in use in all fire vehicles and fire stations by the end of the year. (Air Force)

News Briefs

Louisiana Disaster Declaration
President Obama declared four Louisiana parishes “major disaster” areas, which frees up federal aid for temporary housing, home repairs, and property damage. The four parishes are East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. Helena, and Tangipahoa, some of which saw nearly 30 inches of rain in less than three days. A federal mapping agency collected aerial photos of the flood zone for before-and-after comparisons.

For more information on federal flood programs, the Congressional Research Service published an overview of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Getting Stricter About Flood Management
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expanding its definition of a flood plain, which forces federally funded projects in the zone to be built to withstand bigger floods that are expected because of climate change. President Obama directed agencies to do so in a January 2015 executive order. FEMA’s proposed new rule incorporates the guidance in the executive order.

The agency is accepting public comments on the proposal through October 21. Submit them via www.regulations.gov using docket number FEMA-2015-0006.

River Forecasting Gets Power Boost
NOAA unveiled a new national water model, which can forecast hydrological conditions in the United States with significantly greater precision and accuracy than before. The forecasts will inform flash flood warnings while also tracking changes in soil moisture that are early indicators of drought.

Studies and Reports

Dam Removal Science Database
The U.S. Geological Survey built the first interactive map-based database for scientific studies of dam removal outcomes in the United States. The database is designed to help scholars, policy makers, and the public easily find research about the effects of specific dam removal projects on rivers and ecosystems.

The Dam Removal Information Portal combines a bibliography of scientific studies with a map of U.S. dam removals. The map was designed with the help of American Rivers, an environmental group that maintains the most comprehensive data set on U.S. dam removals. This report explains the technical details in constructing the portal.

“We decided to take the literature review to the next level, make it more widely available,” Jeff Duda, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist told Circle of Blue, when asked about the origins of the portal. “We have a map-based way to interact with the bibliographic database on the science of dam removal.”

American Rivers counts more than 1,300 dam removals in the United States since 1912. A USGS review in 2014 found that data on river and ecosystem changes after dam removal was collected for roughly 130 projects, or less than 10 percent. A 2015 update found an additional 30 studies, which will soon be added to the portal, Duda said.

Last Month Set a New Heat Record
July was the hottest month in the 136-year historical record, according to an analysis of global surface temperatures by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. It marked the 40th consecutive July that the global average temperature was above the 20th century average, according to NOAA.

Lake Erie Harmful Algae Blooms
August is peak season for the lake’s toxic blooms. NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory publishes bi-weekly bulletins that track the bloom. The August 19 analysis shows the highest concentration of algae from Ohio’s Maumee Bay northward along the Michigan coast. To receive the updates, click here.

Testing the Salmon Cannon
It garnered click-magnet headlines two years ago: a cannon that shoots salmon over a dam toward their upstream spawning beds. Now, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Lab will compare the cannon’s cost and effectiveness to ladders and trucking, traditional methods to moving fish around dams. Whooshh Innovations, the Seattle-based company behind the technology, tested the cannon in July at Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River.

On the Radar

Natural Gas Pipeline Review
Federal regulators released the timetable for an environmental review of the Atlantic Coast pipeline, a 333-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina. The review will be completed by June 30, 2017.

Flood Control Project in North Dakota
Floods in June 2011 in the Souris River Basin caused $US 690 million in damages in North Dakota. The Army Corps of Engineers wants to avoid more destruction. The Corps will assess whether it should build levees, flood walls, and diversion channels to protect the basin, or pursue “non-structural” alternatives such as increasing the water-absorbing capacity of the flood plain and removing flood-prone buildings. A draft review should be ready by the fall of 2017.

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.