Federal Water Tap, October 10: In Rare Presidential Move, Obama Says ‘Aquifer’

The Rundown

Presidents usually do not talk about aquifers or groundwater, but Obama did, briefly. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes an Endangered Species Act listing for an Alabama salamander. The Bureau of Reclamation offers a $US 1 million prize for reducing desalination brine. The EPA’s internal watchdog will investigate the water-saving claims of the WaterSense labeling program while EPA crews in Colorado consider how best to cleanup abandoned mines. The Bureau of Reclamation finalizes a 20-year management plan for Glen Canyon Dam. Reservoirs in California’s Central Valley have more water than last year, but less than average. Federal agencies host a New England drought forum.

“Now, there are a lot of environmentalists who absolutely object to fracking because their attitude is sometimes it’s done really sloppy and releases methane that is even a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It leaks into people’s water supplies and aquifers, and when done improperly can really harm a lot of people. And their attitude is we got to leave that stuff in the ground if we’re going to solve climate change. And I get all that. On the other hand, the fact that we’re transitioning from coal to natural gas means less greenhouse gases.” — President Obama speaking about energy choices at South by South Lawn, a science and technology event on the White House’s backyard.

By the Numbers

669: Miles of river in 10 Alabama counties proposed as “critical habitat” for the Black Warrior waterdog, a salamander. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also proposing to list the creature as an endangered species. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

$US 1 million: Prize challenge for reducing the salty waste from desalination or developing a better disposal method, especially for inland communities. In these areas, the brine is usually injected deep underground, put in ponds to evaporate, or occasionally sent to wastewater plants. (Bureau of Reclamation)

4.9 million: Acre-feet of water in storage on October 1 for the Central Valley Project, in California. This is 70 percent more water in the reservoirs than a year ago but lower than the long-term average. The project is an important supplier of irrigation water in the Central Valley, a major farm region. Despite some rain, California is still in drought. (Bureau of Reclamation)

$US 350 million: Damages sought in a lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation for withholding irrigation water for certain farmers in California’s Central Valley in 2014. The contractors, who received no water from the federal canal, claim that enough water was available for them to get a piece of the pie. (Fresno Bee)

News Briefs

Obama Says ‘Aquifer’
It was a rare event. When discussing the pros and cons of the country’s natural gas boom last week, President Obama noted that methane can “leak into people’s water supplies and aquifers.”

Presidents say a lot of words, but “aquifer” is not a common choice. According to a search of the American Presidency Project, an archive of speeches, press conferences, proclamations, and executive orders, U.S. presidents have mentioned “aquifers” just 14 times, all since 1970. “Groundwater” is only slightly less rare, being uttered 21 times.

Obama, in fact, has spoken of aquifers and groundwater more than any other president, with 11 combined mentions. Jimmy Carter comes second, having nine. Yes, it’s a low bar. And Carter had only one term.

Glen Canyon Management Plan
The Department of the Interior published the final environmental review of a 20-year management plan for Glen Canyon Dam, on the Colorado River. The timing of water released through the dam influences the shape of the river, its sandbars, and its fish and insect habitat downstream in the Grand Canyon. The department also wants to maintain or increase hydropower generation at the dam.

Studies and Reports

EPA Assays Gold King
The blowout at the Gold King mine, and the mustard-colored water it released, generated headlines but mine drainage is a chronic problem. The acidic water that flows from abandoned mines in the upper Animas River Basin, in southwest Colorado, equals more than a dozen Gold King mine spills every week.

The Denver Post reports on a quandary the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency faces as it prepares the area, now a Superfund site, for cleanup. That quandary: how to protect the public from the toxic metals and how to drain and treat the daily flow of millions of gallons of polluted water? Before they can answer those questions, EPA crews need to understand the movement of water in the labyrinth of mine shafts and tunnels, so as not to trigger another blowout.

Groundwater Levels in Houston-Galveston
The U.S. Geological Survey published its annual assessment of water-level changes in the aquifers around the Texas cities of Houston and Galveston, as well as changes in land elevation. Sinking of the land due to groundwater use is a long-running concern in this area.

WaterSense Investigation
WaterSense is the 10-year-old labeling program run by the EPA that identifies water-saving products. The EPA Office of the Inspector General will investigate the program, to check if the water-saving claims actually pan out.

On the Radar

New England Drought Outlook
State and federal agencies are hosting an all-day forum on October 11 to discuss the drought in the Northeast, responses to the record-setting dryness, and what weather to expect in the next three months. The event will be streamed live on YouTube.

Florida v. Georgia Trial Scheduled
October 31 is the trial date for the U.S. Supreme Court case between the southern neighbors, Lakeside News reports. Florida sued Georgia over water flows in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin.

WIFIA Information Sessions
Authorized in 2014, WIFIA is the latest federal water infrastructure financing program, designed for large regional projects. The EPA will hold a series of information sessions this fall for potential applicants. To register, sign up here.

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.