Michigan representatives worry about a half dozen high-profile chemical contamination areas in their state. The EPA publishes a list of 21 Superfund sites that will be cleanup priorities. The National Academy of Sciences says a new management plan is needed to reduce flood risk in the watershed north of Mt. St. Helens. A Senate bill would reauthorize a national drought forecast center. The U.S. Geological Survey publishes water quality studies of four large, regional aquifers. Two hydropower bills move forward in the House. Census data shows the number of counties in which the poverty rate increased in the last five years far surpassed the number in which the rate decreased. And lastly, it’s time to start thinking about drought conditions in the American West.
“We write to urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to continue to actively engage in assisting the State of Michigan’s and the Department of Defense’s efforts to address serious public health threats stemming from exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) across multiple communities in our state.” — Fourteen Michigan representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, in a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
By the Numbers
21: Superfund sites prioritized for cleanup. Included on the list are the Kalamazoo River (Michigan), Bonita Peak mining district (southwest Colorado), a smelter and lead refinery (East Chicago, Indiana), Tar Creek (Oklahoma), San Jacinto waste pits (Houston, Texas), a former phosphate fertilizer plant (Mississippi), and the Portland, Oregon, harbor. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
18: Percent of counties in which the poverty rate grew between 2012 and 2016, according to data from the American Community Survey. The poverty rate fell in five percent of counties. (U.S. Census)
Michigan Representatives Question EPA Action on PFAS
Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation asked the EPA to help the state and the Defense Department respond to perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water and the environment.
Six Democrats and eight Republicans signed the letter which was addressed to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The chemicals, which are used in firefighting foams as well as waterproof clothing, have been found throughout Michigan: in private wells near military bases and near industrial dumps, and in rivers and lakes.
The day before the date on the letter, the EPA said it would continue research on monitoring for PFAS and work on outreach to communities. There is no enforceable federal standard for PFAS in drinking water.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduced a bill to reauthorize the National Integrated Drought Information System, a research and communications program that shares water, climate, and soil data and prepares forecasts that are used by state and local agencies. NIDIS tailors its products to regional needs: wetlands in the Carolinas, mountain snowpack and fire hazards in California, salmon and hydropower in the Pacific Northwest, ranching and farming in the northern Plains.
Two Hydropower Bills Move Ahead in the House
The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a pair of bills that encourage hydropower development.
The Promoting Closed-loop Pumped Storage Hydropower Act, introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), does exactly what its name suggests: it exempts the twinned energy storage systems, which move water from a lower reservoir to a higher reservoir when electricity is cheap or abundant, from several permitting requirements under the Federal Power Act. Those requirements relate to watershed planning.
The Promoting Hydropower Development at Existing Nonpowered Dams Act, introduced by Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), is also straightforward. It allows regulators to exempt from some licensing requirements the addition of turbines to dams without them.
In context: U.S. Hydropower Grows By Going Small
Guilty Pleas and Sentencing in Oilfield Waste Disposal Case
Two men who had pleaded guilty to violating the Safe Drinking Water Act by improperly disposing of oilfield wastewater in North Dakota were sentenced to three years of supervised release. One of the men will also pay a $50,000 fine and spend up to one year in a halfway house.
The men operated an injection well that did not have a state permit.
Studies and Reports
Groundwater Quality in Large, Regional Aquifers
The U.S. Geological Survey published four more water quality assessments in its study of regional aquifers.
The assessments are for the Rio Grande aquifer system, the glacial aquifer system in the northern United States, the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system in the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and the Piedmont and Blue Ridge crystalline-rock aquifers, which stretch from eastern Alabama to Pennsylvania.
Nitrate was the most common manmade, inorganic contaminant, but it exceeded human health standards in only two percent of samples from the four aquifers. Samples were taken from 60 public water supply wells in three regions, and 90 wells in the glacial aquifer system.
Nutrient Discharge from Wastewater Facilities
USGS researchers used three EPA data sets to produce multi-decade estimates of phosphorus and nitrogen discharges from wastewater treatment plants.
After the Eruption
The eruption, in 1980, of Mt. St. Helens continues to shape the landscape of Washington state. Sediment that is washed from the volcano’s scoured northern slopes flows into the Toutle River watershed. A new National Academy of Sciences report outlines ways for local, state, federal, and tribal agencies to manage an engineered system that is ready for an overhaul. A drainage tunnel to keep Spirit Lake from overtopping needs repairs and a basin built to hold back sediment is nearly full.
“Engineering measures now in place, however, do not represent long-term solutions to the region’s risk management challenges,” which are chronic and catastrophic flooding, the report states.
In context: A Debris-dammed Lake Threatens A Flood
On the Radar
With a massive high-pressure ridge routing Pacific storms around the American West, it’s time to restart the drought watch. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and Oregon Cascades is largely below average. The upper Colorado and Rio Grande watersheds are also low. In Arizona, snowpack is almost non-existent.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, meanwhile, shows increased drying across most of the southern half of the United States.
Congress gave itself two more weeks to complete the 2018 budget, extending current spending levels through December 22.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton