Federal Water Tap, September 12: Agencies Halt Dakota Access Pipeline Construction on Federal Land

The Rundown

A federal judge said pipeline construction could proceed, but Obama administration decides to pause Dakota Access pending further review. The CDC surveys the Toledo community’s response to the 2014 toxic algal bloom that shut down the city’s drinking water system. EPA and state regulators close wastewater injection wells in Oklahoma because of earthquakes. The EPA adds the Gold King mine and others to Superfund list. The head of the nation’s spy agencies sounds a climate change warning. Neither El Nino nor La Nina this winter. President Obama visited Laos and discussed the Mekong River. The publishing date for the U.S. Geological Survey’s first national brackish groundwater assessment in 50 years is delayed until 2017.

“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.” — Statement from the U.S. Justice Department, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of the Interior.

By the Numbers

58.5: Percent of survey respondents in Lucas County, Ohio, who reported using a water source other than the faucet six weeks after a toxic algal bloom shut down the drinking water system in Toledo. Authors of the study say that it shows the importance of public education about advisories, but it also reveals the difficulty in repairing broken trust. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

17: Number of injection wells in Oklahoma’s Osage County that the U.S. Environmental Protection will shut down after a record-tying 5.6 magnitude earthquake last week. An increase in Oklahoma earthquakes is linked to underground disposal of oil and gas wastewater. State regulators will close an additional 37 wells in counties in which they have oversight authority. (The Oklahoman)

10: Number of sites added to the Superfund list, for hazardous contamination cleanup. The additions include the Bonita Peak Mining District, a group of 48 abandoned mines in southwestern Colorado, one of which is the Gold King mine. The mine suffered a high-profile blowout in August 2015 that turned the Animas River a lighter shade of rust. (EPA)

News Briefs

Dakota Access Pipeline Blocked
It was a rapid reversal.

Just minutes after U.S. District Judge James Boasberg denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to block an oil pipeline near its land, the Obama administration ordered that construction of the Dakota Access pipeline be suspended across federal land until further environmental review.

The administration also requested that Energy Transfers Partners, the company building the pipeline, to voluntarily pause construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, under which the pipeline would cross. The lake crossing concerns the Standing Rock Sioux because it is a half-mile upstream of the tribe’s drinking water intake.

In addition, the administration said that it will begin discussions this fall with tribes about how their views are considered when these sorts of big infrastructure projects are evaluated.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in a Facebook post, called the decision “stunning” and “a game changer for the Tribe.”

President’s Spokesman Weighs In on Oklahoma Injection Wells
Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said that regulation of wastewater injection wells is a federal-state partnership.

“Our approach in Oklahoma will continue to be the approach we’ve taken all across the country, which is we’re going to continue to work with local officials who do have the primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of the communities where this kind of activity is taking place,” Earnest said.

Spy Chief Rings — Again — Climate Alarm
Our world is one of “unpredictable instability,” said the head of the nation’s spy agencies. And a warming planet is fueling the risk.

“In the coming decades, an underlying meta-driver of unpredictable instability will be, I believe, climate change,” James Clapper told attendees of a national security summit in Washington, D.C. “Major population centers will compete for ever-diminishing food and water resources and governments will have an increasingly difficult time controlling their territories. And so because of all of these factors, after ISIL’s gone, we can expect some other terrorist entity to arise and a cycle of extremism which will continue to control us for the foreseeable future.”

This is a typical speech for Clapper. He makes the case every year in testimony before Congress that climate change and food and water crises are new forces of political instability.

President Obama Visits Laos
In a joint declaration, both presidents promised to work together for the sustainable development of hydropower and of the Mekong River region. Laos is building the first hydropower dams on the main stem of the lower Mekong, threatening the world’s greatest inland fishery.

Studies and Reports

La Nada
Scientists revised their climate forecast for the winter, saying that the eastern Pacific Ocean will be neither exceptionally warm, as it was last year, nor cooler than normal, as was predicted. Instead, the ocean and the resulting weather patterns fall into a “neutral” phase, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

American River Basin Study
The Bureau of Reclamation and local partners will conduct a detailed analysis of water supply and demand in the American River Basin, a watershed in northern California that flows into the state’s highly contested Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

On the Radar

Water Resources Development Act Update
Though it still has not voted to authorize more than $US 9 billion in port, levee, dam renovation, drinking water projects, and money for Flint, the Senate did vote to end debate on the bill.

Except for the Flint aid, which would be freed up at once, authorization is just the first step in getting a project built. Congress must in a future bill allocate the money, a process called appropriation.

Brackish Groundwater Study Delayed
The first national assessment of brackish groundwater in a half century, originally due to be published this month, will be completed in 2017, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Jennifer Stanton, the project manager, told Circle of Blue that it is a long report and the review and editing process is taking more time than expected.

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.