Federal Water Tap, June 26: EPA Investigates Chemours’ Chemical Management

The Rundown

Regulators assess whether the chemical company complied with a federal permit for handling a nonstick compound that has been found in drinking water in southeastern North Carolina. The EPA and local officials agree to close seven sewage cesspools on the Big Island of Hawaii. NOAA posts river forecast data online. The National Toxicology Program evaluates the cancer hazard of a water disinfection byproduct. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates how much water is needed to fully tap the Bakken shale. The Bureau of Reclamation allocates $US 112 million to nearly two dozen western water projects. And lastly, the Bureau of Reclamation brings back the ‘salmon cannon’ for another round of testing.

“This investigation will allow EPA to determine whether Chemours is in compliance with requirements of the order to control releases to the environment at the Fayetteville facility.” — Enesta Jones, EPA spokeswoman, told Circle of Blue about an investigation into the company’s compliance with a chemical manufacturing order.

By the Numbers

7: Cesspools on the Big Island of Hawaii that will close under a federal agreement. The 280 households that used the cesspools to dump their sewage will soon be served by treatment facilities, which are scheduled to be constructed by 2021 or 2022. Cesspools that serve multiple households or more than 20 people are prohibited under the Safe Drinking Water Act and were supposed to be closed by 2005. Hawaii has the most cesspools of any state. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

3,292: Approximate number of large-capacity cesspools that the EPA has closed in Hawaii since 2005, which leaves 30 percent of identified cesspools still operating, according to Dean Higuchi, spokesman for EPA Region 9.

$US 112 million: Money designated for nearly two dozen water supply, conservation, infrastructure maintenance, and fisheries restoration projects in the western United States. (Bureau of Reclamation)

News Briefs

EPA Investigates Chemours
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will investigate whether the chemical company Chemours complied with a federal permit for the production and cleanup of an industrial chemical that has been detected for at least four years in the Cape Fear watershed in southeastern North Carolina, an agency spokeswoman told Circle of Blue.

Academic and federal scientists have identified the chemical with the trade name GenX in the drinking water of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which serves 67,000 customer accounts in the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County. The utility authority is about 160 kilometers (100 miles) downstream of Fayetteville Works, a Chemours facility that uses GenX to produce materials used in fuel cells and in the automotive industry.

DuPont, the company from which Chemours was spun off, received an EPA permit in 2009 to produce GenX, with the requirement that it capture or recycle 99 percent of the chemical in its waste stream. Whether that requirement was followed at the Fayetteville facility is the question EPA seeks to answer.

GenX belongs to a class of chemicals known as PFAS, which, because of their strongly bonded chains of carbon and fluorine atoms, are known to be durable in the environment and in human bodies. Some have also proved toxic to humans. The most comprehensive human study to date found a “probable link” between PFOA — a PFAS compound — and high cholesterol, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and ulcerative colitis.

House Passes Water Infrastructure Permitting Bill
By a vote of 233 to 180, the House passed the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act, a bill that designates the Bureau of Reclamation as the lead agency for coordinating permits for new reservoirs.

Other Water Bills in Congress
There are always a bunch. The latest bills:

  • A bill from Rep. John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN) relates to water infrastructure financing and involves a tool called a private activity bond. These are bonds that are issued on behalf of a private company but the interest paid to the bondholders is tax-free. It’s a way to subsidize water projects. Currently there are a limit on the number of such bonds that can be issued. This bill would eliminate the cap for water and sewer. There is some debate among the finance community about how useful a gambit this is.
  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and her Great Lakes colleagues introduced a bill that would force the Army Corps of Engineers to release a study that assesses how to prevent Asian carp from colonizing Lake Michigan.
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced a bill to require monitoring for lead in school drinking water and fund pipe replacement. She introduced a similar bill last session when she was a member of the House.
  • Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) introduced a bill on water rights. The bill prevents the transfer of water rights to the federal government as a condition of renewing a permit for using federal land. The issue flared up a few years ago when the U.S. Forest Service issued a directive, later revoked, that would have put ski resort water rights into joint ownership. The fear was that resorts would sell the rights and profit handsomely. Critics such as Tipton called the directive a water grab. The House Natural Resources Committee will vote on the bill on June 27.

Studies and Reports

Potential Water Use in the Bakken Oil Field
There’s a lot of oil in the shale beds beneath the badlands of western North Dakota and the plains of eastern Montana. But to get the oil, drillers need water — and sandy material to prop open cracks in the shale.

The U.S. Geological Survey produced an estimate of the water and proppant needed to tap all of the oil that is assumed to be in the basin. This, to be sure, is an extreme scenario. Not all oil is economically feasible to get at.

Nonetheless, the mean estimate is 164 billion gallons of water and 101 million tons of proppant.

Puncturing the earth also draws upward gushers of water from deep underground. The USGS estimates that total development of the Bakken shale would produce 414 billion gallons of water.

National Water Model
Last August, federal scientists developed a computer model that is leaps and bounds more detailed than previous tools. The model incorporates rainfall, snowmelt, soil moisture, and river flows across the United States to provide water managers with a much more accurate picture of flood risk and drought potential – from daily forecasts that are updated hourly to 30-day forecasts that are updated daily.

NOAA, which runs the model, is now posting its output online. Maps of streamflow, soil moisture, and precipitation are available.

On the Radar

Return of the Salmon Cannon
It’s back. The Bureau of Reclamation will begin another round of testing in July of the pneumatic contraption that shoots fish over a dam.

Reclamation will test the system, designed by Whooshh Innovations, at Cle Elum Dam in the Yakima watershed of Washington state, according to Joel Hubble, a fish biologist. Hubble discussed the project at a June 21 meeting of the Yakima River Basin workgroup. Reclamation tested the system last year at two dams in the basin and got “favorable results,” Hubble said.

Drinking Water Contamination Meeting
The National Toxicology Program will meet on July 24 to peer review an evaluation of whether certain compounds that are a byproduct of the water disinfection process at treatment plants are a cancer hazard. The compounds in question are haloacetic acids. The meeting will be webcast.

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.