Federal Water Tap, November 2: U.S., Mexico Sign Rio Grande Water Agreement

The Rundown

Officials from the two countries settled a dispute over a treaty that requires Mexico to deliver a certain amount of Rio Grande water to the U.S. The USDA announces $891 million for rural water and sewer infrastructure. President Trump signs a conservation bill that aids the Chesapeake Bay. The Department of Justice proposes three consent decrees: on a longstanding Superfund site in Montana, stormwater pollution in Colorado Springs, and the sewer system in DeKalb County, Georgia. The EPA released its annual report on a wastewater infrastructure fund. The Bureau of Reclamation announces $40 million in funding for Sacramento River salmon habitat. And lastly, the Lake Erie harmful algal bloom this summer was much less severe than in 2019.

“We appreciate the efforts by Mexican government officials to fulfill their treaty obligations on time. This agreement sets us on a path to improve Rio Grande management in the future to the benefit of both countries.” – Jayne Harkins, U.S. commissioner of the International Boundary Water Commission, speaking about a water-sharing agreement over the Rio Grande that the U.S. and Mexico signed.

By the Numbers

$891 million: Funding announced for 220 rural water and sewer system projects in 43 states. Three-quarters of the funds are low-interest loans. The rest is grants that need not be repaid. (USDA)

$2.1 million: Disaster assistance to help Vietnam recover from flooding due to a series of tropical storms. The lives of an estimated 1.5 million people have been disrupted by the storms. (USAID)

3: Severity, on a 10-point scale, of this summer’s harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie. It was one of the more benign blooms in recent years, and down significantly from the 7.3 bloom in 2019. (NOAA)

$40 million: Funding for salmon habitat restoration along the Sacramento River. Funds will be distributed over five years to four organizations. (Bureau of Reclamation)

News Briefs

Rio Grande Water Agreement
U.S. and Mexican officials settled a water dispute that had been simmering for several months.

Mexico is obligated to deliver a set amount of water from Rio Grande tributaries over a five-year period. The most recent period ended in late October with Mexico behind on deliveries for a second consecutive cycle.

Under the agreement signed on October 21, Mexico will transfer ownership of water stored in two border reservoirs to the U.S. Because the water is already in the reservoirs, this is an accounting move.

The agreement depletes Mexico’s storage in Amistad and Falcon reservoirs. If it does not rain and Mexico cannot meet municipal needs downstream of those reservoirs in the next 12 months, the U.S. will provide “humanitarian support,” or supplemental water, the agreement states. Irrigation needs of farmers are not eligible for relief.

“All the farmers in Mexico along the Rio Grande main stem below Amistad, they are really on the hook,” said Samuel Sandoval Solis of the University of California, Davis, who specializes in U.S.-Mexico water management.

The agreement also establishes two working groups, one for hydrology and one for policy, that will assist with data sharing and improving management of the shared river.

USAID Sanitation Partnership
The U.S. Agency for International Development announced a partnership with a Japanese company for sanitation and hygiene.

The agency will help LIXIL drum up demand for its latrine and toilet products in up to 11 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. That means USAID could conduct market studies, facilitate manufacturing, and educate locals about sanitation and hygiene.

“When we partner with the private sector, particularly multinational corporations, we pool resources — financial, human, and technological — to tackle challenges of common interest,” Ashley Yehl, a USAID spokesperson wrote to Circle of Blue in an email. “USAID helps companies expand to new markets in a way that benefits households and reaches them with affordable, market-based solutions to sanitation and hygiene needs. Companies like LIXIL bring global networks and an ability to reach customers at scale that can rapidly benefit consumers. Mobilizing private enterprise to help others rise and prosper helps us achieve the ultimate goal: eliminating the need for foreign assistance.”

Montana Superfund Site Consent Decree
The Department of Justice issued a proposed $23.7 million consent decree for addressing water pollution at a Superfund site in Montana.

The consent decree requires Atlantic Richfield to control stormwater runoff at the Anaconda smelter site, a 300-square-mile district that is considered one of the country’s most polluted. The order also requires actions to prevent waste piles from contaminating groundwater.

The Anaconda site was listed on Superfund in 1983 and cleanup efforts have taken decades.

Colorado Springs Stormwater Agreement
The Department of Justice and EPA reached an agreement with Colorado Springs to reduce polluted stormwater runoff from the city.

The proposed consent decree alleges that Colorado’s second-largest city failed to control stormwater from large residential complexes, office developments, and construction sites. This resulted in sediments and bacteria flowing into area waterways and eroding streams.

The decree requires that the city build stormwater retention ponds and limit pollutants flowing into Fountain Creek by restoring wetlands and stream channels.

Conservation Bill Signed
President Trump signed a wide-ranging land and water conservation bill that includes several provisions supporting the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation called the bill a “major victory” for the nation’s largest estuary.

America’s Conservation Enhancement Act reauthorizes the Chesapeake Bay restoration program at $90 million for 2021. Current funding is $85 million. The bill also establishes a new program, Chesapeake WILD, which will coordinate habitat restoration in the six-state watershed that includes the District of Columbia.

Studies and Reports

The Department of Energy will allow manufacturers to sell a dishwasher that completes its task in less than an hour for a normal load of dirty dishes.

The department made its decision following a petition from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which argued that energy-conserving dishwasher models were too slow and customers were dissatisfied. The department has also moved to relax conservation rules for showerheads.

DOE will set energy and water standards for the new class of dishwashers in a separate rulemaking, though the department argues that having a quicker cycle option could reduce water use because it would decrease the washing of dishes by hand.

Water Reuse
The EPA introduced a dashboard that shows activities related to water reuse. Earlier this year, the agency published a national plan for encouraging water reuse.

Weather Forecasting
NOAA signed an agreement with Google to test the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve weather forecasting and climate research. The goal is to use advanced computational tools to help make sense of the agency’s extensive satellite data.

Clean Water State Revolving Fund
The EPA published its annual report on the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the primary source of federal funds for wastewater infrastructure.

The fund provided $6.2 billion in funding in fiscal year 2019, mostly as low-interest loans. The funds were expended in some novel applications. The state of Kansas used the fund to curb nutrient runoff. The state purchased equipment that farmers could rent for planting cover crops. It’s a try-before-you-buy technique that allows farmers to test the equipment before committing.

On the Radar

DeKalb County Sewer System
The Department of Justice will give DeKalb County, Georgia, at least seven more years to comply with a consent decree to limit spills from its sanitary sewer system.

Signed in 2011, the original agreement had a 2020 deadline for identifying and repairing priority areas of its sewer system. The county has already completed some work: replacing manhole covers and removing fats, oils, grease, and roots from sewer pipes.

The county is getting financial help in complying with the consent decree. The EPA closed a $265 million loan with DeKalb on October 13. The funds will be used to replace sewer lines.

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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