Federal agencies respond to the winter storm in Texas. Speaker Pelosi says that a House committee will investigate the shortcomings of Texas’s energy infrastructure. President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan works its way through Congress and includes more money for household water debt relief. The EPA approved Texas’s request to oversee its own permitting program for disposing of oil and gas wastewater. A Senate committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Tuesday for Rep. Deb Haaland, the nominee to lead the Interior Department. A U.S. Geological Survey study finds a link between drought and arsenic in private wells. A federal grant will help rebuild an Oregon water system destroyed in last year wildfires. And lastly, the water rights dispute between Florida and Georgia will be heard today at the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Rebuilding the water system and restoring critical water services is a critical step, and there will be plenty more to do but I know the people of Detroit are resilient and will bounce back. Our road to recovery may be long, but we’re going to get through this together.” — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) talking about a $1 million federal grant that will restore the water system for the community of Detroit, Oregon. The water system was destroyed last September in the Lionshead fire.
By the Numbers
$500 million: Funding included in President Biden’s pandemic relief package for assisting low-income households with their water bills and water debts. The directions for distributing the funds are the same as those in the relief bill that Congress approved in December. That bill provided $638 million for water debt relief.
9.2 million: Liters of water that Texas requested from FEMA in response to the water crisis brought on by the winter storm. Louisiana requested another 2 million liters.
Texas Disaster Declaration
President Biden declared a major disaster in 77 Texas counties, a move that frees up federal assistance for homeowners and businesses as they rebuild after the storm.
In a press conference on Thursday, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said she believed that the House Energy and Commerce Committee would investigate the shortcomings of Texas’s energy infrastructure.
As of Sunday morning, the EPA noted that 379 drinking water systems in Texas were not operating. These systems are mostly small systems, serving a combined 123,392 people. More than 1,300 systems were under boil-water advisories.
The EPA approved Texas’s request to oversee its own permitting program for disposing of oil and gas wastewater. The state made the request in October, at the end of the Trump administration.
Studies and Reports
Arsenic, Drought, and Well Water
Drought increases the number of people who could be exposed to arsenic in drinking water from private wells, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study.
The study used computer modeling that adjusted two variables that influence arsenic in groundwater: precipitation and recharge. The modeling was run for the Lower 48 states.
The number of people exposed to high arsenic rose from 2.7 million to 4.1 million. The biggest increases in the probability of arsenic contamination when precipitation and recharge declined were in the Great Lakes states, Upper Midwest, Texas Gulf Coast, and Florida.
On the Radar
Florida v. Georgia
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in the long-running dispute between Florida and Georgia over water use in a river basin they share.
Florida aims to convince the court that the ecology in Apalachicola Bay is being harmed by upstream diversions and that Georgia’s water use should be limited.
Doing so will be difficult. A special master appointed by the court to conduct hearings argued in favor of Georgia’s position — that its water use is not unreasonable.
SCOTUSblog has a detailed preview of the legal arguments in the case.
American Rescue Plan
Today at 1:00 p.m. Eastern the House Budget Committee will mark up President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. The House is expected to vote on it by the end of the week.
The package includes $500 million for household water debt relief.
Interior Department Nominee Hearing
On February 23 at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a confirmation hearing for Rep. Deb Haaland, the nominee to head the Department of the Interior.
Wastewater Infrastructure Hearing
On February 23 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will hold a hearing on wastewater infrastructure investment.
On February 24 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, the House Committee on Appropriations will discuss PFAS exposure among members of the military.
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