Federal Water Tap, August 14: Wheeling and Dealing in the American West

The Rundown

A House Committee approves a bill to ease the transfer of irrigation and related infrastructure from the Bureau of Reclamation to local agencies. The Energy Department subsidizes hydropower generation from dams that did not previously generate power. The planet set another yearly temperature record in 2016, with lakes showing warming too. Local water officials in Nevada request a national monument be changed, to preserve future access to water sources. The Army Corps responds to a Supreme Court water lawsuit between Florida and Georgia. U.S. Geological Survey researchers compile key lessons about environmental effects of dam removal. A U.S.-Mexico water deal moves closer to completion. And lastly, an EPA advisory board meets later this month to discuss private sector involvement in water infrastructure and financing the replacement of failing septic systems.

“The dominant greenhouse gases released into Earth’s atmosphere—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—all continued to increase and reach new record high abundances.” — Introduction to an assessment of the global climate in 2016 that was led by NOAA scientists and published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

By the Numbers

$US 14.4 million: Four-year grant to establish a registry to monitor the long-term health of Flint residents exposed to lead. Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital will direct the effort. (Department of Health and Human Services)

$US 6.6 million: Subsidies available in fiscal year 2017 for generating power at dams that did not previously have power-generating capacity. Dams built before August 2005 qualify, and the turbines must have been installed between October 2005 and September 2015. (Department of Energy)

In context: U.S. hydropower grows by going small.

News Briefs

Reclamation Divestment Bill
The House Natural Resources Committee advanced a bill that would ease the process of handing over ownership of Bureau of Reclamation dams, canals, and other works to local agencies. Called “title transfer,” the bill’s supporters, including the federal government, say the process opens the opportunity to update and repair water infrastructure.

“Reclamation strongly supports expanding the number of projects and facilities that are transferred out of federal ownership and we believe that the process for making this happen is key to our success,” James Hess, Reclamation’s chief of staff, told the House committee on June 8.

Big hydropower projects like Hoover Dam would not be eligible for transfer, according to the bill’s text. Though it seems an expression of the current administration’s worldview, title transfer is not new. Since 1996, Reclamation has transferred title to 30 projects.

Army Corps Responds to Florida-Georgia Lawsuit
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved cautiously in a brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court over a southeastern water dispute. The Ledger reports that the Army Corps said it might be able to provide extra water to Florida without changing its current operating procedures, which benefit Georgia, located upstream.

A special master appointed to hear the case recommended earlier this year that the court reject Florida’s claims for more water because the Army Corps is not party to the lawsuit.

Shop for Water Grants and Loans Online!
The EPA cut the ribbon on an online database for water infrastructure funding. The database also is a repository for financing case studies and water rate designs.

The agency will host four online training sessions this month to help those looking for money to navigate the system. Registration is free.

Studies and Reports

Hot in Here
Records, they say, are meant to be broken, but this one did not last long. An annual analysis of the world’s climate found that 2016 was the hottest year since reliable global measurements began in the 1880s — breaking a record set just one year ago.

The climate assessment, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, was led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. More than 450 scientists from 60 countries contributed to the peer-reviewed report.

Some of that heat was absorbed by lakes, which showed record warmth as well. The Great Lakes were two degrees Celsius warmer than the 20-year average. Even Lake Baikal, in Russia, the world’s deepest and largest lake, was 2.3 degrees Celsius warmer than normal.

With heat came drought. In any given month, at least 12 percent of the planet’s land area was experiencing severe drought.

Lessons from Dam Removal
Using a database of more than 200 published studies, U.S. Geological Survey researchers extracted key findings about the science of dam removal and the ecological, physical, and hydrological effects of unblocking a river.

Rivers tend to respond quickly to dam removals, flushing sediment within years not decades. But the response of river-dwelling creatures is more varied.

Lake Erie Algae Forecasts
A reminder that you can sign up for NOAA’s Lake Erie algae forecasts. The updates arrive twice a week in the summer.

On the Radar

International Colorado River Agreement Gains Momentum
U.S. water management agencies and their Mexican counterparts are moving closer to a deal that would more deeply entwine the two countries in efforts to bolster water levels in Lake Mead and response to water scarcity in the lower Colorado River Basin, the Desert Sun reports.

The Bureau of Reclamation presented an outline of the agreement last week at a board meeting of the Imperial Irrigation District, the largest water rights holder in the Colorado River Basin. Called a “minute,” the deal is, in essence, operating instructions for carrying out the 1944 treaty that governs waters shared by the U.S. and Mexico. Minute 323 could be finalized as soon as September.

Monuments Watch
Local water district officials in Nevada asked the Interior secretary to redraw the boundaries of Gold Butte National Monument to preserve access to a potential future water source, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. The monument was designated last December in the final weeks of the Obama administration.

The leadership of the Virgin Valley Water District, during a July 30 meeting with Sec. Ryan Zinke, who is reviewing the status of more than two dozen monuments, requested that the status of six springs within the monument boundary be clarified.

EPA’s Environmental Financial Advisory Board Meeting
The board, which advises the EPA on finance, will meet on August 22-23, in Overland Park, Kansas. On the agenda are public-private partnerships for water infrastructure, financing for failing septic systems, lead pipe replacements, and more.

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.