Federal Water Tap, October 9: Where Are the Lead Pipes? Watchdog Agency Says EPA Should Track

The Rundown

The GAO recommends three ways to improve federal oversight of lead drinking water pipes. The EPA publishes a draft four-year agency plan. Arizona’s senators introduce an Indian water rights settlement. The Fish and Wildlife Service rejects a petition to list more than two dozen species as threatened or endangered. The U.S. government invests in Nepal’s electric grid. The Bureau of Land Management approves four water disposal wells for a natural gas project in western Colorado. And lastly, 2017 is on pace to be another wet, hot American year.

“Would you do it? Would you drink it?” — President Donald Trump questions the effectiveness of water purification kits while touring parts of Puerto Rico on October 3, the Washington Post reports.

By the Numbers

57: Percent of households in Puerto Rico in which water service has been restored. (Status.PR)

$398 million: U.S. government investment in Nepal’s electric grid. The money will go toward 300 kilometers of high-voltage transmission lines and three substations that will send hydropower across the Himalayan country. (Millennium Challenge Corporation)

25: Species deemed not threatened enough to merit Endangered Species Act protection. The rejected include 14 species of snail that live in springs in Nevada’s Great Basin and could be harmed by increased groundwater pumping, something for which Las Vegas is now seeking a state permit. The Center for Biological Diversity filed petitions requesting review of the species. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

4: Water disposal wells permitted for a natural gas development in the Bull Mountain Unit of western Colorado. The record of decision allows for 146 natural gas wells. Water use for the gas wells varies according to the type of well and geology, and will be assessed in drilling plans, yet to be published. (Bureau of Land Management)

$18.4 billion: Spending, in 2016, in communities within 60 miles of a national park unit, a nine percent increase over the previous year. The number of visits — meaning the number of times a person passed through the entrance gate — was estimated at 331 million. (National Park Service)

News Briefs

Better Lead Oversight
The Government Accountability Office made three recommendations to the EPA for improving its oversight of lead in drinking water. According to the GAO, the agency should:

  • Require states to report data on the location and number of lead pipes in their service areas.
  • Require systems serving fewer than 10,000 customers to report all lead sampling results. These systems report data to states but the states do not necessarily submit that information to federal databases, and it is not required. EPA officials told the GAO that it has complete sample results for about 30 percent of all water systems.
  • Develop a statistical model that can predict which water systems are more likely to violate lead concentration standards.

The statistical model is necessary, the GAO says, because it allows the EPA to better use scarce financial and staff resources.

Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement
Arizona’s Republican senators introduced legislation to ratify a water rights settlement with the Hualapai Tribe, whose reservation is located next to the Grand Canyon. The settlement gives the tribe the rights to 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water per year, as well as unrestricted use of the aquifer beneath the reservation. The bill also authorizes construction of a project to divert Colorado River water, deliver it to the reservation, and treat it for municipal use.

Studies and Reports

EPA Asks for Comment on Draft Planning Document
Increasing the number of water infrastructure projects funded by EPA loans, grants, or private dollars is one of six EPA priorities in the next two years, according to a draft planning document. The document will set the agency agenda through 2022 but water infrastructure funding merits faster action, the draft states.

The EPA also wants to focus on reducing the number of communities that are not in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. One means of doing so, the agency says, is to gather more data. See the GAO report above to understand why that is important.

The draft does not provide any numerical targets for its priority areas. Those will be developed later.

Public comments are being accepted through October 31 via www.regulations.gov under docket number EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0533.

Wet, Hot American Year
The first nine months of 2017 were the third wettest and third hottest on record, according to NOAA. You’ve heard about hurricanes in the Gulf and forest fires in the West, but abnormalities are evident elsewhere, too. NOAA reports that parts of Alaska had their latest-ever first frost.

On the Radar

Inspector General Reports, In One Place
Bookmark oversight.gov, a holding pen for reports from all agency inspector generals.

Speaking of, the EPA inspector general will audit the agency’s WIFIA program, a water infrastructure loan program that recently selected a dozen projects to finance.

Texas Water Pipelines and Endangered Species
The San Antonio Water System, a public utility, is requesting a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit that allows for the construction of two water pipelines in an area inhabited by three endangered spiders and two endangered beetles. The permit exempts the utility from penalty if it inadvertently kills or harms the invertebrates.

The pipelines — a five-mile interconnection and a 45-mile conduit for desalinated groundwater — will connect San Antonio to new water sources.

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.