Federal Water Tap, October 15: Senate Passes Water Infrastructure Bill
Big water infrastructure package authorizes billions of dollars for water systems. The CDC asks to extend a national database for harmful algal bloom illnesses. A standards-setting agency seeks information about potential plumbing code revisions that reflect changes in how water is used in buildings. And lastly, the number of Legionnaires’ disease cases so far this year is comparable to 2017.
By the Numbers
99-1: Vote in the Senate to pass America’s Water Infrastructure Act. The only objector was Mike Lee (R-UT). The bill now goes to the president.
5,809: Number of Legionnaires’ disease cases reported through October 6, roughly the same tally as last year through the same period. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
100: Number of testing methods approved for analyzing drinking water contaminants. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
Water Infrastructure Bill
After approval by a near unanimous margin in both the House and Senate, a large water infrastructure bill is heading to President Trump’s desk.
Like many big bills these days, America’s Water Infrastructure Act is a patchwork, a key piece of legislation to which many smaller measures were stitched.
The bill’s primary purpose is to reauthorize Army Corps of Engineers levee, port, dam, and environmental restoration projects. These and other projects in the bill will need to be funded during the annual budget process.
Other provisions include:
- Authorizing $4.4 billion over three years for the drinking water revolving fund, the main federal loan program for drinking water systems.
- Authorizing $50 million over two years for grants to test drinking water at schools and childcare facilities for lead.
- Authorizing $15 million over three years for grants to replace drinking water fountains at schools.
- Authorizing Wyoming to use more water from Fontenelle Dam, a reservoir in the Colorado River basin.
- Requiring a report, due in two years, to identify “intractable” water systems — those that serve fewer than 1,000 people and whose operator has failed to maintain them so as to present a public health hazard.
- Requiring an emergency response plan from drinking water systems serving more than 3,300 people. The plan should reflect risks from cyberattack, chemical spills, natural hazards, and more.
- Reauthorizing WIFIA, a federal water infrastructure loan program.
- Authorizing a National Academy of Sciences study, due in two years, on moving the Army Corps to another federal agency.
- Requiring a report on a pilot study at Coyote Valley Dam, in California, to use weather forecasting to operate the dam more effectively for water storage and flood control.
- Giving authority to states to explore merging a failing water system with a neighbor if the failing system is unwilling or unable to meet national drinking water standards.
Studies and Reports
Harmful Algal Blooms Database
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is requesting a three-year extension of a national database for tracking illnesses caused by harmful algal blooms.
A voluntary effort, the OHHABS database is used by states and territories to report outbreaks and illnesses.
On the Radar
Legionnaires’ Disease Update
The number of cases reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the first nine months this year is just ahead of the pace set in 2017.
Through October 6, there have been 5,809 reported cases of the deadly, pneumonia-like illness, compared to 5,787 in the same time period last year. Not contagious, the disease is largely a product of the built environment, spread by inhaling water droplets contaminated by Legionella bacteria, which grow in warm, stagnant waters in building plumbing systems.
The CDC estimates the death rate at one in 10, but that is based on a small sample from 2011 to 2013. The agency should have a report out by the end of the month on the number of deaths attributed to the disease in 2014 and 2015, a spokeswoman told Circle of Blue.
In context: Deadly Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreaks Persist in the U.S.
Plumbing Data for the Future
Legionella is known as an “opportunistic pathogen” — one that takes advantage of altered environmental conditions.
The altered environment in this case are plumbing systems that incubate the bacteria.
The federal government agency that sets building standards wants to know what data it should consider when revising building codes to account for changes in water use.
The way water is used today is not how it was used decades ago. Water conservation and efficiency result in lower flows through building pipes and more stagnant water in pipes. At the same time, there is more water reuse within buildings and different materials used for pipes. All of these are potential factors in pathogen growth.
“New information is needed to ensure that premise plumbing systems are designed, installed, and operated such that the goals of water efficiency, water quality, and energy efficiency are considered in an integrated manner,” according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Submit comments by November 9, either via the project website or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “RFI Response: Regarding Measurement Science Needs for Water Use Efficiency and Water Quality in Premise Plumbing Systems.”
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.
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
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