Federal Water Tap, June 12: House Members Question Defense Secretary on Firefighting Chemicals

The Rundown

Three Pennsylvania congressmen want answers from the Defense Department about use of firefighting foams that have contaminated groundwater. A California water district gets a permit to build a pipeline to deliver desalinated water from Mexico. A Colorado congressman asks the EPA to drop a stormwater pollution lawsuit. The EPA’s internal watchdog is beginning an investigation of the agency’s oversight of spreading sewage on land. The EPA publishes a map of water infrastructure projects that indicated interest in a new federal loan program. A CDC report shows three-quarters of U.S. Legionnaires’ disease cases were contracted at a healthcare facility and were linked to the plumbing. And lastly, the spring months in the U.S. were the eighth-warmest on record.

“We don’t have enough funding as it is to do the work that needs to be done. So the cuts are very concerning.” — Jon Peschong, assistant project manager with the Department of Energy at Hanford site, a decommissioned nuclear facility in Washington state. Peschong is concerned that the Trump administration has proposed cutting $US 120 million from the Hanford cleanup budget. Hanford staff members said that groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium is still flowing from the site into the Columbia River.

By the Numbers

2.6: Degrees Fahrenheit that the March-May average temperature was above the 20th century average. It was the eighth-warmest spring on record. (NOAA)

76 percent: Share of Legionnaires’ disease cases in 2015 that were contracted at a healthcare facility. The disease is a type of pneumonia that is carried on airborne water droplets. Proper management of water systems within a building can prevent most infections. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

43: Number of projects that indicated interest in WIFIA funding. WIFIA is a new water infrastructure loan program. The EPA mapped the project applicants. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

23: Number of water recycling projects that would be authorized by legislation from Rep. Jerry McNerney, a California Democrat.

News Briefs

House Members Question DOD on Chemicals
Citing documents obtained by a local newspaper that show industry and military representatives discussing the toxicity of chemicals in firefighting foams as far back as 2001, three Pennsylvania congressman asked James Mattis, the secretary of defense, for additional documents that show what the military knew about the toxicity of the compounds and when its leadership knew.

The documents, which detail the minutes of a 2001 meeting of a foam manufacturers trade group, were published in the Courier Times.

The minutes include reference to a meeting on March 16, 2001, when Defense Department officials discussed what actions to take on the foams, which contained toxic perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).

Documents related to that meeting are what the three representatives are seeking, according to their letter. The congressmen are Brendan Boyle, a Democrat, and Brian Fitzpatrick and Patrick Meehan, both Republicans.

“If these minutes accurately captured the content of the 2001 [National Fire Protection Association] meeting, they show that DOD was aware of problems regarding the use of PFC-based firefighting foams long before any effort was made to discontinue their use or protect the public, in places like Horsham, Warminster, and Warrington, from further exposure,” the representatives state in their letter. The three places are towns in eastern Pennsylvania where domestic water wells have been contaminated.

Importing Desalinated Water from Mexico
The State Department approved a permit for a Southern California water district to build a pipeline for importing desalinated water from Mexico.

The Otay Water District, in San Diego County, plans to purchase about 15 million gallons of water per day from a desalination facility in Rosarito, Mexico, which has not yet been built. A four-mile pipeline would bring the water from the border to an existing reservoir. The district estimates the cost of the pipeline, disinfection facilities, and a pump station to be $US 30 million.

The water district still needs other state and federal permits and construction of the first phase desalination plant will not begin until 2019 at the earliest. Water from a second phase expansion would be available for export.

Colorado Stormwater Lawsuit
A Colorado congressman asked the EPA to drop a stormwater pollution lawsuit against the state’s second-largest city, the Denver Post reports.

Rep. Dough Lamborn, a Republican, asked the new EPA administrator to walk away from the lawsuit against Colorado Springs, which the EPA, along with state regulators, filed in November 2016. Lamborn argues that the city’s financial commitments to date — a $US 460 million program — should be sufficient to remove pollutants and silt from stormwater runoff without going to court.

Studies and Reports

Hydropower Summit Presentations
Presentations from a hydropower summit hosted by the Department of Energy on May 4 are now available online.

Sewage Sludge Investigation
The EPA inspector general is beginning an investigation of the agency’s oversight of the spreading of sewage sludge on land.

On the Radar

Africa Famine Hearing
The House Foreign Affairs Committee holds a hearing on June 14 on famine in Africa.

Local Governments Talk Water
The committee that advises the EPA on issues affecting small communities will hold a teleconference on June 29 to discuss the Clean Water Act and agriculture. The meeting is open to the public.

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.