Federal Water Tap, July 5: Florida Senators Tour the Algae Coast

The Rundown

Huge bloom of toxic algae on Florida coast send officials looking for quick fixes to chronic problem. Federal science review of nonstick chemicals, sometimes found in groundwater near industrial facilities, finds strong evidence that they damage human immune systems. Clean energy agreement could help Canadian hydropower. Federal dam in Montana without hydropower might soon power up. Pennsylvania brewer is fined for Clean Water Act violations. Army facilities in Hawaii remove illegal cesspools. Agencies discuss sharing water data. And the EPA sticks to its timeline for a revised lead and copper rule, saying draft will be out in 2017.

“So this is beyond just an ecological disaster; it’s an economic disaster with long-term implications. I’m in favor of answers. I want this problem to be solved. The fundamental problem is that water, heavy in nutrients, is meeting water also with nutrients, and the combination of those two things in this weather is creating these algae blooms that are having a catastrophic impact.” — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) talking about the toxic algae bloom on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

By the Numbers

$US 2.8 million: Fine that Yuengling, a brewery, will pay because of Clean Water Act violations. Two of the company’s facilities in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, failed to adequately treat their wastewater. (U.S. Justice Department)

4.7 megawatt: Generating capacity of a hydropower facility proposed for the Clark Canyon Dam, a federal dam near Dillon, Montana. The current uses of the dam are flood prevention and water supply. An environmental assessment found the benefits of adding hydropower to the dam outweighed the costs and that an environmental impact statement, which is a more thorough evaluation, is not needed. (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission)

8: Number of large cesspools that the U.S. Army will close at four facilities on the islands of Oahu and Hawaii because of Safe Drinking Water Act violations. Cesspools are concrete pits with unlined bottoms that hold sewage and wastewater. The government banned large-capacity cesspools starting April 2005. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

News Briefs

Florida Algae Draws Congressional Attention
Sen. Bill Nelson coughed and complained about his allergies. His Republican colleague Sen. Marco Rubio talked of catastrophe. Last week both toured the Treasure Coast, on Florida’s Atlantic coast where two counties are inundated by a tide of putrid algae in the St. Lucie estuary.

The algae is a result of chronic problems with water management in central Florida that developed over many decades: a redirection of natural water flows, an influx of nutrients from farm and lawn fertilizers, urban runoff and septic tanks, and an old levee system.

A short-term patch would be to reduce the flow of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee, which is fueling the algae growth on the coast. This was priority number one for Rubio, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake, complied last week. The corps, however, cannot hold back too much water because storage is limited, the summer is the rainy season, and the levees are brittle and could fail.

Rubio’s other priorities include a federal emergency declaration from President Obama, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of the long-term health effects of the algae, and federal funding for an Everglades restoration project that would soak up the extra water that is now funneled to the coasts.

Water Resources Development Act Still Pending in the Senate
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), a firm advocate for the bill, urged his colleagues last Wednesday to vote on the $US 10.6 billion measure before the July recess.

“This is not a partisan problem,” Inhofe said. “This is a national crisis.”

Among the dozens of projects in the bill, largely directed at ports, dams, river restoration, and drinking water, is the Central Everglades Planning Project, which Florida’s senators support.

Clean Energy Pledge Could Help Canadian Hydropower
The leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States signed a pledge last week that half their combined electricity use by 2025 would come from clean energy sources such as solar, wind, nuclear, and hydropower. Analysts said that the non-binding deal could help Canadian hydropower.

American Steel for American Water
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Made in America Water Infrastructure Act, which requires drinking water projects funded by a federal loan fund to use iron and steel pipes made in the United States.

Studies and Reports

Evidence that Water-Repelling Chemicals Are Human Immune System Hazard
The manmade chemicals PFOA and PFOS were used in the 20th century in the making of Teflon, Scotchgard, and other water-repelling, fireproofing, stain-resistant products. A draft National Toxicology Program review of human and animal studies concludes that there is a high level of evidence that both chemicals are “presumed to be an immune hazard to humans.” The chemicals, which degrade very slowly, interfere with the body’s ability to fight off disease.

In May the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered the levels of the two chemicals that are thought to be safe in drinking water.

Dry Conditions in New England
Drought is developing in the northeastern United States, according to a weekly climate assessment from the National Resources Conservation Service. Northern Alabama and Georgia are also drought hot spots.

On the Radar

Water Data Conference
On July 12-14, federal agencies and guests from academia and industry will discuss how to make water data shareable. By making it shareable, they hope to make data more useful in climate change planning, flood forecasting, and a number of other applications.

PFOA/PFOS Science Meeting
On July 19, the National Toxicology Program will hold a peer evaluation of a science review that found strong evidence that PFOA and PFOS disrupt the human immune system. (See the report summary above.) The meeting will be webcast.

Lead and Copper Rule
The EPA still expects to release a draft lead and copper rule in 2017, said Eric Burneson of the agency’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water at a water industry conference. Members of Congress and drinking water advocates want faster action.

In response to questions about the agency’s release in May of a voluntary health advisory rather than an enforceable standard for two water-repelling chemicals, Burneson said that this class of contaminants — largely manmade chemicals and pharmaceutical compounds — presents a regulatory challenge.

“We call them emerging contaminants because the science is constantly changing,” Burneson said, according to Bloomberg BNA. “So one of the things we struggle with is getting the science out there in a way that is useful and informative to people trying to make decisions in a timely and effective manner.”

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.