One goal in Biden’s infrastructure plan is removing all lead drinking water pipes. The Supreme Court hands Georgia a victory in a lawsuit over a river basin shared with Florida. An EPA inspector general’s report shows that the agency was less likely to follow its rule-writing protocols in recent years for major regulations, such as the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The EPA announces a series of public consultations on revisions to federal rules for lead in drinking water and begins an environmental review for reducing sewage pollution in the Tijuana River. The DOE funds wastewater treatment research and development. And lastly, two federal health agencies are planning to investigate potential links between PFAS exposure and susceptibility to viral illnesses, like Covid-19.
“With respect to water, the president is setting both a bold but a very practical goal, which is every American should have access to clean water, which requires replacing all lead service lines and pipes in America.” — A senior White House official, speaking at a press briefing before the unveiling of the administration’s infrastructure proposal.
By the Numbers
$27.5 million: Funding from the Department of Energy for 16 wastewater treatment research and development projects. The projects aim to reduce energy use or recover resources from wastewater in industries such as municipal utilities, agriculture, and oil and gas.
Biden Infrastructure Plan
President Joe Biden unveiled a wide-ranging jobs and infrastructure plan on Wednesday, asking Congress to support a $2 trillion investment in the built and natural systems that sustain American life, from trips to the grocery store to a glass of water from the faucet.
The administration is calling the proposal the American Jobs Plan, and among its many parts it includes $111 billion for water systems. A month after winter storms crippled water and electric providers in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, the plan also calls for $50 billion to prepare the country’s infrastructure for an era of severe floods, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes.
Like much of the plan, the $111 billion in water systems funding is described in broad strokes and headline numbers that sidestep, for now, details on how the money would be allocated. As part of that total, the plan offers $10 billion for monitoring and cleaning up toxic PFAS chemicals and investing in rural water systems, household wells, and septic units. The plan includes $56 billion for modernizing drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater conveyance and treatment.
Notably for water and public health, the administration proposes substantial funding to eliminate lead service lines that are a source of the brain-damaging chemical.
The $45 billion that the administration wishes to allocate to the task is in the ballpark for what it would cost to remove all of the country’s estimated 6 million to 10 million lead drinking water lines, according to Elin Betanzo, founder of the consulting firm Safe Water Engineering.
Studies and Reports
Supreme Court Decision in Florida v. Georgia
The U.S. Supreme Court gave Georgia a victory in its long-running legal dispute with Florida over use of a shared river basin.
The court unanimously dismissed the lawsuit, finding that Florida could not prove that excessive water use in Georgia harmed the state’s oyster fisheries and ecology during a severe drought in 2012.
The high court did seek to dampen any excessive celebration from Georgia officials, warning them about shared responsibility in a shared basin.
“We emphasize that Georgia has an obligation to make reasonable use of Basin waters in order to help conserve that increasingly scarce resource,” Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the opinion.
EPA Rulemaking Review
An EPA inspector general’s report shows that the agency was less likely to follow its rule-writing protocols in recent years for major regulations, such as the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
The report determined that the Trump administration’s definition of the scope of the Clean Water Act was the second worst in terms of adherence to the agency’s internal protocols. The report looked at 58 rule-makings from fiscal year 2015 to 2019.
On the Radar
Lead and Copper Rule Listening Sessions
Last month, the EPA delayed the implementation date for revisions to federal rules for lead in drinking water in order to conduct additional reviews.
The agency has announced two virtual public consultations on the revisions. They will be held on April 28, and May 5, from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern. The agency will host a series of target, virtual discussions starting in May. Those discussions will include community groups, state agencies, utilities, public health and environmental justice groups.
See this link for more information on making public comments or participating in a round table.
Curbing Sewage Pollution in the Tijuana River
The EPA is soliciting public input on projects to reduce sewage pollution in the Tijuana River, from flows from Mexico into San Diego County.
The agency is beginning the scoping process for an environmental review, and will hold a public virtual meeting on April 20 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Pacific. Ten projects are being considered.
Congress allocated $300 million last year for projects to treat sewage and remove trash from the watershed.
PFAS and Covid-19
Two federal health agencies are planning to investigate potential links between PFAS exposure and susceptibility to viral illnesses, like Covid-19.
The study would build from a federally funded investigation of PFAS exposure in eight communities where PFAS chemicals were found in drinking water. Researchers hope to enroll 4,075 people from the previous investigation in this study.
The study is a collaboration between the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
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