Federal Water Tap, January 22: Shutdown Will Not Immediately Affect EPA

The Rundown

The EPA says it will operate this week without interruption. A Michigan Republican introduces a bill putting maintenance conditions on Great Lakes oil pipelines. A Florida Republican asks President Trump for $4 billion for Everglades restoration projects. Delaware River Basin Commission proposes banning fracking within the watershed. More than 100 House members ask President Trump to consider climate change a national security threat. The State Department addresses cross-border water pollution from Canadian mines. The CDC finds that Legionella bacteria are common residents of U.S. cooling towers. The EPA publishes a report on reusing wastewater for drinking. And lastly, 2017 was one of the hottest years on record.

“I believe that most companies, most states, most citizens want to comply with the law, they want to do what’s right. But the regulations that we’ve adopted in a whole host of areas are not consistent so they don’t know what’s expected of them…We can achieve a lot through government mandate. We can achieve more, in my view, through investment, cooperation, and partnership through innovation and technology with the private sector.” — EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaking with CBS News about his views on regulation.

By the Numbers

$4 billion: Federal funding request from a Florida Republican congressman for reservoirs and ecosystem restoration projects to improve water quality in the Everglades. The request for funding in fiscal year 2019 was made in a letter to President Trump. It is Congress, however, that will decided whether to allocate funds. (Rep. Brian Mast)

104: House of Representatives members who signed a letter to President Trump asking that he recognize climate change as a national security threat, which the U.S. military already acknowledges. Ten percent of the co-signers were Republicans. (Rep. Elise Stefanik)

News Briefs

Failing to clinch an agreement on the budget and other matters, Congress shut down the government on Friday.

Each federal agency has plans in place for responding to the budget stalemate. A list of those plans can be found here.

The EPA has enough funds to operate without interruption through January 26, according to Molly Block, an EPA spokeswoman. Block told Circle of Blue that Administrator Scott Pruitt sent this message to agency employees on Friday:

“As many of you are aware, annual funding for the government expires at midnight.

At this time EPA has sufficient resources to remain open for a limited amount of time in the event of a government shutdown. All EPA employees should follow their normal work schedule for the week of January 22, 2018.

Should the shutdown occur and remain in place through January 26, 2018, we will provide further updates on the agency’s operating status. In addition, all travel needs to be approved by the Administrator’s Office.

Thank you for your hard work, dedication, and patience through this process, and for all that you do for the EPA and the American people.”

When funds do run out, employees who are necessary to “protect life and property” will keep working. According to the agency’s plan, that means 781 out of 14,449 employees — just over five percent of the workforce — will stay on task.

Of the employees with essential duties, one quarter are in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, which makes sure that polluters are following the rules. Other essential duties include: keeping alive laboratory minnows or crustaceans that are used in water quality testing, overseeing certain Superfund cleanups, and maintaining an emergency response team.

State Department Promises Action on Canadian Mine Pollution
The State Department and its Canadian counterpart will review the monitoring and oversight of heavy metals in the Kootenai River watershed, the Flathead Beacon reports. The pollution comes from coal mines in British Columbia. River advocates say it is the U.S. government’s first commitment to act on the issue.

Fracking Ban Proposed in Delaware River Basin
The Delaware River Basin Commission proposes banning high-volume hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in the four-state watershed. The rule also prevents fracking wastewater from being transported into the basin for treatment, unless a waiver is granted.

In justifying the ban, the commission argues that the risk of river pollution is “of particular concern.”

No fracking currently takes place in the basin, but the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, both laced with natural gas, run beneath parts of the watershed in New York and Pennsylvania. Other states in the basin include Delaware and New Jersey.

Great Lakes Oil Spill Bill
Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI) wants more scrutiny over oil pipelines that cross the Great Lakes. His bill requires federal pipeline regulators to report every six months on the status of such pipelines, and it imposes design standards. It also requires safety testing at least once every 12 months.

The bill requires operators, within five years of the bill’s enactment, to replace Great Lakes pipelines that first carried oil more than 50 years ago.

Though not mentioned by name, Line 5, the pair of 65-year-old Enbridge pipelines that cross between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, is a likely target of the bill. Lakes advocates, concerned about poor maintenance, have asked the Michigan government to shut down Line 5 before a rupture occurs.

In context: Congress Strengthens Great Lakes Oil Pipeline Oversight

Irrigation Rates for Indian Tribes
The Bureau of Indian Affairs proposed updating its rates for 2018 and 2019 for irrigation water delivered to tribes. Rates depend on the project but are generally between $20 and $90 per acre.

Studies and Reports

Deadly Legionella Bacteria Are Common in U.S. Building Plumbing
Bacteria responsible for the deadliest waterborne disease in the United States are frequent residents of the cooling towers that are a part of heating and air conditioning systems in apartments, hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, and other large buildings, according to a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read more from Circle of Blue about the study.

Hot 2017
Last year was either the second or third hottest in 138 years of records, according to federal science agencies. NOAA ranked last year’s average temperature third while NASA placed it second. The difference is based on the methods each agency uses. The five hottest years have occurred since 2010.

Potable Reuse
Reusing water is gaining popularity, especially in arid and coastal states. The EPA published a technical report with information on reusing water for drinking.

On the Radar

California Drought Watch
At 2:00 P.M. Eastern today, January 22, federal scientists will host a webinar to discuss the water and climate forecast for California and Nevada and provide data on drought conditions. Register here.

Environmental Financial Advisory Board Meeting
The expert panel that advises the EPA on financial matters will meet on February 20 and 21. On the agenda is funding regional water and sewer system mergers, measuring the achievements of Chesapeake Bay water quality programs, and paying for lead pipe replacements.

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.