Federal Water Tap, November 14: Final Months of the Obama Administration

The Rundown

Transition time for the federal government. Congress has unfinished business in the lame-duck session, including a water infrastructure bill. Congressional Republicans support a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s Clean Water Act rule. A new non-native species is confirmed in Lake Erie. A nuclear waste storage facility is proposed for West Texas. The Army Corps meets with representatives of Indian tribes that are protesting the Dakota Access pipeline. Job training grants target economic development in coal communities. The EPA files a lawsuit over stormwater flows in Colorado Springs, while Washington state petitions the agency to ban ships from dumping sewage into Puget Sound.

“My Republican colleagues and I took the message to the international community last year that the American people do not support President Obama’s climate commitments as part of the Paris Agreement, but nobody wanted to believe us. The message can no longer be ignored: Americans do not support it when their president sidesteps Congress. They also do not support economically damaging mandates that have no measurable impact to climate change…President Obama’s climate legacy has been solidified with Tuesday’s election results and will be remembered for being built on hollow commitments.” — Statement from Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) after the November 8 election.

By the Numbers

88: Senators and representatives, mostly Republicans, who submitted an amicus brief in a federal lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States rule, which attempts to outline which waterbodies are regulated by the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit was brought by 31 state attorneys general and dozens of business groups. Two Democrats signed the amicus brief. Opening briefs from the states were filed November 1. (U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit)

$US 28 million: Grants to coal communities for job training and to jumpstart non-coal industries. One grant, for $US 1.4 million, will allow a southwest Virginia colleges to offer courses on cybersecurity. (White House)

News Briefs

Congress Returns
Before the election break, several major bills were sent to conference committee, which resolves differences between House and Senate versions. One is the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes port, dam, and drinking water projects. A water infrastructure coalition sent a letter on October 31 to the committee chairs urging them to support Title VII of the bill, which addresses drinking water systems. It would provide $US 34 billion over five years to a federal infrastructure loan program and $US 300 million in grants over five years to replace lead pipes. It also includes money for a voluntary lead-testing program at schools.

Congress must also, by December 9, fund the government for next fiscal year. A short-term spending resolution was passed in September.

The Last Months of the Obama White House
The end is near, but administration officials will be hustling to wrap up last minute business. Some of those agenda items:

  • Designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act. High Country News has a map showing which lands are under consideration.
  • Publish a national drinking water strategy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working since this spring on a new plan to ensure the safety of America’s tap water. It is due in December.
  • Work on a new Colorado River deal with Mexico. Called “minutes,” these deals are negotiated every few years. The current one expires at the end of 2017. A Bureau of Reclamation spokesman told Circle of Blue that the sides met last week but gave no further details. James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a party to the talks, says that the seven basin states had hoped to get a deal done before the Obama administration left office, but he does not know if that will happen. “The train for the next minute is still on track, but it will take some diligence and engagement for the new administration,” he told Circle of Blue. The next minute is expected to allocate water to the Colorado River delta and address drought and conservation.

New Non-native Species in Great Lakes
Cornell and EPA researchers confirmed that the Great Lakes have a new inhabitant. Thermocyclops crassus, a zooplankton, is living in the western basin of Lake Erie.

“There is not enough information yet to know how this non-native species entered the Great Lakes or how it will affect the Great Lakes ecosystem,” an EPA spokesman told Circle of Blue. Present on multiple continents, the plankton has been found in Lake Champlain, in New York and Vermont, for years without significant ecosystem consequences.

Colorado Springs Stormwater Lawsuit
The mayor of Colorado Springs is not pleased that the EPA and the Colorado health department sued the city over stormwater discharges, according to the Gazette. The city and Pueblo County recently signed a 20-year, $US 460 million stormwater plan. “Rather than working with us to get this done, they file a lawsuit,” Mayor John Suthers said.

Studies and Reports

Willingness to Pay for Nutrient Cuts
How much are clean coasts worth? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will conduct a survey of Cape Cod residents and those living within 100 miles of the Cape on the value of reducing nutrient pollution for swimming, boating, fishing, and all other recreational uses of the coastal waters. Record blooms of toxic algae this summer and fall closed shellfish harvesting along southern Cape Cod.

Sewage Dumping in Puget Sound
The Washington State Department of Ecology has asked the EPA regional office to allow a ban on ships dumping untreated sewage into Puget Sound. The rule applies to recreational boats longer than 21 feet and all commercial vessels.

Hydropower in Undeveloped Streams
The Department of Energy seeks proposals for new technology or techniques that could boost hydropower development in unbroken streams but without causing environmental harm.

Details are in the above link, and proposals should be sent to HydroNextFOA@ee.doe.gov by December 16.

On the Radar

Dakota Access Pipeline
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district commander met with representatives of several Indian tribes involved in the pipeline protests. The corps said it would help provide a winter camp inside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation for protestors. The corps did not respond to Circle of Blue’s questions about the nature of this camp or the corps’ review of the pipeline route.

Nuclear Waste Storage
A Texas company proposes to store 40,000 metric tons of nuclear fuel waste at a disposal facility in the Permian Basin of western Texas. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will lead the environmental review.

Waste Control Specialists would build the nuclear-fuel disposal site near its existing hazardous waste facilities in Andrews County, Texas.

Public comments on the scope of the review are being accepted for 45 days. Send them to WCS_CISF_EIS@nrc.gov.

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.