Federal Water Tap, April 23: In Bay Area Earthquake Simulation, Water Off For Months

The Rundown

A magnitude 7.0 quake on the Hayward fault would cut water off for six weeks or more for some residents in counties east of San Francisco. Senate Democrats ask the EPA administrator to set a legally enforceable standard for perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water. At the same time, Michigan’s federal lawmakers asked the Air Force to rid groundwater of perfluorinated chemicals at a former Michigan base while the Air Force puts up more money for PFAS response in Colorado. The EPA publishes its environmental justice evaluation for 2017. Senate committee hearing explores groundwater pollution regulation. And lastly, the farm bill advances through a House committee.

“The spread of invasive species presents an existential threat to health of the Great Lakes, and I’m pleased to have worked with my Senate colleagues to stop the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act from moving forward.” — Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on the failure of a Coast Guard bill that weakened ballast water oversight to advance. Ballast water is water ships carry to balance their loads. Filled in one water body and dumped in another, these waters can introduce unwanted species.

By the Numbers

9 percent: Share of total Millennium Challenge Corporation funds spent on water and sanitation. Started by the Bush administration, the MCC is a unique U.S. government foreign aid program. It awards funding to countries based on their adherence to open markets and democratic governance. Those screening criteria, however, do not guarantee project successes. The report notes failure in Cape Verde to collect user fees that were designed to maintain a water project. (Congressional Research Service)

40 percent: Share of their contract water allocation that farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will receive this year from the Central Valley Project, up from the preliminary 20 percent allocation announced in February. Farmers and cities north of the delta will get a full delivery. Late-season storms boosted water supplies. (Bureau of Reclamation)

25: Senators who signed a letter asking Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, to set a legally binding limit for perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water. The signatories are all Democrats, except for one independent. In 2016, the EPA set an unenforceable health advisory, but many view it as a de facto standard. (Senate)

News Briefs

Perfluorinated Chemicals in Colorado
The Air Force will spend $900,000 to deliver clean drinking water to residents affected by chemicals from a fire-suppressing foam used on Peterson Air Force Base, the Gazette reports. The money is in addition to $4.3 million the Air Force provided in 2016 to deal with drinking water contamination from the foams.

Perfluorinated Chemicals in Michigan
Michigan senators and representatives asked the Air Force to “immediately direct funds to stop further contamination of groundwater and surface water” from perfluorinated chemicals flowing from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

Wurtsmith is next to the town of Oscoda, in northern Michigan. The letter sent to the Air Force requests new and expanded treatment systems. The chemicals, used in firefighting foams starting in the 1970s, seeped into the base’s groundwater. Now they are found in area rivers, lakes, and wells.

In context: Fear and Fury in Michigan Town Where Air Force Contaminated Water

Farm Bill Update
The sprawling bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee.

Sewage Blends
The EPA said in a press release that it will assess rules for “blending” partially sewage at treatment plants. Blending is a tactic operators use when inflows during storms exceed treatment capacity. The blend is then sent to the local waterway it was originally designated for.

Groundwater Oversight Hearing
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing lawsuit on the regulation of groundwater pollution. Debate clustered around whether state or federal laws apply (CWA, SDWA, CERCLA, for the alphabet soupers) and who should enforce the rules, E&E News reports.

The senators had reason to address the topic now.

In early February, a federal appeals court in San Francisco became the latest court to uphold the conduit theory, the idea that pollution of groundwater that then flows to a river, lake, or ocean is regulated by the Clean Water Act.

Following that decision, the EPA requested public input on the issue. The agency’s position — one that it argued in court during the Obama administration — is that conduit theory is the proper application of the law. The deadline for comment is May 21.

In context: U.S. Courts Issue Contradictory Rulings on Groundwater and the Clean Water Act

Studies and Reports

A magnitude 7.0 earthquake on the Hayward fault, east of San Francisco Bay, will sever piped water supplies in a region of 7 million people, according to a U.S. Geological Survey hazard simulation. Under current pipe conditions – namely, older more-brittle pipes – restoring household water service could take between one week and seven months for residents in East Bay counties. By replacing older pipes and staging emergency fuel at pumping stations, utilities could reduce the response time, the report argues.

The full report on the engineering implications is a large file (188 MB). The six-page fact sheet compresses the relevant details.

Water Deeply explains the proactive measures — engineering redesigns and reserve supplies — that water agencies have taken to prepare their piped systems for earthquakes.

EPA Environmental Justice Report
The agency’s 2017 report claims achievements in reducing the number of small drinking water systems with repeat violations and a two percentage point increase in the number of tribal water systems meeting all drinking water standards.

A repeat violation is more than one exceedance of a health standard in a 12-month period. In the 12 months covered by this report, 428 fewer systems reported repeat violations.

The agency, however, has been criticized for failing to act on claims of environmental discrimination, most recently from coal ash waste in an Alabama town.

On the Radar

Upper Colorado Drought Forecast
A federal-local partnership that coordinates drought response hosts a webinar on April 24 on low-water conditions in the Upper Colorado River watershed.

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.

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