Columbia River Treaty talks begin. More deaths in the E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce. Energy regulators approve an expert committee to guide Klamath dam removal. Federal climate change spending is undercounted, GAO finds. EPA watchdogs note progress in Atlanta’s sewer repairs, but the city still is not complying with spill permits. The Bureau of Reclamation has grant money to jump start water markets in the American West. And lastly, two USGS studies track nitrate contamination of groundwater in farm regions.
“The Columbia River Treaty is integral to so much of the Pacific Northwest way of life — from our economy, to our environment, to our culture and heritage — so it’s hard to overstate the importance of updating this treaty to meet modern-day issues.” – Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) speaking about the opening of Columbia River treaty negotiations.
By the Numbers
5: Deaths from the E. coli outbreak in April and May that was linked to tainted romaine lettuce. It is the country’s largest E. coli outbreak in more than a decade, and federal investigators are still trying to figure out its origins. They are doing a “traceback” analysis to pinpoint the source of contamination. Fields in Yuma, Arizona are the primary suspect, but investigators do not know whether the bacteria were present in irrigation water, air, dust, whether they were introduced by wayward animals, or whether there is another source. (Food and Drug Administration)
$13.2 billion: Federal climate change spending in 2017. Two-thirds of the money went toward clean energy technology. The figure does not include the cost of responding to hurricanes, wildfires, drought, crop failures, or floods, nor does it include climate adaption measures. The report notes that exposure to climate change in the federal budget is increasing (chiefly through disaster aid and adaptation measures) but that the administration’s budget office does not attempt to quantify the exposure. (GAO)
FERC Approves Klamath Dam Removal Expert Group
Federal hydropower regulators approved a six-person expert panel to guide what will be the largest dam removal project in U.S. history.
The board of consultants will review all financial and technical aspects for tearing down four dams on the Klamath River. That includes the sequencing of the dam removals, funding, rerouting the river during deconstruction, and other considerations.
The board consists largely of civil engineers with decades of experience with dam designs. But also represented are a fisheries biologist and insurance risk evaluators.
Columbia River Treaty Talks Begin
U.S and Canadian negotiators began discussing updates to a treaty that governs hydropower and flood control on the shared river, the Associated Press reports. Native American tribes and green groups want more consideration in the negotiations for salmon and ecosystems, while some lawmakers think that Canada’s benefits — some $250 million in electricity for storing water in upstream dams — are too large.
Studies and Reports
Nitrate in Groundwater
Studies from the U.S. Geological Survey looked at nitrate contamination of groundwater in farm regions of California and Washington.
The California study focused on areas around the Salinas Valley and Monterey Bay. Fourteen percent of shallow groundwater used for drinking had nitrate concentrations above the federal standard. The study also looked at salts, metals, arsenic, uranium, and other undesirables.
In Washington, researchers analyzed groundwater in the Yakima Valley, known for its fruit trees, wineries, hops, and dairies. More than one in five household wells had nitrate concentrations above the federal drinking water standard.
Samples from 156 wells were taken between April and December 2017. The data will be used to assist long-term pollution monitoring.
EPA Audits Atlanta Sewer Repairs
Atlanta reduced sewer overflows in the last two decades, but the city is still not yet in compliance with a federal agreement to fix its sewer system, according to an EPA inspector general’s report.
The city signed the consent decree in 1998, and it has until 2027 to complete all projects to plug overflows from its sanitary sewers and combined sewers. Spills from sanitary sewers — which are connected to home plumbing — are supposed to be eliminated, but the system still dumped between 1.3 million and 9.5 million gallon of untreated sewage per year since 2013.
More Activity for EPA Inspector General, Plus Flint Report Timetable
The agency’s internal watchdog says that it received a “significant increase in congressional requests for audits and investigations” in the six months ending on March 31.
The Office of the Inspector General could not provide exact numbers, but Kentia Elbaum, a spokesperson, told Circle of Blue that various members of Congress have asked for investigations of Scott Pruitt, the agency’s leader.
The inspector general will release an anticipated report on the agency’s response to the Flint water scandal. That report, initiated in February 2016, will be released this summer, Elbaum said. A preliminary report found evidence that the EPA had enough information to act at least six months earlier than it did.
On the Radar
Federal Grants for Water Markets
The Bureau of Reclamation has $3 million to give out this year to organizations hoping to buy and sell water in the American West.
Ten to 12 grants of up to $400,000 will be awarded to develop a “water marketing strategy” — basically, advertising, data collection, research on legal, economic, or technical matters, and trial runs. Federal funds can be no more than half the project’s cost.
Applications are due July 17.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton