Federal Water Tap, October 17: Army Corps Submits Dakota Access Pipeline Response

The Rundown

The Army Corps denies allegations that it did not follow federal rules in approving Dakota Access pipeline permits. A Bureau of Reclamation program in the Klamath River Basin wasted millions of dollars on farm payments. The Interior Department begins a study of the social and economic benefits of Indian water rights settlements. Pacific Ocean temperatures indicate a weak La Nina, which could affect winter weather in the West. A U.S.-Canadian commission releases recommendations for keeping bits of plastic out of the Great Lakes. An economic study asks why livestock farms don’t participate in Chesapeake Bay nutrient trading markets. A Texas-to-Mexico gasoline pipeline begins an environmental review. And lastly, the State Department is developing a new global water strategy.

“To the contrary, payments to [the Bureau of Reclamation’s] water contractors in this context, particularly for land idling, appear to be simply compensating them for an alleged loss of their property rights rather than benefiting fish and wildlife.” — An investigation from the Interior Department’s internal watchdog that found that the Bureau of Reclamation wasted $US 32 million on a water transfer program in the Klamath River Basin.

By the Numbers

70: Percent chance of weak La Nina conditions developing in the fall because water temperatures in the eastern Pacific cooled significantly last month. Winter, however, is when La Nina conditions are most relevant, often delivering wet weather to the Pacific Northwest and dry conditions in the Southwest. Odds of La Nina lasting through the winter are 55 percent. (NOAA)

$US 101 million: Dollars spent by 12 federal agencies in fiscal years 2013 to 2015 on research and monitoring harmful algae blooms. (Government Accountability Office)

News Briefs

Dakota Access Lawsuit: Army Corps Responds
In a briefing filed on October 11 in U.S. district court, the Army Corps denied that it violated any federal law when it approved in July the river-crossing permits for the Dakota Access pipeline. The pipeline has been a nucleus of dissent for tribes across the United States and Canada, who have set up camp on the North Dakota plains in protest, and for those opposed to expansion of fossil fuel production.

The lawsuit opposing the pipeline was filed on July 27 by the Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation lies a half mile downstream of where the pipeline would cross Lake Oahe, a reservoir operated by the Army Corps. The tribe claims that there are “culturally important” sites within the permit area. The Army Corps denies that the tribe ever identified any such places.

Millions Wasted in Klamath Groundwater Scheme
The Bureau of Reclamation wasted $US 32 million over seven years on a misguided program of drought management and fish protection in the Klamath River Basin of California and Oregon, according to a watchdog agency’s investigation. Reclamation lacked the legal authority to carry out the program, says the Interior Department’s inspector general.

The program, which paid farmers to pump groundwater or fallow land rather than draw from streams, resulted in neither a drought plan nor any advantage for fish. The payments “appear to be simply compensating [farmers] for an alleged loss of their property rights rather than benefiting fish and wildlife,” the report states.

The contract in question ended in March 2016, and the inspector general’s report recommends that Reclamation not enter into any more such funding agreements until it has legal authority and knows how the funds will be spent. Reclamation disagrees with these conclusions. How to handle future agreements is an unresolved matter within the Interior Department.

No Prosecution in Gold King Mine Spill
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado will not pursue criminal charges against a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employee who was involved in the August 2015 blowout at the southwestern Colorado mine, the Associated Press reports. The EPA inspector general will now continue an internal investigation it had paused until the criminal probe was completed.

Studies and Reports

The Value of the Water Rights Deal
The Interior Department is beginning a study of the social and economic value of Indian water rights settlements. A settlement is a negotiation that avoids a lengthy court proceeding and secures water for a tribe — and often the money needed to deliver that water to the reservation. Tribes, states, and the federal government have signed more than two dozen settlements.

Reclamation Report on Protecting Lower Klamath River Salmon
The Bureau of Reclamation wants to prevent the spread of Ich, a deadly parasitic fish disease, in California’s lower Klamath River. Ich is spread by too many fish in too little water that is too warm. According to a draft environmental review, Reclamation wants to increase water releases from the Trinity River into the lower Klamath when river flows are low in August and September.

But with water in the American West, there’s always a fun quirk. The Trinity is the largest tributary of the Klamath, but a portion of the Trinity’s flow is also diverted into the Central Valley Project, a federal reservoir-and-canal system which sends water from northern California to farms in the San Joaquin Valley, hundreds of miles to the south. Operation of the Central Valley Project is coordinated with the State Water Project, a state-owned system of similar grandeur. The effect on those two project had to be analyzed in this review. Central Valley Project deliveries would be reduced by less than one percent under the proposed action.

Public comments are being accepted through December 5 and can be emailed to BOR-SLO-sha-ltpeis-public-comments@usbr.gov.

Tiny Plastics in Great Lakes Waters
The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian body that oversees shared waters, is seeking public input on its recommendations for preventing tiny bits of plastic from harming the Great Lakes. The four recommendations are broad, mostly urging further public education, scientific study, or analysis of existing regulations to find out which federal, local, and provincial policies work best.

Submit comments online.

Barriers to Nutrient Trading in Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Dairies and other livestock farms are less likely than crop farmers to participate in nutrient trading programs designed to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study. Trading programs allow farms to generate credits from reducing nutrient flows. They can sell those credits to wastewater plants, where similar reductions might be more costly.

Livestock farms, however, face a set of regulations, namely for manure, that crop farmers do not. In short, they produce more poop than they can handle. The authors of the study note that regulators should assess the nutrient reductions they want from trading and use that information to decide whether to alter the rules so that livestock farms can participate.

On the Radar

U.S-to-Mexico Gasoline Pipeline
An energy company has applied for a permit to build a pipeline from near Laredo, Texas, into Mexico that would transport gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and other refined petroleum products. The State Department will prepare an environmental review of the Borrego Crossing pipeline. Public comments are being accepted through November 14.

Global Water Strategy
On October 28, the U.S. State Department will hold a public meeting to discuss a global water strategy. The strategy will focus on clean drinking water, sanitation, water management, and cooperation.

The meeting will be held at the State Department offices in Washington, D.C. Comments on the shape of the strategy can be submitted by web survey or email: GWSRSVP@state.gov. Comments are due November 12. To attend the meeting, RSVP via the above email address.

Defense Department and Climate Change
The Defense Department will host a webinar on October 20 on evaluating climate change risks to military bases.

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.