Federal Water Tap, May 9: President Obama Criticizes ‘Corrosive’ Political Attitude During Flint Visit

The Rundown

Obama criticized the political culture of neglect that resulted in the Flint water crisis. Nuclear regulators say risk of groundwater contamination from using Yucca Mountain as a waste dump is small. Federal officials signed off on a California recycled water project. Arsenic in shallow household wells may be to blame for a rise in bladder cancer in New England. Federal judge says federal salmon recovery plan is not working. Colorado River runoff forecast is below average while Lake Mead water levels are dropping — and earlier than last year.

“Now, I do not believe that anybody consciously wanted to hurt the people in Flint. And this is not the place to sort out every screw-up that resulted in contaminated water. But I do think there is a larger issue that we have to acknowledge, because I do think that part of what contributed to this crisis was a broader mindset, a bigger attitude, a corrosive attitude that exists in our politics and exists in too many levels of our government.

“And it’s a mindset that believes that less government is the highest good no matter what. It’s a mindset that says environmental rules designed to keep your water clean or your air clean are optional, or not that important, or unnecessarily burden businesses or taxpayers. It’s an ideology that undervalues the common good, says we’re all on our own and what’s in it for me, and how do I do well, but I’m not going to invest in what we need as a community. And, as a consequence, you end up seeing an under-investment in the things that we all share that make us safe, that make us whole, that give us the ability to pursue our own individual dreams.” — President Barack Obama speaking at Northwestern High School, in Flint, Michigan, about the political culture of neglect that resulted in the city’s water crisis.

By the Numbers

Two-thirds: Share of U.S. natural gas production from hydraulically fractured wells. (Energy Information Administration)

2,500: Samples of aquatic insects along the Colorado River taken by citizen scientists and used for a study of the effect of periodic, high-volume water releases from dams on river food webs. Such releases destroy insect communities along the river edge, the study found. (U.S. Geological Survey)

77 Percent: Inflow to Lake Powell this summer, compared to the 30-year average. Wetter than normal conditions in April bumped up the forecast slightly, by two to three percentage points. But still, a subpar year. (Colorado Basin River Forecast Center)

#2: The first four months of 2016 are the second warmest on record in the United States. (NOAA)

News Briefs

President Obama Visits Flint
President Obama had two goals during his afternoon in Flint. First, he wanted to assure residents that officials were at work to right the terrible wrongs.

“I will not rest and will make sure that leaders at every level of government do not rest until every drop of water that flows to your homes is safe to drink, and safe to cook with, and safe to bath in” — he leans into the mic, his voice now booming – “because that’s part of the basic responsibilities of a government in the United States of America.” The crowd cheered loudly.

Filtered water is safe to drink, he said, except for children under age 6 and pregnant women. He also encouraged parents to have children tested for lead.

The president’s second aim was to criticize the “corrosive attitude” in American political cultural that results in under-investment in public infrastructure.

Circle of Blue reporter Keith Schneider filed this report from the Northwestern High School gym where the president spoke.

Salmon Struggles
A U.S. District Court judge, citing a failed approach, threw out federal salmon recovery plans for the Columbia and Snake rivers, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. One remedy he suggested — removing one or more of the four Lower Snake River dams — is politically explosive. The agencies now have a March 1, 2018 deadline to write a new plan.

California Recycled Water Project Approved
The Bureau of Reclamation signed a final agreement to facilitate the delivery of municipal recycled water to farms in California’s Central Valley. Up to 59,000 acre-feet of recycled water from the cities of Modesto and Turlock will be sent to Del Puerto Water District via the Delta-Mendota Canal, a federal facility.

Studies and Reports

Nuclear Waste and Groundwater
Burying nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, a proposed storage site in southern Nevada, would have a “small” effect on groundwater resources, according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission analysis. The NRC assessed the human health and environmental effects over a million-year time frame, and assumed that the region’s current population would remain the same. The main population center is Amargosa Farms, located 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the site.

Arsenic in Private Wells and Bladder Cancer
The presence of arsenic in shallow household wells that were hand-dug in the first half of the 20th century are a possible cause for the rise in bladder cancer cases in New England states, according to a National Cancer Institute study.

Green Infrastructure Accountability
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ought to track the environmental and economic benefits of some $US 3.2 billion spent between 2009 and 2014 on green infrastructure and water and energy efficiency projects, according to the agency’s internal watchdog. The projects were funded through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a program that uses federal and state dollars to provide low-interest loans.

On the Radar

Lake Mead Watch
The water level in the nation’s largest reservoir will drop below the 1,075-ft mark by the end of the week, according to a Bureau of Reclamation forecast.

That mark is important for several reasons. It is the threshold for declaring a shortage in the lower Colorado River Basin, meaning the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. However, a shortage declaration only occurs if the January water level is expected to drop below that mark. So no restrictions yet. But, Lake Mead is breaching the 1,075-ft level six weeks sooner than it did in 2015 and water inflows will be below average. The time of shortage draws nearer.

Yet, in another twist, the lower basin states are in negotiations to keep more water in Mead in order to stave off or delay a shortage declaration. This is the new normal for the Southwest.

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.

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