Federal Water Tap, April 24: Lake Mead Receives Extra Water in High-Snowpack Year

The Rundown

Lake Mead receives extra water but not as much as was hoped in March. A U.S.-Mexico task force releases a report on a February sewage spill in the Tijuana River. A federal judge greenlights a dam and fish bypass on the Yellowstone River. The USGS analyzes chemical contaminants in U.S. streams, finding most frequently pesticides, caffeine, and diabetes medicine. Budget specialists estimate the cost of a water-planning bill. The Bureau of Reclamation reviews a groundwater banking project in California’s San Joaquin Valley. A Senate committee holds a hearing on the Waters of the United States Rule.

By the Numbers

9 million acre-feet: Water to be released this year from Lake Powell to Lake Mead, about nine percent above the minimum requirement. A large snowpack in the Colorado River’s upper basin allowed the increase. A warm and dry March, however, scuttled tentative plans to release as much as 11 million acre feet into Lake Mead. (Bureau of Reclamation)

28 million gallons: Wastewater that spilled into the Tijuana River in early February due to a sewer line break about 6 miles upstream of the U.S.-Mexico border. That amount is far less than the initial 143-million-gallon estimate, which was based on an incorrect assumption of how long the pipe leaked. The binational task force investigating the spill recommends better communication between U.S. and Mexican officials, emergency equipment for responding to line breaks, and data collection to identify sewage problems quicker. (International Boundary and Water Commission)

News Briefs

Yellowstone River Dam
A federal judge will allow two U.S. government agencies to build a low dam and fish bypass on the Yellowstone River in Montana, the Associated Press reports. The dam, for diverting irrigation water, will replace a rock weir which prevents upstream fish migration. Though a fish bypass is part of the new dam’s design, conservation groups worry that the endangered pallid sturgeon, a fish as long as a man is tall, will not use it.

Studies and Reports

Contaminants in Streams
Two U.S. Geological survey studies examined how frequently hundreds of chemical contaminants — caffeine, insecticides, antimicrobials, and pharmaceuticals — occur in the nation’s streams. The most commonly detected substances were eight pesticides and two pharmaceuticals: caffeine and metformin, a type 2 diabetes medication.

Paul Bradley, a USGS hydrologist and lead author, said that the studies are an “essential step” in identifying sources of stream contamination.

The chemical analysis study “provides improved understanding of contaminant mixtures that occur in U.S. streams and begins to assess the biological effects associated with those real-world mixtures,” Bradley told Circle of Blue.

An important caveat: The studies measured how frequently the chemicals were detected, not the health effects on aquatic or human life. Detection, even down to parts per trillion, is much easier than determining consequences.

Water-Planning Bill Cost Analysis
A Senate bill that requires the EPA to promote green infrastructure and allow cities more flexibility in addressing Clean Water Act violations would cost $US 3 million per year to implement, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis. The bill, which has been reported out of committee, also requires the agency to revise its affordability guidelines.

Groundwater Banking Study
The Bureau of Reclamation released a draft environmental review of a groundwater banking project in the San Joaquin Valley. The project, which includes up to 90,000 acre-feet of underground storage capacity, is expected to assist the San Joaquin River restoration.

On the Radar

Congress Is Back
House and Senate members return from Easter break with an immediate deadline: funding authority for the current fiscal year expires on April 28 and without a new resolution the federal government will shut down.

WOTUS Hearing
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will discuss the legal and scientific basis for the EPA’s Waters of the United States Rule, which President Trump and his EPA chief would like to get rid of.

Bureau of Reclamation Prize Deadline
May 22 is the deadline to enter Reclamation’s $US 50,000 prize challenge for estimating water storage in reservoirs. It’s like the perennial county fair game “guess the coins in the jar,” except for water in a big tub.

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.