Federal Water Tap, August 7: DHS Waives Environmental Review of San Diego Border Wall Construction

The Rundown

The waiver applies to a 15-mile section inland from the Pacific Ocean. The EPA adds seven sites, including a town whose drinking water was tainted by nonstick compounds, to the Superfund list. The annual summer Gulf of Mexico dead zone is the largest on record. Federal scientists are collecting water samples in a Pennsylvania town ringed by fracking operations to determine whether there are health risks. The EPA’s WaterSense product labeling initiative reduces water and energy bills. A California Democrat introduces a big water-efficiency measure in the House. The Army Corps gets gobs of comments during an environmental review of Columbia River dams. The Army Corps also releases a report on keeping invasive Asian carp out of Lake Michigan and does not recommend closing a key lock and dam. And lastly, a federal judge will soon decide whether Las Vegas can build a groundwater pipeline across public lands.

“That analysis was done, and it was done in a very thorough way.” — Luther Hajek, a lawyer with the Justice Department, speaking about climate change analysis in the environmental review of a proposed 300-mile water pipeline to Las Vegas. Green groups who oppose the project would like to see the analysis redone. The project would tap four groundwater basins in central Nevada. A federal judge will decide, probably in September, whether the city’s water provider can build the pipeline across public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. A separate state process will determine the quantity of water, if any, that the Southern Nevada Water Authority would be allowed to pump.

By the Numbers

8,776 square miles: Size of the Gulf of Mexico’s annual summer “dead zone,” a low-oxygen area where fish suffocate. Roughly equal in size to the state of New Jersey, the dead zone this year is the largest (!) since mapping began in 1985. Nutrients flushed from farm fields in the Mississippi River watershed are the main culprit. (NOAA)

7: Number of sites added to Superfund, a list of the nation’s most polluted areas. One of the additions is Hoosick Falls, a New York town of about 4,000 people whose drinking water wells were contaminated by nonstick compounds known as PFASs. The agency also proposed four other sites for listing. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

$US 1,100: Estimated savings per customer per federal dollar spent on the WaterSense product labeling program in its first decade. WaterSense identifies water-efficient products, and the savings represent money not spent on water and energy bills. President Trump has proposed eliminating the program next year. (EPA Office of the Inspector General)

390,000: Comments received during the initial public consultation for potential changes in the operation of 14 Columbia River Basin dams. A federal judge ordered an environmental review last year that evaluates removing dams on the Snake River, a tributary. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

News Briefs

Environmental Laws Waived for Border Wall Section
Public consultation. Consideration of alternate designs. Evaluating the consequences for species and historical structures. These and other provisions of environmental laws do not apply to construction of barriers along a 15-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border that starts at the Pacific Ocean. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, as he is authorized to do, issued an environmental waiver for the “border wall.”

Pennsylvania Representatives Want Answers on Firefighting Chemicals
Three Pennsylvania representatives continued their quest for information about chemicals in firefighting foams used by the military. The chemicals have been found in groundwater near three bases in eastern Pennsylvania, in addition to groundwater at more than 350 bases nationwide.

The trio sent a letter to James Mattis, the Defense secretary, on August 1 asking why the military continued to use the foams when the EPA, as far back as 2001, was asking companies to stop production of the chemicals.

The representatives — Democrat Brendan Boyle and Republicans Brian Fitzpatrick and Patrick Meehan — had previously asked the Defense officials for a 2001 department memo that described concerns about the toxicity of the chemicals. The department sent that memo to the representatives on July 17.

Big Water Bill Introduced
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) is the latest entrant in Congress’s water bill extravaganza. A counterpoint to a bill that passed the House last month that would redirect water supplies in California to farmers, McNerney’s measure focuses on efficiency, data collection, technology development, research, and conservation.

Studies and Reports

Asian Carp Report Out Today
Annoy the unwanted fish. But don’t shut the door. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommends using noise, underwater electric currents, redesigned locks, water jets, and other technological gizmos to keep Asian carp from spreading into Lake Michigan.

The report, which will be posted at glmris.anl.gov, centers on the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a choke point in the canal system that connects the Mississippi River Basin to Lake Michigan.

Closing the lock and dam, one of six alternatives that were evaluated, is not the Army Corps’ preferred option.

EPA Fell Short on Water Quality Last Year
The agency, in 2016, achieved 62 percent of the 79 water quality targets for drinking water and watersheds, according to an annual assessment. That figure is less than the five-year average of 74 percent achieved.

Water Testing in Fracked Territory
Federal scientists are collecting water samples from homes in Dimock, Pennsylvania, a town that has been a center of debate over whether hydraulic fracturing is polluting drinking water wells. The Associated Press reports that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry took samples from about 25 homes, to “determine if there are drinking water quality issues that may continue to pose a health threat.”

Tracking Tribal Water Projects
The Bureau of Reclamation ought to track the construction progress of projects to deliver water to Indian tribes, according to an inspector general report. The bureau currently tallies only the financial expenditures.

On the Radar

Columbia River Dams Analysis
Three federal agencies have finished gathering initial public comments on the scope of an environmental review of 14 major Columbia River Basin dams. A federal judge ordered the review, which will examine the effect of dam operations on fish, farmers, hydropower, river navigation, and other uses. The agencies will release a preliminary list of options in the fall.

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.