Federal Water Tap, November 7: Colorado River Flood Builds Grand Canyon Sandbars

The Rundown

Floodwaters will push through the Grand Canyon this week as dam operators release water upstream to build beaches. The Obama administration reevaluates the Dakota Access pipeline route. Hurricane Matthew wrecked protective sand dunes on the southern Atlantic coast. San Diego’s biggest wastewater facility gets an EPA pollution waiver. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers $US 331 million in grants and loans for small community water systems. Coca-Cola donates money to the U.S. government for water projects abroad. And lastly, the president’s science advisors will discuss a water technology study later this month.

“We’re monitoring this closely, and you know I think that as a general rule my view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans.” — President Obama, in an interview with online news site Now This News about the Dakota Access pipeline. The president said that the U.S. Army Corps is reviewing the route of the controversial oil pipeline that has drawn thousands of protestors to camps in North Dakota.

By the Numbers

42: Percent of South Carolina’s coastal sand dunes that were damaged or destroyed when Hurricane Matthew hit the state in early October. Neighboring states also suffered dune losses: 15 percent of dunes on Florida’s Atlantic coast and 30 percent in Georgia. (U.S. Geological Survey)

$US 331 million: New federal investment in water and wastewater systems for communities with fewer than 10,000 residents. Eighty percent of the funds are loans. The remainder are grants. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

$US 22 million: Five-year funding agreement between Coca-Cola and the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide water and sanitation abroad. USAID officials have not yet responded to Circle of Blue’s request for information about this next phase of the partnership, which began in 2005. Check back next week for more details. (USAID)

57.4 miles: Length of proposed Spire STL natural gas pipeline in Illinois and Missouri. (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission)

News Briefs

Colorado River Flood This Week
Ahoy, boaters! Today, November 7, the operators of Glen Canyon Dam will open the gates for a controlled flood. The high-flow experiment, which will last for six days, is intended to rebuild beaches and sandbars in the Grand Canyon. Peak flows will resemble this graph.

Glen Canyon Dam traps sediment that used to nurture the river’s ecology. A U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet describes how clear water is detrimental to native fish such as the humpback chub, an endangered species. Sediment and water quality data is updated every 15 minutes by the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center.

The high-flow releases are triggered when the Paria River, a Colorado tributary, discharges large amounts of sediment. The rush of water from Glen Canyon pushes the sediment downstream.

Jack Schmidt, a Utah State University professor and former head of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, calls this operational trigger “the most important water management decision in the Grand Canyon that is informed by science.”

San Diego Wastewater Plant Gets Permit Waiver
EPA regional officials will allow San Diego’s largest wastewater treatment facility to continue operating even though the water it dumps into the Pacific Ocean does not meet Clean Water Act standards.

The draft 301(h) waiver, named for a section of the Clean Water Act, lets the Point Loma facility discharge water that exceeds standards for total suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demand, a measure of the amount of organic matter in the water. The waiver is good for five years.

One of the conditions is that San Diego will build advanced treatment facilities to recycle water for municipal use and, in turn, reduce pollution discharges to the ocean. Called Pure Water San Diego, this recycled drinking water program is expected to produce one-third of the city’s water supply, or 83 million gallons per day, by 2035. By investing $US 3 billion in the recycled water program, San Diego officials hope to avoid the $US 2 billion cost of upgrading Point Loma while cutting its reliance on imported water.

There are, however, hitches. One, the city needs Congress to approve a permanent exemption for Point Loma. Two, there might be unforeseen costs. The news agency Voice of San Diego reports that water conservation in response to the state’s drought emergency has resulted in not enough sewage in the right places. Redirecting the sewage flow could add $US 400 million to the project, which is now seeing a backlash from metro water agencies that signed on to the plan.

The draft waiver is open for public comments, which are due by December 21. Send them to Kozelka.Peter@epa.gov with the subject line “Comment – Tentative Order No. R9-2017-0007.”

Florida v. Georgia
On October 31, the southern neighbors opened their U.S. Supreme Court trial over water use in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.

Studies and Reports

Climate Resilience Report
The White House released a report detailing the administration’s actions to prepare communities for climate change. This includes assessment tools for sea-level rise and water infrastructure, as well as executive orders and agency coordination.

Agency Magazine
Government agencies are publishers too. The fall issue of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Research and Development Office magazine looks at the bureau’s work on water treatment technology.

Federal Reserve Bank Report
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, one of 12 regional federal banks, published a special edition of its academic journal. The six papers in the special edition focus on water, agriculture, and the role of markets and institutions.

On the Radar

President’s Science Advisers Discuss Water Tech Study
On November 18, President Obama’s geek squad will meet at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. to discuss a study of drinking water technology. The meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. Eastern, will be webcast at this link.

Flood Risk in Upper Susquehanna River Basin
The Army Corps will study ways of reducing flood damage in the Susquehanna watershed, in New York state. Congress ordered the study in 2008.

Managing the Forest for Water
To reduce the potential for a severe wildfire and to improve water quality, the U.S. Forest Service will investigate a plan to cut trees and burn forests in Kootenai National Forest, in northwest Montana and northern Idaho.

The plan calls for more than 2,100 acres of tree cutting and roughly 9,950 acres of prescribed burns.

Comments on the scope of the study are due December 7 and can be emailed to comments-northern-kootenai-three-rivers@fs.fed.us. A draft environmental impact statement is expected by June 2017.

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.