Federal Water Tap, June 6: Oil Train Derails in Columbia River Gorge

The Rundown

EPA investigators are on the scene of an oil train derailment on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, finding oil seeping into the water and damage to the town of Mosier’s wastewater system. The U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of property owners in a Clean Water Act challenge. The U.S. Geological Survey publishes a map of national groundwater quality trends over the last two decades. The U.S. Forest Service finds declining water availability in Appalachian forests. The Congressional Budget Office analyzes the projected increase in the economic cost of hurricanes and how the federal government can trim the bill. NOAA outlines its toxic algae plan for the Great Lakes while the U.S. and Canadian governments name eight chemicals of concern.

“No water down the drain — NO indoor water use!” — a flyer posted in Mosier, Oregon, advertising a June 5 meeting on the oil train derailment. The accident damaged the town’s wastewater system, and residents, as of Sunday evening, were told not to wash, flush the toilet or put anything down the sink.

By the Numbers

$US 200,000: Funding requested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assist with the cleanup of the rail accident on June 3 that spilled oil into the Columbia River. The money comes from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is largely funded through taxes on the oil industry. (EPA)

16: Number of rail cars, out of 96, that derailed. (EPA)

4: Number of rail cars that were punctured or burned. The fires were extinguished at roughly 2 a.m. on June 4, some 14 hours after the accident. (EPA)

22 percent: Decline in water runoff since the mid-1970s from six research watersheds in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. The decline is largely due to changes in climate, but also to the replacement of oak and hickory forests with maple and poplar, which use more water. (U.S. Forest Service)

News Briefs

Oil Train Derails in Columbia River Gorge
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigators are on the scene of an oil train derailment on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. On June 3 at midday, 16 cars in a 96-car Union Pacific rail train derailed. The train was carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota. Union Pacific says that a faulty track is to blame, the Associated Press reports.

Authorities detected an oil sheen on the Columbia River that has been contained by booms. They are still investigating the source, thought to be either a storm sewer pipe or groundwater seepage. Oil was not flowing over land.

The accident also damaged the wastewater system for the town of Mosier, home to roughly 430 people. As of Sunday night residents were told not to wash, flush the toilet or put anything down the sink.

Supreme Court Opens Clean Water Act Regulation to Greater Scrutiny
In a unanimous 8 to 0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a victory to property owners who want to challenge federal claims that a water body on their land is subjected to Clean Water Act regulations. Property owners may take the claim to court before the agency levies a penalty.

The ruling opens the door to more Clean Water Act lawsuits, according to Politico.

Studies and Reports

National Groundwater Quality Map
The U.S. Geological Survey published a map of trends in groundwater pollution over the last two decades. The assessment looks at 24 pesticides, nutrients, gasoline additives, and other chemicals. Concentrations of chloride, found in road salt, and nitrates, which come from farm runoff, landfills, soil, and sewage plants, are increasing nationwide. Arsenic levels are holding steady or falling.

The assessment does not trace the source of the contamination.

Climate Change to Increase Hurricane Damage
Annual economic damages from hurricanes will grow nearly 40 percent by 2075, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis. More than half the increase is attributed to rising seas and more frequent storms. The rest is due to projected population growth and new construction in coastal counties.

The report also analyzed three strategies for reducing the federal government’s exposure to the rising costs: cut greenhouse gas emissions, shift costs to state and local governments and private property owners by increasing insurance premiums or raising the damage threshold for federal aid, and design buildings and cities to withstand storm surges and drenching rain.

Great Lakes Chemicals of Concern
The Canadian and U.S. governments identified eight chemicals derived from human sources that officials will target for regulation and cleanup in the Great Lakes. The list has some well-known members, such as PCBs, a coolant, and a few chemicals that have recently garnered news headlines, such as the compounds PFOA and PFOS, both water repellents.

On the Radar

Plan to Combat Toxic Algae Blooms
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration posted an outline of its plan for reducing the size and frequency of the toxic algae blooms that have plagued the Great Lakes recently, particularly the western basin of Lake Erie.

The report will recommend more monitoring of environmental conditions and data collection, as well as reducing nutrient inputs into the lakes. Earlier this year the governments of Canada and the United States agreed to a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus in Lake Erie.

Delaware River Basin Water Fees
In order to balance its budget, the multi-state commission that manages the Delaware River Basin is considering increases in the fees it charges for water supplies and for new projects. Fees for water supply would rise each year with inflation. Water supply charges are currently $US 80 per million gallons for consumptive use such as irrigation and $US 0.80 per million gallons for non-consumptive uses such as power plant cooling.

A public hearing will be held on July 27 in West Trenton, New Jersey.

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.