Federal Water Tap, October 29: EPA Waits for Court Extension on Drinking Water Regulation

The Rundown

EPA waits for court decision on agency’s request for more time to develop regulations for perchlorate in drinking water. President Trump signs a big water infrastructure bill. The USGS coordinates groundwater mapping in the Mississippi alluvial aquifer, important for farm irrigation. The Defense Department’s environmental research program announces funding for PFAS remediation. And lastly, the USGS investigates manure pollution in Washington state and whether a cemetery in Michigan pollutes groundwater.

“Well, I know California well. And I see houses, beautiful houses — people are very proud of their house. Their lawn is brown. It’s dead. It’s dying. It’s dead. And they end up taking it out and just have sand in front of their houses. And they have so much water, they don’t know what to do with it. It’s so crazy.” — President Trump gives his opinion on water-conserving landscaping at a White House leadership conference for state officials from Alaska, California, and Hawaii. Xeriscaped lawns, as they are called, are a mix of native grasses and drought-tolerant plants, not sand.

By the Numbers

$4.4 billion: Money authorized, over three years, for the drinking water revolving fund, the main federal loan program for drinking water systems. (Congress)

News Briefs

Trump Signs Water Infrastructure Bill
President Trump signed America’s Water Infrastructure Act, a broad bill that authorizes billions of dollars of water projects. The bill garnered near-unanimous support in Congress.

See here for some of the bill’s provisions.

U.S. Geological Survey Coordinates Mapping of Key Aquifer
Starting the first week of November, a federal contractor will begin aerial mapping of one of the nation’s most important aquifers for agriculture.

The Mississippi alluvial aquifer covers parts of seven states. Groundwater in the region, particularly in Arkansas, has declined in recent decades because of intensive farming.

The first two weeks of flights in November will center on southern Arkansas and western Mississippi. Instruments dangled from a helicopter will map the aquifer to a depth of 1,000 feet — data that will be turned into a three-dimensional model.

The mapping project is being coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey, in partnership with state agencies.

Studies and Reports

Do Manure Application Methods to Reduce Nitrate Pollution of Groundwater Work?
The U.S. Geological Survey sought to answer that question in Whatcom County, in northwest Washington state.

To help farmers apply manure in appropriate quantities, Whatcom has guidance that takes into account weather, soil, and crop conditions. The USGS paired a field that used that guidance with one in which manure was spread at fixed times. Nitrate and chloride concentrations in groundwater beneath the fields were measured for three years.

The results for nitrate were inconclusive. Fields using the manure guidance had higher nitrate levels in some cases, and lower levels in others.

There was a clear seasonal trend in all fields: nitrate concentrations rising at the onset of the autumn rains.

Do Cemeteries Pollute Groundwater?
The U.S. Geological Survey investigated shallow groundwater at a cemetery located in the groundwater protection zone for Lansing, Michigan.

Findings of higher levels of bacteria, metals, and nutrients were similar to studies in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom that cemeteries affect groundwater quality.

Defense Department Report on Groundwater Polluted with Grease-Cleaning Chemical
The Defense Department’s environmental research program held a conference in July to discuss research into one of the military most persistent groundwater contamination problems: chlorinated solvents.

Chlorinated solvents clean grease from airplanes and other equipment. The conference report, released in October, identifies critical research needs for groundwater: understanding natural processes that degrade the chemicals, analyzing data from existing pump-and-treat systems to learn their effectiveness, and characterizing the movement of pollutants underground.

On the Radar

Deadline Nears for EPA Drinking Water Rule
The EPA is still waiting to hear if its motion to extend the deadline for issuing a rule limiting a rocket fuel chemical in drinking water will be granted.

In late August the agency petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to extend by six months the October 31, 2018, deadline that the court set for regulating perchlorate in drinking water.

As of Friday afternoon, the court had yet to rule on the motion.

The standard has been in the works for years. The agency determined in 2011 that it should regulate perchlorate, which affects the drinking water of 5 million to 17 million Americans.

The court order came out of a lawsuit brought in 2016 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which argued that the EPA had missed legally required deadlines for proposing a perchlorate standard.

PFAS Remediation Studies
The Defense Department’s environmental research program is soliciting proposals to study PFAS chemicals in water and soil.

Four areas of need relate to PFAS chemicals: biodegradation in firefighting foams, analytical methods, sampling methods, and methods to identify if PFAS in a contamination plume came from Defense Department sources.

Proposals, due January 8, 2019, should be submitted online.

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). Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton

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