As fires continue to burn in California, the EPA drafts a template for water utilities to handle electric power shutoffs. The USDA announces $268 million for rural water and sewer infrastructure. The EPA’s internal watchdog will audit the agency’s selection process for a water and sewer loan program. The EPA reaches an agreement with Corpus Christi to curb sewer spills. The USGS maps the extent of saltwater intrusion in southwestern Long Island. And lastly, the EPA is expected to finalize its revision to federal rules for lead in drinking water.
“It’s unfortunate, but there is a lot of evidence that during the previous administration — especially in its second term — an overweening focus on climate change took the form of virtue-signaling in foreign capitals. This behavior came at the expense of running the agency and ensuring a better environment for all Americans. Aside from their attempt at the Waters of the United States rule, they almost solely focused on climate change at the expense of other environmental indicators.” — Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the EPA, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on September 21. Wheeler positioned the Trump administration as a champion for environmental protection, even though the EPA has finalized rules — for power plants, wetlands, and waste disposal pits — that reduce safeguards for air, land, and water.
By the Numbers
$268 million: Funding for rural water and sewer infrastructure. Three-quarters of the total is in the form of loans, while the rest is grants that need not be repaid. The town of Saltville, Virginia, for example, received a $6.3 million funding package that will replace more than 3 miles of water mains and service lines, as well as 4 miles of sewer lines. (USDA)
Power Shutoff Response
To reduce the chances that their power lines ignite fires, electric companies in California and elsewhere shut off power to high-risk areas during wind storms.
The EPA published a template that water utilities can use to plan for, respond to, and recover from a public power shut off.
Sewer Overflows in Corpus Christi
The EPA reached a settlement with Corpus Christi, Texas, to reduce sewage spills from the city’s sanitary sewer system.
Under the consent decree, Corpus Christi will spend about $600 million over 15 years to assess the condition of its sewer pipes and repair those that are blocked or leaking.
Studies and Reports
Saltwater Intrusion in Long Island
The U.S. Geological Survey published a study showing the underground movement of saltwater in coastal Long Island.
A consequence of pumping too much water from coastal aquifers, saltwater intrusion is affecting the Lloyd aquifer in southwestern Long Island. Public water supply wells in the area have been shut down because the water became too salty.
On the Radar
EPA Lead Rule Forthcoming
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected in the coming days to release long-awaited revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule.
A draft of the final rule that was obtained by the New York Times suggests that requirements for lead pipe replacement will not be as strict as public health advocates had hoped. A mandate to replace all of the nation’s 6 million to 10 million lead service lines is not expected to be a part of the rule.
An agency spokesperson said that the rule should not be judged before it is finalized.
Infrastructure Loans Investigation
The EPA’s internal watchdog says that it will audit the process the agency uses to select recipients of federal loans for water and sewer systems.
The EPA Office of the Inspector General will also evaluate the agency’s oversight of the WIFIA program, which provides low-interest loans to water utilities. The purpose of the audit is to ensure that the EPA is adhering to the law when awarding loans.
On September 30, a House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittee will hold a hearing on compound disasters, looking at the confluence of the pandemic, extreme weather, and social injustice.
On October 1, the House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a hearing on the Environmental Justice for All Act.
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