Federal Water Tap, October 7: EPA Initiates First Major Action in PFAS Response Plan

The Rundown

The EPA begins the process for requiring industries to disclose toxic PFAS releases. The BLM opens 722,000 acres of federally managed public lands in central California to oil and gas leasing. The EPA gets a six-month extension to finalize its regulation for perchlorate in drinking water. President Trump signs a bill to allow states to shift water infrastructure funding toward lead pipe replacement. Federal agencies outline drought responses, and the USGS develops a drought index for coastal salinity. And lastly, USAID officials will lay the groundwork for a five-year water and sanitation research initiative at a conference this week.

By the Numbers

722,000: Acres of federally managed public land in central California that will be made available for oil and gas leasing. The land is predominantly in Fresno, Monterey, and San Benito counties. The decision is in support of President Trump’s order to expand domestic fossil fuel production. (Bureau of Land Management)

News Briefs

EPA Sends PFAS Proposal to White House for Review
The EPA notified the Office of Management and Budget that it will consider requiring industries to report releases of certain PFAS compounds to air, land, and water. The notice is an initial step in the agency’s rulemaking process.

The Toxics Release Inventory is the agency’s tool for tracking the release of toxic chemicals. There are currently no PFAS compounds on the list of chemicals that companies are required to report. It is unclear which PFAS compounds the agency might include, but the notice identifies certain industries that might be affected: carpet and upholstery, petroleum refineries, chemical manufacturing, fiber mills, and home furnishing wholesalers.

Lawyers at Troutman Sanders say that the move to update the TRI is the agency’s first major action under its PFAS action plan, which was released in February.

The next step will be to start a formal rulemaking and invite public comment.

Water Funding Transfer Bill
President Trump signed a bill that allows states more flexibility in their use of two federal water infrastructure loan funds in order to address lead contamination.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), authorizes states to shift money from a fund dedicated to sewage and stormwater to a fund for drinking water infrastructure. The goal is to allow states to use the transferred funds for lead pipe replacement. Under the bill, states may transfer up to 5 percent of the sewer/stormwater funds in the next year.

Studies and Reports

Federal Drought Response Actions
Following a forum held in July, federal agencies released a progress report on drought response preparations.

The National Drought Resilience Partnership focuses on six areas: data collection, communicating risk, drought planning, agency coordination, market-based approaches, and improvements in technology, efficiency, and water reuse.

The document dances around the topic of climate change, mentioning the role of a warming planet only indirectly. “Meteorological trends indicate that the United States can expect droughts to become more frequent, longer, and more severe,” it states.

Coastal Salinity Index
Coastal droughts, because of the interaction between salt water and fresh water, are different than interior droughts. Dry periods allow salty water to move farther upriver.

U.S. Geological Survey researchers set about quantifying the changes in the salinity of coastal waterways.

They came up with the Coastal Salinity Index, a measurement of the severity of salt concentrations, and applied it to 97 coastal gauging stations between Texas and North Carolina.

Data is updated daily for a third of those stations, and historical data is available through 1983. This near real-time window into changes in coastal water quality will be helpful for water and wildlife managers, according to the developers of the index.

Watchdog Finds Inadequate Public Notice for Drinking Water Violations
The EPA’s internal watchdog says that some state and tribal agencies are failing to notify the public about utility drinking water violations in a timely manner. Many state agencies have the delegated authority to implement federal drinking water rules.

An inspector general’s audit revealed that the EPA does not have a system for tracking when state agencies fail to comply with public notice requirements. The requirements differ depending on the violation. The public is supposed to be notified of immediate health threats, like E. coli, within 24 hours. Violations of monitoring protocols, however, can be posted up to a year later.

On the Radar

USAID Water Research
On October 11, at the UNC Water and Health Conference, the U.S. Agency for International Development will gather suggestions from researchers and professionals on a five-year research agenda that will improve its delivery of water, sanitation, and hygiene services. The session agenda is found here.

Environmental Finance Meeting
The expert group that advises the EPA on financing will meet in Kansas City, Missouri, from October 16 to 18. On the agenda: stormwater financing.

The meeting is free and open to the public, but registration is required by the end of today.

Perchlorate Extension
The Natural Resources Defense Council, which brought a lawsuit in 2016 against the EPA to compel the agency to regulate perchlorate in drinking water, agreed to a six-month extension for finalizing the rule. The agency now has until June 19, 2020 to complete its work.

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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