Federal Water Tap, June 5: Wet May Results in More Severe Lake Erie Algal Bloom Forecast

The Rundown

Lake Erie’s annual algal bloom could be worse than normal after rainy weeks increased the nutrient load. The EPA and Interior Department would not release reports that identify regulations that the agencies could target for revision or repeal. The Interior Department courts private investment in federal water projects. The U.S. Forest Service proposes to relax forest management standards to allow for the construction of two natural gas pipelines. The Department of Energy publishes a database of federal, state, and local water policies that affect energy production. The U.S. Geological Survey publishes a photo collection of cyanobacteria found in the 2016 Lake Okeechobee outbreak. And lastly, President Trump visits the Ohio River region on Wednesday to talk infrastructure.

“We’re in a new world now, guys. There’s no money. We don’t have money. We’ve got to find where else to find it.” — David Murillo, acting commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, speaking on May 9 at an agency forum on private investment in federal water projects.

By the Numbers

116: Water wells in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas that were sampled for a study on methane in drinking water. The researchers conclude that, because of the slow movement of groundwater in these areas, it may take a decade or more to evaluate completely the effect of hydraulic fracturing on well water. (U.S. Geological Survey)

News Briefs

EPA, Interior Will Not Release Regulatory Reform Reports
Neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nor the Interior Department would send Circle of Blue reports written by “regulatory reform” task forces that are assigned to identify regulations for revision or repeal.

The reports, due the end of May, were mandated by executive order 13777, issued by President Trump on February 24. The press offices of both agencies, which are deeply involved in federal water policy, acknowledged that the respective task forces had submitted the reports. But neither would release the documents, saying they were for discussion among the department leadership.

“It’s an internal deliberative,” wrote Enesta Jones, EPA spokeswoman, in an email.

I have filed Freedom of Information Act requests for both reports, so stay tuned.

Softer Standards for Natural Gas Pipelines
The U.S. Forest Service proposes to relax forest management standards to allow for the construction of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast natural gas pipelines that would cross West Virginia and Virginia. Amendments to the forest management plans are needed for the projects to gain federal construction permits. The amendments involve the use of heavy machinery on easily degraded soils and the size of construction corridors.

Feinstein on Groundwater
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), is making the rounds on California groundwater. In an opinion column in the Sacramento Bee, the long-serving Democrat objected to an aquifer pumping project in Southern California that has received new life in the Trump administration. Feinstein claims that the Cadiz project will dry up springs in the Mojave Desert ecosystem and that the project is rife with conflicts of interest between its leaders and Trump appointees. Supporters counter with the argument that the project received state and federal permits and has passed a state environmental review.

House Representatives Want Answers on Clean Water Act Case
The chairs of the House judiciary and agriculture committees sent a letter to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, asking about a federal lawsuit that has stirred controversy about enforcement of farming exemptions in the Clean Water Act. A California farmer is being fined $US 2.8 million for damaging wetlands. The farmer claims that he was tilling the field, which is an exempt activity. The Army Corps of Engineers says that he was “deep ripping” — a more vigorous disruption of the land — and damaging seasonal wetlands.

In their letter, the representatives want clarification on how the Department of Justice prosecutes these cases and question whether legislative action is needed to protect farmers from such lawsuits.

Trump Abandons Global Climate Accord
Playing to his core supporters, President Trump said that he will pull the United States out of the Paris agreement on climate change. Because of stipulations in the agreement, a formal exit cannot take place until November 2020.

Studies and Reports

Wet May Results in More Severe Lake Erie Algal Bloom Forecast
Heavy rains in May could lead to a more severe toxic algal bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie, according to a forecast from federal and academic researchers.

The June 2 forecast shows a bloom with likely intensity of roughly five to eight on a 10-point scale. Four weeks ago the range of potential intensity was three to eight, so the window is narrowing toward the upper end. The severity scale is set so that a 10 ranking equals the large bloom of 2011, according to Richard Stumpf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Stumpf is part of the team that puts together the weekly updates.

Rain is a key factor for the bloom. Storms wash nutrients off of farm fields and into the lake’s shallow western basin. Nutrients are the food source for the algae and cyanobacteria that drew international attention in 2014 when the city of Toledo stopped withdrawing water from the lake due to a large bloom.

“What is critical for management is that the phosphorus load for Lake Erie is non-point source, mostly from agricultural land,” Stumpf told Circle of Blue.

DOE Water-Energy Policy Database
Bookmark this one. The Department of Energy has developed a database of federal, state, and local water laws and policies that influence energy production. The database is searchable by jurisdiction, state, water rights doctrine, or permitting program. The maps section shows the threshold of surface water withdrawals above which a state permit is required.

Cool? Yes. But could it be more useful? The DOE wants to know. The department is soliciting suggestions for improvements, changes, or additions. Send comments to EPSA.Database@hq.doe.gov by August 4. Comments must include your name, contact info, and company name and contact info. Comments must also be sent as a Microsoft Word document attached to the email.

Cyanobacteria Rogues Gallery
The U.S. Geological Survey published a collection of images of cyanobacteria found during the 2016 toxic outbreak in Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and downstream waterways. Researchers found cyanobacteria in 17 genera, which is a step up from species in the biological classification system.

On the Radar

Trump on Infrastructure
The Columbus Dispatch reports that the president will tout investment in river locks and dams during a visit on Wednesday to the Ohio River region. Trump outlined his infrastructure initiative in the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal.

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.