Federal Water Tap, March 15: Biden Signs Pandemic Relief Package with Water Funding

The Rundown

The pandemic relief package includes more aid to local and tribal governments and for water bill payments. The EPA delays new rules for lead in drinking water so that the agency can review them. The Senate confirms Michael Regan as EPA administrator. An EPA webinar will feature new technology to provide drinking water after an emergency. USGS researchers estimate phosphorus flows from Great Lakes tributaries. Jackson officials ask for federal assistance with their water system. The GAO recommends federal energy regulators coordinate a strategy for strengthening the electric grid against climate change. And lastly, a Senate committee will hold a hearing on water and sewer infrastructure.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation — working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country — a fighting chance. That’s what the essence of it is.” – President Joe Biden, before signing the American Rescue Plan.

By the Numbers

66 to 34: Margin by which the Senate voted to confirm Michael Regan as the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Sixteen Republicans joined the Democrats in voting ‘Yes.’

$47 million: State or federal funding requested by Chokwe A. Lumumba, mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, for repairing the city’s water system following severe winter storms that resulted in low or no water pressure for some residents for nearly a month. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said that he had met with city officials and they submitted documents to add Jackson to the federal disaster declaration. As of Friday, the 43,000 connections served by surface water remained under a boil-water advisory.

News Briefs

Water Funding in American Rescue Plan
The $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package is filled with money for water systems and their customers.

The legislation includes $500 million to help low-income people pay their water bills. Also in the legislation is a $9.9 billion homeowner assistance fund which can be used for mortgage payments as well as utility bills.

In addition, the legislation makes explicit that $350 billion in state and local government funding can be used for “necessary investments” in water and sewer.

For Indian tribes, there is $20 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for providing potable water and $10 million to the Indian Health Service for potable water delivery.

Lead and Copper Rule Delay
The EPA pushed back the date when revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule were to go into effect, a move that gives the agency’s new leadership more time to review rules that were finalized in the last week of the Trump administration.

The rule now goes into effect on June 17. The agency is also seeking public comment on a longer delay, until December.

Radhika Fox, the EPA acting assistant administrator for water, said that the delay was so that the agency could “thoroughly review” the rule and “fully consult with stakeholders, including those that have been disproportionately impacted by lead in drinking water.”

The agency expects its review to take nine months and be completed by December. Provisions that will be reviewed include requirements for lead service line inventories and replacement, the action and trigger levels that prompt utility responses, small system requirements, and school and daycare sampling.

The revisions finalized during the Trump administration are being challenged in court.

Studies and Reports

Phosphorus from Great Lakes Tributaries
The U.S. Geological Survey published estimates of how much phosphorus was carried, between 2014 and 2018, by 23 rivers that flow into the Great Lakes.

The river with the largest phosphorus load is the Maumee, which flows primarily through northwest Ohio and empties into Lake Erie. The nutrient contributes to the growth of cyanobacteria in the lake.

The phosphorus load carried by the Maumee is three times higher than the second-place river.

In context: Too Few Farmers Are Curbing Pollution in Lake Erie. Should They Be Forced?

Electric Grid and Climate Change
The U.S. Government Accountability Office recommends that the Department of Energy develop a strategy to ensure that the electric grid can withstand the weather extremes in a changing climate.

In the same report, the GAO recommends that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the electric grid, assess climate risks to electricity generation and transmission.

On the Radar

Senate Water Hearing
On March 17, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works holds a hearing on water and sewer infrastructure.

Water Supply after an Emergency
On March 18, the EPA will host a webinar to discuss a new tool for delivering water immediately following a hurricane, flood, or fire.

The WOW Cart, a water treatment unit about the size of a shopping cart, was developed by the EPA in partnership with the nonprofit group WaterStep.

House Abandoned Mine Lands Hearing
On March 18, the House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on restoring abandoned mine lands.

Environmental Financial Advisory Board Meeting
The expert group that advises the EPA on financial questions will hold a public meeting on April 20 and 21. The meetings run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern.

Topics on the agenda include stormwater credit trading and environmental risk analysis.

Registration is required.

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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