Federal Water Tap, December 24: Columbia River Basin Agreement for Salmon and Hydropower

The Rundown

The Trump administration’s strategy for reducing childhood lead exposure is criticized as being too weak. The Supreme Court declines to hear a manufacturer’s appeal over a sanitary wipes lawsuit. An EPA advisory committee recommends a federal drinking water standard for PFAS chemicals. Congress passes a sewer system planning bill and reauthorizes a federal drought monitoring program. USGS scientists connect Oklahoma earthquakes to hydraulic fracturing. And lastly, the EPA wonders whether it should revise waste disposal rules for municipal landfills.

“I come from a part of the country where climate change is there. It is with us. It is real. And it is — it is something that we look to as Alaskans with a reality of this world view.” — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) during a Senate speech on December 11 about the Arctic.

By the Numbers

700: Number of earthquakes in Oklahoma between 2010 and 2016, of magnitude 2.0 or greater, that were linked to hydraulic fracturing. Most research to date has connected Oklahoma’s increased earthquake activity to injection wells used by the oil and gas industry to dispose of wastewater deep underground. This study found 274 fracking wells that were associated with “bursts of seismicity.” (U.S. Geological Survey)

3: Water systems serving more than 2,000 people in the Crow Tribe in Montana that have problems with monitoring or water quality. The largest of the systems, the Crow Agency Water System, exceeded E. coli limits earlier this year in its source water. The EPA watchdog agency is “concerned about potential human health threats.” (Office of the Inspector General)

News Briefs

Columbia River Deal
State and federal agencies and Indian tribes reached an agreement on operating eight Columbia River basin dams to improve water conditions for salmon while balancing hydropower generation.

The agreement relates to how much water operators spill over dams rather than pass through turbines. Sending water through turbines generates electricity and thus revenue. But the turbine blades also imperil juvenile salmon that are migrating to the ocean.

The deal extends through the spring of 2021, when an environmental review of Columbia River dam operations is due. That review was ordered by a federal judge in Oregon and requires agencies to weigh the merits of removing dams on the lower Snake River.

Lead Plan
The Trump administration’s plan for reducing childhood exposure to lead consists mostly of doing things that are already required or underway. Critics called the strategy a “missed opportunity.”

For drinking water, the strategy says that the administration will completion a revision of federal lead guidelines. A draft version is scheduled to be released in February, after being delayed for years. The plan also looks at ways to reduce exposure from soil, paint, and air.

Thirteen months ago, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s first U.S. Environmental Protection Agency leader, called for a “war on lead.” This document is not a battle cry, says Tom Neltner, head of the chemicals policy program at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“The anticipated strategy has been downgraded to an action plan that does little to advance lead poisoning prevention beyond work already underway,” Neltner wrote.

The strategy was developed by a presidential task force comprised of 17 federal agencies and chaired by the leaders of the Department of Health and Human Services and the EPA.

Wipes Lawsuit
The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a manufacturer’s appeal in a lawsuit over sanitary wipes, The Hill reports. A California woman filed a class-action suit against Kimberly-Clark, a wipes manufacturer, that claimed the company’s advertising was deceptive.

The wipes were marketed as flushable, but water utilities have shown that the wipes clog sewer pipes and equipment.

Because the high court did not take on the appeal, the class-action suit can proceed in a lower court.

Congress Passes Wastewater Planning Bill
In rapid fashion, the House and Senate approved a bill that will set in law an EPA policy that gives cities more flexibility in meeting Clean Water Act standards.

The Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, approved by large margins, allows cities to develop “integrated plans” when scheduling sewer investments. The policy, developed during the Obama administration, encourages cities to use natural systems such as swales, rain gardens, and grassy roofs to reduce runoff.

In context: New EPA Guidance for Combined Sewers Draws Mixed Reviews

NIDIS Reauthorization
The House and Senate also reauthorized a federal drought monitoring, forecasting, and information sharing service.

NIDIS, as the program is known, is authorized for between $13.5 and $14.5 million per year through 2023.

Studies and Reports

Who Uses Drought Monitoring Tools?
The U.S. Geological Survey took a sociological approach in looking at the array of drought data that is available to land and water managers in the Upper Colorado River Basin, including that from the NIDIS program. Who uses these tools? How do they hear about them? What makes a tool useful?

Answers to these questions depends on the person and their professional networks, the research found.

CRS Reports
The Congressional Research Service published three reports recently that address water issues: an update on California water provisions in a 2016 infrastructure bill, the status of the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule, which is in effect in 22 states, and an overview of key issues regarding two rivers, the Colorado and Rio Grande, shared with Mexico.

On the Radar

Local Government Advisory Committee Talks Water
The committee that advises the EPA on matters important to local governments is holding a public meeting on January 10 and 11 at the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.

In November, the committee released a report on PFAS in drinking water, arguing that local governments need financial and technical assistance for monitoring and testing. More importantly, the committee said there is “an urgent need” for a federal PFAS standard for drinking water. Federal officials have said that developing such a standard will take years.

In context: In Senate PFAS Hearing, Officials Say Regulatory Response Will Take Years

Landfill Regulations
The EPA wants to know whether it should revise waste disposal rules for municipal landfills. In particular, the agency is interested in how liquid waste should be handled and whether current prohibitions for bulk liquids should be lessened.

Submit comments via www.regulations.gov using docket number EPA-HQ-RCRA-2015-0354. Comments are due by March 26.

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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