Federal Water Tap, June 14: Biden Administration Will Rewrite Trump-Era Clean Water Act Rule

The Rundown

  • The EPA and Army Corps will take yet another attempt at defining what waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.
  • Senators propose $10 billion to test for and clean up PFAS contamination at Defense Department sites.
  • A House committee advances a wastewater infrastructure bill.
  • Federal agencies and local partners aim for a national soil moisture monitoring network.
  • A summer fire outlook sketches high-risk areas in the coming months.
  • Lake Mead drops to its lowest level since it was first filled in the 1930s.

And lastly, the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S Commission on Civil Rights will begin work on water affordability and access in the state.

“We are committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ based on Supreme Court precedent and drawing from the lessons learned from the current and previous regulations, as well as input from a wide array of stakeholders, so we can better protect our nation’s waters, foster economic growth, and support thriving communities.” — Michael Regan, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, explaining how the administration would go about revising the scope of the Clean Water Act.

By the Numbers

$512 billion: Estimated cost of cleaning up the Department of Energy’s contaminated sites, including soil, water, and groundwater pollution and treating radioactive waste, according to a watchdog agency’s audit. Sixteen contaminated sites such as Hanford and Savannah River were part of the audit.

1,071 feet: Elevation, above sea level, of Lake Mead. In a sign of the region’s worsening water supply conditions, it is the lowest the big Colorado River reservoir has been since it was first filled in the 1930s. Mead has dropped 143 feet since 2000.

In context: Amid Dire Colorado River Outlook, States Plan To Tap Their Lake Mead Savings Accounts

News Briefs

Revising WOTUS Again
Claiming that the current interpretation of waters protected by the Clean Water Act is “leading to significant environmental degradation,” Biden administration officials announced they would scrap the Trump-era definition and undergo yet another rewrite of the contentious rule.

The Trump rule was challenged in federal court, and the EPA has asked the court to send the rule back for revision. The agency will request that rules that existed prior to the Obama administration’s rewrite in 2015 be applied until a new rule can be written.

House Committee Advances Wastewater Bill
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved legislation that would authorize $50 billion over five years for wastewater infrastructure.

The Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act does so through a mix of grants, loans, and pilot projects, including reauthorizing the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at $8 billion a year and a $50-million-a-year grant program for low-income homeowners with failing septic systems to upgrade their systems or connect to public infrastructure.

The bill authorizes many of those expenditures, but they would be funded in the annual appropriations process.

PFAS Bills in Congress

  • A group of Senators introduced legislation that would provide $10 billion to test for and clean up PFAS contamination at Defense Department sites. The Clean Water for Military Families Act holds the Defense Department to both state and federal cleanup standards.
  • A companion bill to the one described above would set a cleanup timeline for high-priority sites. The Filthy Fifty Act would require the Defense Department to complete construction of PFAS-treatment systems within five years at 50 military bases with high PFAS levels. If the act passes, a status report for PFAS cleanup at those bases is due within 60 days.

Studies and Reports

Soil Moisture Monitoring
Federal officials, along with researchers and state agencies, released a strategy for developing a high-quality national soil moisture monitoring network.

Soil moisture — the saturation held in the first few feet of earth — is a key indicator of drought. Extremely dry soils, such as those this year in California and the Colorado River basin, can gulp snowmelt before it reaches streams and reservoirs.

Fire Outlook
The National Interagency Fire Center released maps showing areas of wildfire risk for each month from June through September. The Four Corners region is high-risk in June. Areas of concern shift later in the summer to California, the northern Rockies, and the Cascades.

On the Radar

Water Affordability in Maryland
The Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold a public meeting on July 6 to discuss water affordability and access in the state.

The meeting is scheduled for noon Eastern. Join via this link.

The Maryland group will be following the lead of its colleagues in Massachusetts, which earlier this year became the first Civil Rights Commission state advisory group to publish a report on water affordability.

In context: U.S. Civil Rights Commission Advisers File Report on Water Inequity in Massachusetts

Senate Hearings

  • On June 15, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will hold a hearing on infrastructure needs in cities and towns. The mayors of Akron, Ohio, Bozeman, Montana, and Tempe, Arizona, will testify as will a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania commissioner.
  • On June 16, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will discuss a bill that would establish an interagency task force on harmful algal blooms in South Florida.
  • On June 17, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs discusses reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program.

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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