Federal Water Tap, August 29: Odds of Colorado River Shortage Drop Slightly in New Forecast

The Rundown

The lower Colorado River Basin is still looking at roughly a 50/50 chance of a shortage declaration as soon as 2018. A federal judge will soon decide whether to block construction of an oil pipeline that crosses the Missouri River. President Obama tours the Louisiana flood zone and designates a new national monument in Maine. The shale energy boom cuts farmland enrolled in a federal conservation program. The EPA is cleaning up groundwater at a New York Superfund site. Upcoming meetings on water infrastructure resilience, energy corridors, and drought in the Southeast. And finally, the Bureau of Reclamation asks for help in keeping rodents from burrowing into earthen dams, canals, and levees.

“A solution is being pursued through a prize competition because we find ourselves often wondering if someone, somewhere, may know a better way of detecting internal erosion in embankments than the methods we currently use.” — The Bureau of Reclamation wants new methods for capturing rodents that like to nest in its facilities.

By the Numbers

$US 120 million: Federal assistance so far for individuals in Louisiana affected by the recent floods. The money is for groceries, home repairs, and hotel stays for those with severely damaged homes. President Obama toured the region on August 23. (White House)

87,500 acres: Size of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which strengthens forest and water protection in northern Maine. The monument spans both banks of the East Branch of the Penobscot River. As with any national monument designation, an action that does not need approval from Congress, the move drew criticism. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, opposed the designation, citing a lack of local support. (White House)

$US 14.5 million: Cost to clean up groundwater contamination from volatile organic compounds at a well in Broome County, New York. The well was formerly used for public drinking water. Now, it is a Superfund site. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

News Briefs

Colorado River Shortage Forecast Updated
Water levels in Lake Mead have a 48 percent chance of dropping below 1,075 feet in elevation in 2018 and a 60 percent chance in 2019, according to a Bureau of Reclamation analysis. Dropping below that threshold would result in the first-ever mandatory water restrictions in the lower basin.

A concerted conservation effort helped avert a shortage declaration for next year, and it reduced the risk of a future shortage. But only slightly. In April the odds of a 2018 shortage were 56 percent.

Ruling Expected Soon in Tribe’s Oil Pipeline Challenge
A federal judge will decide by September 9 whether to block the construction of a $US 3.8 billion oil pipeline, the Associated Press reports.

The Dakota Access pipeline would deliver crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The legal challenge was brought by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which objects to the pipeline’s route. Approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the route crosses beneath the Missouri River upstream of the tribe’s drinking water intake.

Studies and Reports

Shale Boom Reduces Farmland in Conservation Program
Farm acreage enrolled in a federal conservation program declined 32 percent between 2007 and 2013 in counties above shale oil and gas basins, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Enrollment declined 22 percent in non-shale areas, indicating that royalty payments from natural gas and oil production encouraged farmers to remove land from the Conservation Reserve Program. The program pays farmers not to cultivate land that is prone to erosion, protects drinking water, or provides wildlife habitat. Hydrocarbon production pays more.

Rodent Removal
It’s a question that would tickle the curiosity of Bill Murray’s greenskeeper character from the movie Caddyshack: how to keep rodents from burrowing into earthen dams, levees, and canals. The burrows can destabilize the water-retaining structures, putting them at risk of failure.

The Bureau of Reclamation wants help with the problem, and it is announcing a $US 20,000 prize competition. Proposed solutions must meet eight technical requirements, including not killing the animal. Sorry, would-be Spacklers: dynamite not allowed.

Reservoirs, Fish, and Mercury
Reservoirs increase mercury in fish tissue compared to natural lakes, according to U.S. Geological Survey research. The amount of mercury varies depending on how the reservoir is operated, where it is located, and its age. Mercury accumulates in fish, making them dangerous to eat, especially for children.

Less Groundwater Feeding Arizona River
Groundwater can provide a year-round water supply to rivers, called base flow. That is, unless so much groundwater is pumped that the water table declines. The U.S. Geological Survey found that base flow from groundwater to the San Pedro River, in southern Arizona, is decreasing. Pinpointing the cause, however, is not addressed in the report.

Kalamazoo River Clean Up
Federal and state agencies presented their final plan for removing PCBs from the Kalamazoo River. The contamination is a legacy of the paper mills that operated in the mid-20th century. The plan does not relate to the July 2010 oil pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River. That incident occurred upstream of the PCB cleanup site.

On the Radar

Southeastern Drought Webinar
Though a wet August is washing away the most severe patches of drought, the inland Southeast is still registering a rainfall deficit this year. On Monday, August 29 (today), at 1 p.m. Eastern, the National Integrated Drought Information System and Auburn University will hold a webinar on the drought in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.

To register email Eric Reutebuch, reuteem@auburn.edu.

EPA Drinking Water Strategy
Earlier this year, after high-profile lead and chemical contamination cases in Flint, Michigan and other communities, the EPA announced that it would develop a new strategy to protect drinking water. A committee that advises the agency on local government issues will hold two teleconferences to gather input from city, county, state, and tribal officials. The meetings will take place on September 7 and September 21 and will inform the committee’s recommendations on the drinking water strategy.

Energy Corridors
Federal agencies will hold public hearings to help determine the best routes in the American West to site oil and gas pipelines and electricity transmission lines. Reviews for Arizona, California, and Nevada begin in September. Follow the link for dates and times.

National Infrastructure Advisory Council Meeting
The council, which advises the White House and the Department of Homeland Security on infrastructure matters, will meet in Arlington, Virginia, on September 16. Members will discuss and vote on recommendations for water utility resilience to natural disaster and cyberattack.

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.