Federal Water Tap, July 10: Defense Spending Bill Includes Drinking Water Amendments

The Rundown

House representatives voice concerns in defense bill over chemical contamination of drinking water, Yemen’s water security, and climate change. Water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer declined at a slower pace in the most recent U.S. Geological Survey assessment. Flint gets $US 15 million to evaluate children for lead exposure. The EPA finalized the application and processing fees for a new water infrastructure loan program. And lastly, California’s almond acreage keeps going up, up, up.

“What the agency has done historically is taken this attitude of ‘Do not touch.’ So we have natural gas, we have coal, and we have oil — we’ve been blessed with a tremendous amount of natural resources. It’s not the EPA’s job to say to people across the country, ‘Don’t touch that. Don’t use that.’ It’s our job to say, ‘As you develop and produce electricity, this is the latest, greatest technology that should be used to achieve good emission outcomes.’” — EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaking with Talk 99.5, a radio show in Birmingham, Alabama. Pruitt was in Alabama, where he visited a power plant and a farm, to champion his “back-to-basics” message of a narrow interpretation of agency authority.

By the Numbers

2.25 billion meat pounds: Projected weight of the 2017 California almond crop, a 5.1 percent increase over last year. The harvest will come from 1 million acres of nut-bearing trees, up 22 percent from five years ago. Not only is more land dedicated to the crop. Farmers are also planting denser orchards — an average of 117 trees per acre, up from 112 five years ago and 101 in 2002. The shift to almonds, of course, has had a large influence on water consumption. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

10.7 million acre-feet: Net decline, between 2013 and 2015, in water storage in the Ogallala Aquifer. The decline was far less than the previous two-year period, a result of decreased pumping. Averaged by state, Texas saw the largest drop, of 1.5 feet, while groundwater levels were steady in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. (U.S. Geological Survey)

$US 15 million: Money given to the Genesee County Health Department for the Heathy Start program, which will provide health screening services for children potentially exposed to lead in drinking water. Genesee County is the Michigan jurisdiction in which Flint is located. (Department of Health and Human Services)

News Briefs

Defense Bill Amendments Target Water Contamination and More
To a Defense Department spending bill, House Republicans and Democrats added amendments related to chemical contamination of drinking water, water security in Yemen, and climate change planning. Not all amendments, however, will be approved. Starting on July 12, the House Rules Committee will decide which make the final bill.

Several representatives submitted amendments with bipartisan support that require human health studies of PFASs, which are chemical compounds used, among other applications, in firefighting foams and have been found in groundwater at hundreds of military bases across the country.

An amendment from Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) authorizes $US 7 million for a broad study of human exposure to PFAS chemicals. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) filed a similar amendment to authorize a health study of people exposed to PFAS chemicals from firefighting foams used on military bases.

Other amendments also address PFAS contamination. A directive from Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) sets a two-year deadline for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a drinking water standard for PFAS chemicals. The agency currently has a non-enforceable “health advisory.” A second amendment from Boyle requires the Defense Department to submit a report within 180 days on alternative firefighting foams that do not use two common PFAS chemicals. An amendment from Fitzpatrick allows the Defense Department to sign groundwater cleanup agreements with local and state governments for wells that exceed the EPA health advisory or stricter local regulations.

On climate change, which the military recognizes as a security threat, Rep. Steven Lynch (D-MA) submitted an amendment to establish a working group that will incorporate climate change analysis into national security planning.

An amendment from Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) requires the department to include an assessment of water, food, and health care in its Yemen strategy.

Studies and Reports

Wet, Hot American Winter, Spring, and Early Summer
The first six months of 2017, propelled mainly by spicy temperatures in the eastern half of the country, were the second hottest on record in the United States, according to NOAA. The year to date was also the sixth wettest. See the national, regional, and state breakdowns here.

On the Radar

EPA Sets Water Infrastructure Program Fees
The EPA finalized the fees that utilities will pay to tap into a new federal water infrastructure loan program called WIFIA. The application fee is $US 100,000, though utilities serving fewer than 25,000 people will pay $US 25,000. The credit processing fee will vary according to project costs, and could range from $US 350,000 to $US 700,000, minus the application fee. This fee covers lawyers and underwriters.

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.