Federal Water Tap, July 11: EPA Will Not Regulate Forest Road Runoff

The Rundown

Instead of new federal rules, the EPA will work within existing local and state programs to manage logging road runoff. The CDC is helping North Carolina health officials deal with a brain-eating amoeba at a whitewater park. The House passes a bill to protect salmon but fisheries experts question its effectiveness. The House also passes a bill to increase water storage in a Colorado River Basin reservoir. The Bureau of Reclamation will study a dam proposal for California’s San Joaquin River. Federal advisory committees discuss water funding for poor communities. A House committee questions the federal government’s management of California water projects. Energy regulators set a deadline for Virginia natural gas pipeline environmental review.

“While EPA recognizes that existing programs vary in their degree of rigor, the Agency has concluded that efforts to help strengthen existing programs would be more effective in further addressing forest road discharges than superimposing an additional federal regulatory layer over them.” — One of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s justifications for not regulating runoff from logging roads.

By the Numbers

5 percent: Portion of “impaired” U.S. river-miles that are polluted by logging roads. This equals 31,074 river-miles. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

37: Number of Naegleria fowleri infections in the U.S. in the last 10 years. A teenager died in June from contaminated water at a whitewater park in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found high levels of the brain-eating amoeba. Though scary, the risk of infection, which occurs when contaminated water goes up the nose, is quite low. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

News Briefs

Forest Roads
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will not issue federal regulations for the muddy water that flows from forest or logging roads after storms. The agency decided that existing local and state programs can be strengthened where necessary. The agency also said that the variety of geographic and climate settings for forest roads made a national regulatory program difficult to implement.

The EPA was under a federal court order to make the decision. Green groups sued to force the agency to address pollution from logging roads. Too much sediment in otherwise clear waters can kill fish and clog stream channels. Nationally, about 5 percent of “impaired” river-miles are polluted by logging roads, though the agency acknowledges that this data probably underreports the extent of the problem. It also notes that there is “little to no regular monitoring of water quality in waters affected by forest road discharges.”

Save Our Salmon Act
The House passed the Save Our Salmon Act, a bill that will eliminates a federal mandate to double the population of striped bass, a salmon predator, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The hope is that reducing bass populations will give salmon a boost.

But fisheries scientists say that it’s wrong to think it will be so simple. “If you remove one predator, you’re never going to remove all of them. There’s always something else out there that can eat [the salmon],” Carson Jeffres of the University of California, Davis told News Deeply.

Colorado River Basin Water Storage Bill
The House passed a bill that would allow Wyoming to use more water from Fontenelle Dam. Wyoming would pay the cost of increasing the reservoir’s active storage capacity by one-third. Wyoming, like Colorado and Utah, is not using its entire allocation of Colorado River water. The basin, however, is drying and does not supply enough water to fulfill all the promises made nearly a century ago.

Studies and Reports

California Dam Study
The Bureau of Reclamation and a local agency signed an agreement to study a controversial new dam on the San Joaquin River. An earlier study found that the Temperance Flat dam would provide little additional water to farms and cities. Thanks to a voter-approved bond, California has $US 2.7 billion to spend on water storage projects, and Temperance Flat could be in the running.

June Heat Record
It was the hottest June in the United States in 122 years of record keeping, according to NOAA.

On the Radar

House Hearing on California Water
On July 12, a House Natural Resources subcommittee will discuss the operation of federal water projects in California. Committee Republicans want more water diverted from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms and towns in the Central Valley. Witnesses include a Bureau of Reclamation regional director and managers of two canals that deliver federal water.

Federal Advisory Committees Talk Water
Advisory committees offer policy recommendations to federal agencies. On July 20, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council will hold a teleconference to discuss water infrastructure financing in poor communities. Registration is free and open to the public.

Two advisory committees that focus on small communities will discuss water pollution, fracking, environmental justice, and climate change resilience. The meetings, from July 27 to 29, will be held in Washington, D.C. and are open to the public.

Appalachian Natural Gas Pipeline Review Scheduled
The final environmental review of a 485-kilometer (301-mile) natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to southern Virginia will be completed by March 10, 2017, according to federal regulators. The review of the Mountain Valley pipeline will assess its effect on groundwater, forests, and rivers.

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.