What to watch for in the coming year: revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule, a public meeting to discuss a proposed reduction in the scope of the Clean Water Act, the first national drinking water regulation for a new contaminant in more than two decades, a PFAS management plan, drought negotiations on the Colorado River, the Supreme Court considering whether pollution of groundwater that is connected to rivers and lakes is regulated under the Clean Water Act, and the U.S. and Canada continuing Columbia River Treaty negotiations.
By the Numbers
10: Projects selected to test the reuse of sand and sediment dredged from ports and river channels. The dredged material will be used to rebuild beaches, restore marshes, and protect erodible shorelines. (Army Corps of Engineers)
8,356: Legionnaires’ disease cases reported through December 22, a 15 percent increase from 2017. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
EPA Lead Rule
After years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will finally unveil its proposal to update the federal rule to guard against lead in drinking water.
The agency says it will release the draft proposal in February. Observers will look for provisions regarding water testing criteria, sampling sites, and lead service line replacement.
By the end of April, the EPA should release draft drinking water standards for perchlorate, the first new contaminant to be regulated in drinking water more than two decades.
An ingredient in rocket fuel, fireworks, and other explosives, perchlorate affects the thyroid. The EPA estimates that the chemical is in the drinking water of 5 million to 17 million people.
The standards were due, under a court agreement, in October 2018, but the agency was granted a six-month extension.
Studies and Reports
Colorado River Negotiations
The leader of the Bureau of Reclamation issued an ultimatum during a gathering of basin water officials earlier this month: complete plans to reduce Colorado River water use, or the federal government will do it for you.
Brenda Burman gave basin officials a January 31 deadline to submit their plans. Most have done so. The big sticking point is Arizona, whose plan must be approved by state lawmakers. The Legislature reconvenes on January 14.
EPA PFAS Plan
In testimony before congressional committees this fall, EPA officials said they would publish a “management plan” for PFAS chemicals by the end of the year. That did not happen.
Expect the plan’s publication early in the New Year. The date is still uncertain for two reasons: the government shutdown and the retirement of Peter Grevatt, director of the EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. Grevatt, who will become the chief executive of the Water Research Foundation, had been leading the agency’s PFAS efforts.
On the Radar
Groundwater and the Clean Water Act
One of the big questions in environmental law recently is whether the pollution of groundwater that then flows to rivers and lakes requires a Clean Water Act permit.
Appeals courts are split, and the U.S. Supreme Court is considering two such cases. The high court asked federal government lawyers to weigh in by January 4.
Clean Water Rule Hearing
The EPA will hold one public hearing on its proposal to reduce the number of water bodies that are protected by the Clean Water Act.
That hearing will be on January 23, in Kansas City, Kansas. Forty-five minutes will be set aside for public comment. Registration for the three-minute speaking slots is now open.
The hearing is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Central Time. The agency says that it will not allow the meeting to run over.
Columbia River Treaty Negotiations
U.S. and Canadian negotiators plan to meet on February 27 and 28 in Washington, D.C. for the next round of talks about the future of the Columbia River.
The treaty, ratified in 1964, coordinates the operation of dams for hydropower generation and flood control. Tribes and environmental groups want more emphasis on salmon and ecosystems in an updated treaty. Other concerns include: payments made to Canada for water storage and reservoir levels in a climate change era.
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