Pipeline protesters face December 5 deadline to move camp. U.S. regulators grant another permit to a cross-border electricity transmission line that will boost imports of Canadian hydropower. Nine oil and gas companies develop endangered species habitat plan in the Marcellus Shale region. The EPA rejects many of Washington state’s proposed water quality standards. Congress continues work on an energy bill that has water implications.
“As I have publicly stated, I am asking you, as a tribal leader, to encourage members of your tribe, as well as any non-members who support you who are located in the encampments north of the Cannonball River on Corps’ lands to immediately and peacefully move to the free speech zone south of the Cannonball River or to a more sustainable location for the winter. I am genuinely concerned for the safety and well-being of both the members of your tribe and the general public located at these encampments.” — Col. John Henderson, Army Corps of Engineers Omaha district commander, in a letter to Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II informing him that a Dakota Access protest camp on federal land will be closed by December 5.
By the Numbers
2.875 percent: Discount rate to be used by federal agencies for water resources planning in 2017. The discount rate converts future money value into present terms, like an interest rate in reverse. (Bureau of Reclamation)
Dakota Access Update
The Army Corps of Engineers indicated that it will close a Dakota Access pipeline protest camp that is on federal land. The Corps wants protestors at the Oceti Sakowin camp north of the Cannonball River to move to a “free speech zone” south of the river that is also on federal land.
Anyone at the camp north of the Cannonball River after December “will be considered trespassing” and subject to prosecution, according to a Thanksgiving Day letter from Corps leadership to the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux. Any person remaining on the land “does so at their own risk” and “assumes any and all liabilities for their unlawful presence and occupation of such lands,” the letter continues.
Col. John Henderson, the Army Corps Omaha district commander, gave several reasons for removing protesters: inadequate emergency services and facilities for the North Dakota winter; the presence of grazers who lease most of the land; and the desire “to protect the general public from violent confrontations” between protesters and police.
Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II rebutted the order by offering another way that the U.S. government could protect the general public: by rejecting the pipeline.
“The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police, is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny it now,” Archambault wrote in a statement.
Energy Bill Negotiations
House and Senate leaders continue negotiations over an energy policy bill that has implications for hydropower, water conservation, and western water policy. The top Senate Democrat and Republican working on the bill noted that significant differences remain but they hope to send a final bill to President Obama before Congress adjourns.
The Senate bill would make permanent the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenues from offshore oil and gas production for parks, wetlands, and historic sites. The bill also authorizes a water infrastructure and fish habitat project in Washington’s Yakima Basin, requires changes in how the Army Corps operates reservoirs, and establishes the Nexus of Energy and Water Sustainability office to coordinate water and energy programs across federal agencies.
The House bill, meanwhile, has drawn criticism on several fronts. Green groups object to provisions that remove hydropower oversight from local communities and Democrats object to the addition of a California drought package that Republicans inserted as an amendment. That drought package would, among other actions, ease the delivery of water south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Balancing Development and Conservation
Because of increasing development and pressure from climate change, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a new policy for preventing the loss of habitat. The policy emphasizes large-scale restoration and the protection of key resources before development takes place.
EPA Rejects Many of Washington State’s Proposed Water Standards
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that Washington state’s proposed standards for PCBs, mercury, and arsenic were too lax, the Associated Press reports. The agency is stepping in with its own limits.
The standards are based on a revised estimate of daily fish consumption, which increased from 6.5 grams per person per day to 175 grams. The higher estimate was spurred by Native American tribes, whose members eat more fish than average and therefore faced more exposure to chemicals in fish tissue.
The full standards and the rationale for adopting them are found here.
Studies and Reports
High-Voltage Transmission Line Gets Border-Crossing Permit
Federal approval of the Great Northern transmission line will help deliver Canadian hydropower to U.S. customers. Being built by Minnesota Power and Manitoba Hydro, the 225-mile line will increase the flow of lower-carbon electricity across the border in both directions.
In June, the leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States pledged that half of their combined electricity generation would come from sources such as solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal. That pledge could boost Canadian hydropower exports to the United States — as long as the transmission capacity increases to accommodate the exports. That’s one of the purposes of Great Northern, which will also allow Minnesota utilities to send surplus wind power to the north.
The transmission line still needs permits from the Army Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The target date to begin operation is June 2020. The estimated cost is $US 560 million to $US 710 million.
Ozarks Plateau Aquifer Study
The U.S. Geological Survey assessed the Ozarks Plateau Aquifer, an underground water source primarily in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. More than 5 million people live in the region, where karst geology means a close connection between groundwater and surface water — think limestone rock and springs.
On the Radar
Protecting Mid-Atlantic Endangered Species from Oil and Gas. And Killing Some of Them
Nine oil and gas companies operating in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia will develop a 50-year plan to protect endangered species habitat while continuing to drill and pump.
In developing the plan, the companies are also requesting that they be allowed to inadvertently kill or injure certain endangered species. They are seeking a federal permit called “incidental take” for five bat species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is overseeing the environmental review. Public comments are being accepted via www.reguations.gov using docket number FWS-R5-ES-2016-0135.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton