Federal Water Tap, January 16: Healthcare Benefits Determined In Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Case

The Rundown

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs determines eligibility for healthcare benefits for veterans sickened by drinking water at Camp Lejeune. The EPA opens applications for a new water infrastructure loan program while also handing out grants for water quality research. The EPA also proposes rules for Great Lakes sewage overflows, lead in drinking water pipes, and screening chemicals for potential regulation. Annual reports are released by USAID water program, federal drought partnership, and NOAA state of the climate. Public comment period begins for EPA’s proposed environmental cleanup rules for hardrock mining companies. NOAA considers establishing desalination permits for marine sanctuaries and publishes a draft environmental review of a California desalination facility along Monterey Bay. And lastly, Senate committees hold confirmation hearings this week for the Interior Department (January 17), the EPA (January 18), and the Energy Department (January 19).

“We have a responsibility to take care of those who have served our nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service. Establishing a presumption for service at Camp Lejeune will make it easier for those veterans to receive the care and benefits they earned.” — Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald in a statement on drinking water contamination at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina. The department finalized eligibility rules for federal healthcare benefits for veterans sickened by the water.

By the Numbers

$US 2.2 billion: Estimated five-year cost of health care benefits for veterans sickened by drinking water at Camp Lejeune. More than 14,000 veterans and reservists are assumed to have one of the eight diseases that will be covered by the settlement. (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

$US 4 million: Grants to two research universities — Drexel and Purdue — for water quality studies. Researchers will investigate the potential that less water flowing through pipes in homes and buildings because of conservation could result in microbial contamination in standing water. Follow the link for full descriptions of the projects. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

$US 12.7 million: Grants to organizations to help rural water systems and household well owners with technical questions, financial management, and water testing. (EPA)

8: Number of weather disasters in 2016 that caused $US 1 billion in damages, including record rainfall in Louisiana in August that killed 13 people. (NOAA)

8: Number of drinking water regulations, out of 88, that are candidates for revision. The EPA reviews its rules every six years in light of new technology, data, or analytical techniques. (EPA)

News Briefs

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Settlement
Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, will received federal health care benefits if they have been diagnosed with certain diseases associated with the base’s contaminated water supply, according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs settlement.

The base’s drinking water was contaminated with four volatile organic chemicals that were discovered in the water supply in the 1980s. Officials determined that eight diseases, including Parkinson’s, liver cancer, bladder cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are strongly connected to exposure to the chemicals. The settlement confers health care benefits to military, reservist, or National Guard members who served 30 days or more at the base between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and have been diagnosed with one of the eight diseases.

Water Infrastructure Program Is Open for Business
The EPA is now accepting loan applications for WIFIA, the new water infrastructure lending program. The agency expects to finance up to $US 1 billion worth of projects. Both public utilities and private businesses are eligible to apply. Critics of the program say that the government should not be subsidizing private companies.

New Congress, New California Water Bill
Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) introduced a bill that would increase water deliveries to famers in California’s Central Valley and set limits on environmental reviews of reservoir projects. Studies would be limited to three years and $US 3 million, though the Interior secretary can extend the study by notifying Congress.

NOAA Water Data Initiative
NOAA announced a five-year initiative to use science, research, data monitoring, and digital tools to deliver water information that will protect life and property and build community resilience to environmental change. That information ranges from tracking harmful algal blooms and mapping anticipated sea-level rise to predicting floods and drought.

EPA Proposes Rules for Great Lakes Sewage, Lead Pipes, Chemical Assessment
If you couldn’t tell from the length of this week’s FWT, the Obama administration is going out with a frenzy. The fate of these rules in the Trump administration is to be determined. Regardless, the EPA proposed these three rules:

Studies and Reports

State of Climate 2016
NOAA released its State of the Climate 2016 report, which analyzes state and national temperature and precipitation records. It was the second hottest year on record for the Lower 48 states and Alaska’s hottest year on record.

USAID Water Programs Spending
The U.S. Agency for International Development spent $US 500 million on water, sanitation, hygiene, irrigation, and disaster risk reduction programs in 54 countries in fiscal year 2015, according to its latest annual report. Nearly half the money was spent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Drought Partnership Annual Report
The National Drought Resilience Partnership, a forum for coordinating action between federal agencies and state, local, and tribal governments, released its annual report.

The report lists local collaborations undertaken in 2016 (e.g. developing a soil health monitoring network) and policy recommendations for 2017 (e.g. collect more data on soil moisture, groundwater use and consumptive water use).

The partnership was established by President Obama in 2013.

Coal Ash Spill’s Fingerprints Fade on Tennessee Rivers
The rivers into which coal ash flowed in a 2008 spill in Kingston, Tennessee, have returned to normal, according to a report commissioned by the EPA. The report by Arcadis, an engineering firm, looked at fish health, invertebrates that live on the river bottom, and tree swallows, which feed on aquatic insects.

On the Radar

Cabinet Confirmation Hearings Scheduled
Three hearings take place this week for cabinet positions related to water. All will be webcast.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will question Ryan Zinke, the nominee to head the Interior Department, on January 17 at 2:15 p.m. Eastern. Zinke is a Montana congressman. Here’s the biographical questionnaire the committee asked him to fill out.

Then on January 18 at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee vets Scott Pruitt, the EPA nominee. Pruitt is the Oklahoma Attorney General.

Finally on January 19 at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hears from Rick Perry, the Department of Energy nominee. Perry is the former governor of Texas. Here’s Perry’s questionnaire.

Financial Rules for Hardrock Mining
The EPA finally published in the Federal Register draft financial rules for the hardrock mining industry. The rules are designed to ensure that mining companies set aside enough money to clean up environmental damage. Analysts say that the rules will increase costs for companies.

Publishing the draft rules in the register triggers the public comment period. Comments are being accepted through March at www.regulations.gov using docket number EPA-HQ-SFUND-2015-0781.

New NOAA Desalination Permits?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration might establish two new permits for desalination facilities operating in national marine sanctuaries. Establishing permits would allow NOAA to collect fees to pay for the environmental analysis and review.

Proposals for desalination facilities in California’s Monterey Bay, a sanctuary, prompted the consideration but the permits would apply to any marine sanctuary nationwide.

Public comments are being accepted through February 13 via this link.

Monterey Bay Desalination Facility Environmental Review
NOAA also released a draft environmental review of the proposed desalination plant in Monterey Bay.

The California American Water Company proposal is similar to an earlier regional desalination project that was shelved in 2012. The new design relocates the seawater intake pipes and the main facility. The intake will not rest on the seabed. It will be located below ground and draw water through a well in order not to suck in marine life.

The desalination plant (capacity: 9.6 million gallons per day) will replace water supplies from the Carmel River and coastal groundwater basins. Some 21 miles of pipeline will also be constructed. This allows desalinated water to be injected into groundwater basins for storage.

Public comments are being accepted through February 27 via this link.

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.