Federal Water Tap, December 20: Colorado River Agreement, Plus EPA Promises Stronger Lead Rules

The Rundown

  • The Bureau of Reclamation and Lower Colorado River Basin states agree to keep more water in a shrinking Lake Mead over the next two years.
  • The EPA says it will allow the revised Lead and Copper Rule to go into effect…but will revise the revisions to strengthen the rule by emphasizing removing all lead pipes.
  • A watchdog agency says the EPA and Coast Guard should study the environmental effects of chemical dispersants used to cleanup oil spills in oceans.

And lastly, the Defense Secretary says he’s keeping tabs on the water contamination at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

“The basin is at a tipping point.” — Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, addressing the Colorado River Water Users Association annual conference. Touton announced an agreement between Reclamation and water agencies in the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada to keep an additional 1 million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead over the next two years. The $200 million plan — with half of the funds coming from the states and half from the federal government — will pay farmers to fallow cropland and compensate tribes for leaving water in the reservoir. Water districts will also reduce withdrawals.

By the Numbers

10.5 Percent: Decline, from 2019 to 2020, in the amount of water withdrawn from rivers, lakes, and oceans by U.S. thermoelectric power plants. The plants use water to cool their equipment. The decline in withdrawals is partly attributed to fewer once-through systems, a less-efficient cooling method that does not recycle water. The biggest factor, though, is the country’s changing energy sources. Coal plants, now in decline, use much more water than natural gas plants. And wind and solar require almost no water at all to operate.

News Briefs

Lead and Copper Rule
Not content with one action regarding rules for lead in drinking water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking two.

After a nationwide review with stakeholders, the agency is allowing rule revisions that were completed at the end of the Trump administration to go into effect as of December 16. The agency wanted the rule to go into effect so that utilities could big compiling inventories of their lead service lines. Still there is a lag. The rule’s provisions aren’t enforceable until October 16, 2024.

At the same time, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that the agency would undertake a second rulemaking to “strengthen” the rules. Strengthen how? To make it a policy goal to remove 100 percent of lead pipes in the country. And to address the costs in low-income communities of replacing the privately owned portion of a lead service line.

The nationwide review, which included roundtable discussions in lead-affected communities, taught the agency something: “the urgency of fully removing all lead service lines using any and all regulatory and non-regulatory tools.”

The rule now in effect requires utilities that have more than 10 percent of samples above the federal standard (15 parts per million) to replace at least 3 percent of their lead lines per year. Utilities can stop replacements after two years if lead levels go down.

The EPA expects that its revised revisions, which it is calling the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements, will be completed by October 2024.

In context: EPA Revises Rules for Lead in Drinking Water

Naval Base Water Contamination
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that he is “personally monitoring” the water contamination case at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, a navy base on the island of Oahu.

Austin said that more than 3,000 military personnel and their families had to leave their homes because of jet fuel found in the base’s water system.

The fuel came from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. The governor of Hawaii ordered the navy to shut down the World War Two-era facility, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the navy will not close the site.

Studies and Reports

Oil Spill Cleanup
A watchdog agency said that not enough is known about the environmental consequences from using chemical dispersants to response to oil spills in oceans.

The Government Accountability Office recommended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard study the fate of dispersants, especially when they are sprayed below the surface, which was the case during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in 2010.

On the Radar

Environmental Financial Advisory Board Nominations
The EPA is seeking nominations for experts to serve on the board that advises the agency on financing matters.

The above link describes what to include in a nomination letter and how to submit it. Nominations are due by January 18, 2022.

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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