Federal Water Tap, August 8: Army Corps Approves River-Crossing Permit for Dakota Oil Pipeline

The Rundown

Permit allows 1,100-mile oil pipeline to cross under the Missouri River. The White House puts climate change at the center of federal agency environmental planning while the world’s glaciers are on a long losing streak. A coal company pays a $US 3 million Clean Water Act fine. Watchdog agency tells Army Corps to get a better handle on its reservoir operations. A well-known water utility executive is appointed to a national infrastructure council. State-level drought report includes new drought monitoring tool.

“I have evaluated the anticipated environmental, economic, cultural, and social effects, and any cumulative effects of the Proposed Action and determined that the Proposed Action is not injurious to the public interest and will not impair the usefulness of the federal projects.” — Omaha District Commander Col. John W. Henderson determining that the Dakota Access Pipeline will not have a significant impact on U.S. Army Corps facilities.

By the Numbers

36: Consecutive years that world glaciers, on average, have lost mass. The loss of ice last year was one of the worst on record. The figures come from the State of the Climate report, which details other warming trends. (NOAA)

36: Minimum number of feet below the Missouri River bed that the Dakota Access Pipeline will be drilled. The pipeline will be 92 feet below Lake Oahe, a large federal reservoir. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

$US 3 million: Penalty that Consol Energy, a coal company, will pay for violating the Clean Water Act. To prevent future discharges of salt-laden mine waste into the Ohio River and its tributaries, Consol agreed to change its management practices and install new treatment equipment to bring its discharges into compliance. (Justice Department)

14.5 billion:Bushels of U.S. corn production forecast for 2016, which would be a record high. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

News Briefs

Army Corps Pipeline Permit
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted approval for Energy Transfer Partners, a Texas company, to cross federal property and drill a long-distance crude oil pipeline beneath the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, a large reservoir. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,100-mile pipeline that will move up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois.

Omaha District Commander Col. John W. Henderson determined that the project did not require a more-rigorous environmental impact statement. The corps’ review noted that the pipeline is more reliable, safer, and economical than trucking or rail transport of oil.

The approval immediately brought a lawsuit from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to prevent construction. The pipeline would cross beneath Lake Oahe a few miles upstream of the tribe’s drinking water intake. The corps argues that the risks are small and acceptable because the pipeline will be buried, not laid on the lake bed and that pipeline monitoring and response plans provide an adequate safety margin.

White House Climate Change Directive
The Obama administration published guidelines for how federal agencies should consider climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. For example, how water availability for a proposed project could change over 30 to 50 years. The goal is to have a consistent federal approach for reviews.

The guidance, however, is not a regulation and could change under a new administration.

Army Corps Reservoir Manuals Require Closer Watch
The Government Accountability Office said that the Army Corps of Engineers needs to be more meticulous in its review of reservoir water control manuals. These are the rule books that guide more than 700 dams nationwide, telling operators when to release water, how much, and to whom.

Revisions to the manuals are important for several reasons: reservoir operations may need to be adjusted to match changing runoff patterns in a warming climate. Or, the water in a reservoir may need to be reallocated, to reflect urban growth for instance.

Hawkins Appointed to National Infrastructure Council
George Hawkins, CEO and general manager of DC Water, a respected figure in the water community, was appointed by President Obama to the National Infrastructure Advisory Council, which advises the White House. In June, the council released a report noting that the country’s water utilities are not prepared for natural disaster or cyberattack.

Studies and Reports

Wyoming Drought Report
The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) published its first state-level drought outlook, for Wyoming. The outlook includes a relatively new prediction tool called the evaporative demand drought index, which gauges the sponginess of the air and detects fast-developing areas of dryness.

The Wyoming outlook will be published monthly through October, Chad McNutt of NIDIS told Circle of Blue. The group will consider expanding the outlook to other states. McNutt said that NIDIS is working with South Dakota officials to develop their own version.

Mixing Oil Production and Groundwater
When oil production occurs near aquifers how to tell if drilling is polluting the water? The U.S. Geological Survey is testing one method: the use of chemical tracers. A study in California noted that groundwater chemistry is complex and multiple tracers are needed to pinpoint the origin of contaminants.

On the Radar

San Diego Recycled Water
San Diego and the Bureau of Reclamation are beginning an environmental review of the city’s recycled water facility. The first phase of the project will produce 30 million gallons per day.

Water Resources Development Act
Bloomberg BNA looks at the actions needed to get the multibillion-dollar water infrastructure bill passed. Congress has only eight weeks to approve new legislation, assuming lawmakers keep to their schedule. The water resources act typically funds ports, locks, and levees, but the Senate added drinking water provisions in response to Flint, which complicates the process.

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.