Federal Water Tap, June 13: Federal Agencies Release Algae Bloom and Dead Zone Forecasts

The Rundown

Forecasts for Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie are for normal dead zones and algae blooms, which is to say that the water pollution is still bad and not close to meeting targets. A Pennsylvania congressman calls for federal investigation of groundwater pollution while California representatives want answers about federal reservoir operations in the state. The Bureau of Reclamation provides recycled water funding for California. The EPA releases draft drinking water standards for a post-nuclear meltdown or attack. The agency also says the formula for distributing money to state from a federal clean water fund should be revised. Cases of Legionnaires’ disease are on the rise.

“No progress has been made in reducing the nitrate loading.” — Nancy Rabalais and Eugene Turner, two Louisiana oceanographers who study the Gulf of Mexico, writing about the summer dead zone forecast. Nitrate pollution from the Mississippi River Basin is one of the most significant variables for determining the size of the low-oxygen area that is lethal to marine life.

By the Numbers

$US 30 million: Funding for seven water recycling and brackish groundwater desalination projects in California. (Bureau of Reclamation)

Zero: Amount of snowpack remaining in three basins in Washington’s Cascade and Olympic mountains. Only in the southern Rockies is the snowpack above normal for this time of year. (National Water and Climate Center)

News Briefs

Summer Water Quality Forecasts for Gulf Coast and Lake Erie
Federal forecasts predict an average low-oxygen dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and a smaller-than-average bloom of toxic algae in Lake Erie this summer.

Water quality in the two waterways, however, is still not good. The gulf’s dead zone this July will be roughly the size of Connecticut, or 15,275 square kilometers (5,898 square miles). That is more than three times the target of a 2008 hypoxia “action” plan to shrink the dead zone. Last year, a task force of local, state, and federal agencies acknowledged failure and extended the deadline to meet the target by two decades, to 2035.

The Lake Erie forecast is for a below-average algae bloom because the weather forecast shows drier-than-normal conditions in the next six weeks. Low rainfall will wash fewer nutrients into the lake.

Oregon Reps Call for Oil Train Moratorium through Gorge
After a June 3 derailment that resulted in four oil cars on fire and a town evacuated, Oregon Democrats called for a moratorium on oil trains through the Columbia River Gorge, where the accident occurred.

Pennsylvania Rep Calls for Groundwater Investigation
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) asked for a congressional investigation over potential groundwater contamination at military bases in the United States. Boyle is concerned about perfluorinated compounds, which have been used in firefighting foams at 664 military sites nationwide and are linked to cancer in laboratory animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightened its health standard for PFOA and PFOS, two such compounds, in May.

California Reps Question Reservoir Operations
A group of 14 Republicans and one Democrat, all from California, wrote a letter to the heads of the Interior and Commerce departments to call into question agency actions to protect fish. The amount of water released from federal reservoirs in California could be reduced this summer to keep stream temperatures cool enough for spawning salmon.

Drinking Water Standards after a Nuclear Attack or Meltdown
Government agencies call them “radiological emergencies” but the draft standards released last week by the EPA are meant to guide drinking water treatment after a nuclear attack or reactor meltdown.

The standards propose two tiers: a radiation dose that children and pregnant and nursing women should not exceed, and a dose for the general population. The standards are guidelines, not a regulation, which means they are not legally enforceable. Public comments are being accepted until July 25 at www.regulations.gov, using docket number EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-0268.

Studies and Reports

EPA Reviews Clean Water Fund Allotments
The distribution of federal funds to states for sewer, wastewater, and stormwater facilities reflects neither changes in state population over the last three decades nor the infrastructure needs for utilities to meet Clean Water Act goals, according to an EPA analysis published this week. The pie ought to be sliced differently, the report argues.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund is the federal government’s foremost program for investing in local water infrastructure. Revising the fund’s allocation formula, now nearly 30 years old, could drastically shift the resources available to many states and would have the largest effect on small and rural communities, which rely on the loans for expensive projects.

The report, which was required as part of the 2014 Water Resources Development and Reform Act, offers revisions to the allocation formula. The revisions take into account the agency’s needs survey, population changes, and water pollution measurements. See Circle of Blue’s coverage for more details.

Pneumonia-like Disease on the Rise
Cases of Legionnaires’ disease quadrupled in the last 15 years in the United States, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. The disease, which is deadly in 10 percent of cases, is spread by breathing contaminated airborne water droplets. The CDC estimates that 9 out of 10 outbreaks could have been prevented with better management, either by replacing filters or disinfecting water.

Weather Summary
The first five months of 2016 have been hot and wet, according to NOAA data. The middle third of the country, including Texas, which experienced disastrous floods in May, was wetter than normal. Average temperatures in every state were near record highs for the five-month period.

On the Radar

Fracking Meeting
The EPA’s science advisory board will hold a public meeting on June 14 and 15 to discuss its draft peer review of the agency’s report on hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. The meeting is in Alexandria, Virginia, and it will be available via teleconference. See the first link above for details.

Oil Pipeline Safety
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet on June 14 to discuss oil pipeline safety. Congress is considering multiple pipeline safety bills.

No Federal Water for Pot Farms
Federal authorities sent letters to county officials in central Washington asking for help in preventing water from federal irrigation projects from being used to grow marijuana, the Yakima Herald reports. Pot farming is legal in the state but using federal water to do so is not.

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.