Federal Water Tap, April 30: House Passes Bill to Protect Snake River Dams, Invalidate Court Ruling

The Rundown

The House votes for constraints on dam operations in the Columbia River basin. A Defense Department official discusses the military’s strategy for addressing perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water. Senators introduce septic system aid bills. A health agency analysis shows links between drinking water contamination at Camp Lejeune and cancer. The House passes a bill to allow Wyoming to tap the lowest reaches of a dam in the Colorado River basin. U.S. Geological Survey researchers measure the influence of drugs manufacturing facilities on pharmaceuticals in water bodies. And lastly, the National Academies holds a public meeting on reducing Legionnaires’ disease risk.

“The military departments will prioritize sites for further action using a risk-based approach. The department’s fundamental premise in site prioritization is ‘worse first,’ meaning the DoD components will address sites that pose a greater potential risk to human health and the environment first. These known or suspected PFOS and/or PFOA release areas are in various stages of assessment, investigation, and cleanup…Now that we have an initial inventory, it may take a few years to determine the potential cleanup costs as we collect information on the nature and extent of the releases.” — Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense, testifying about perfluorinated chemicals at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Department’s 2019 budget request. Niemeyer said that as of August 2017 the department had identified 401 active and closed bases with a “known or suspected” release of PFOA or PFOS that may affect drinking water off the base.

By the Numbers

$587 million: Grant funding available to help communities recover from fire and hurricane disasters in 2017. (Grants.gov)

News Briefs

Snake River Dams Bill
On a largely party-line vote of 225 to 189, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that requires congressional approval to remove dams on the Snake River.

The bill also orders the federal agencies that operate dams in the larger Columbia River system to revert to a 2014 management plan that a federal judge invalidated because it was harmful to endangered and threatened salmon.

The bill is sponsored by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican who represents an eastern Washington district in which the dams are located.

In 2016, a federal judge ordered the three agencies that operate and market power from the 14 dams to re-evaluate their management of the dams. The Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bonneville Power Administration were asked to assess dam removal as a way to revive salmon runs on the river.

Those agencies will update the public on their assessment, which is still underway, on May 30 via phone and webinar.

Septic System Grants Bill
Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) introduced a pair of bills to provide poor, rural households with money to connect to sewer systems or to fix septic systems. The bills (S. 2771 and S. 2772) provide grants up to $20,000 per household. Booker’s co-sponsors are Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Doug Jones (D-AL).

In context: Septic Infrastructure in the U.S.

In context: Straight Pipes Foul Kentucky’s Long Quest to Clean Its Soiled Waters

Wyoming Reservoir Bill Passes House
In a unanimous vote, the House endorsed legislation that will allow Wyoming to draw more water from a Colorado River basin dam.

The bill authorizes Wyoming to tap the lowest depths of Fontenelle reservoir, increasing available water from the dam by one-third, or 85,000 acre-feet. Wyoming officials have told Circle of Blue that the water will not be for new uses; it will be a drought supply for existing users.

Wyoming will pay for construction.

Internal Skepticism About EPA’s Lead Campaign
Agency staff, speaking anonymously, told the Guardian that the “war on lead” that Administrator Scott Pruitt declared is largely empty of substance at this point. The agency will introduce its plan in June for reducing lead exposure through drinking water, paint, dust, and other sources.

Water Infrastructure Grants Bill
Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) introduced a bill that would authorize $50 million per year in grant money for water systems to adapt to changes in water availability. A version of this bill has been introduced several times without being signed into law.

Studies and Reports

Camp Lejeune Drinking Water Contamination Linked to Cancers
Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune, a North Carolina Marine base, and civilians who worked there before 1985 had an increased risk of bladder cancer, kidney cancer, and kidney disease, according to a health analysis by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the CDC.

The base’s drinking water was contaminated by the chlorinated solvents TCE and PCE until 1985, when the most severely affected wells were disconnected.

The study, based on survey data, compared Camp Lejeune veterans and civilian workers with those from a control group at Camp Pendleton, which did not have water contaminated with solvents. The agency says that the results should be viewed with caution for a number of reasons: a low response rate to the survey and the potential for those experiencing health problems to be more likely to respond to the survey than healthier people.

Previous studies of Camp Lejeune veterans have found links to cancers of the lungs, breasts, kidneys, prostate, and rectum, as well as leukemia.

Tennessee Water Withdrawals
Half the groundwater withdrawals in Tennessee are from a single utility, the U.S. Geological Survey reports. That utility is Memphis Light, Gas, and Water, which serves the state’s second-largest city and is party to a U.S. Supreme Court case over its groundwater pumping.

In context: Mississippi’s Claim That Tennessee Is Stealing Groundwater Is a Supreme Court First

Drugs manufacturing facilities are significant contributors to pharmaceuticals in rivers and lakes, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study. The conclusion is somewhat obvious but researchers quantified manufacturing discharges at 13 wastewater treatment plants.

On the Radar

Legionella Meeting
On May 7, a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine study group holds its second meeting on reducing the risk of Legionnaires’ disease from water systems. The meeting, in Washington, D.C., is free and open to the public. There is a webcast if you can’t attend in person.

In context: Deadly Legionella Bacteria Are Common in U.S. Building Plumbing

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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