Federal Water Tap, March 29: Lawmakers Introduce Barrage of Water Legislation

The Rundown

Bills in Congress deal with water infrastructure funding, Camp Lejeune water contamination, workforce training, hydraulic fracturing regulation, and Western water supply. EPA Administrator Regan says he will soon appoint an environmental justice adviser. An EPA report identifies hot spots for hazardous spills into drinking water sources. The GAO says that federal agencies are slow to adopt cybersecurity measures for critical infrastructure. And lastly, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians seeks authority to regulate surface water quality on its lands.

“In order to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our nation’s economy, we must manage our lands, waters, and resources not just across fiscal years, but across generations. Now is the time for all of us to have a frank conversation about the future of our shared resources.” — Deb Haaland, secretary of the Interior, giving opening remarks before a public forum on the future of the department’s oil and gas leasing program.

By the Numbers

67: Number of high-priority cybersecurity recommendations from the Government Accountability Office, out of 103, that federal agencies have not yet implemented. Chief among them, the watchdog group says, are the absence of a comprehensive federal strategy and mechanisms for oversight. For critical infrastructure, such as water and power systems, it requires better coordination between public and private sectors.

In context: America’s Drinking Water Is Surprisingly Easy to Poison

News Briefs

Regan Highlights EJ Work
Michael Regan, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, addressed the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, a body that advises the agency on matters related to pollution in low-income areas and communities of color.

“[Environmental justice] will be the heart of our work,” Regan said, noting that in the coming weeks he would be appointing an environmental justice adviser.

Regan said his agency is working with the Council on Environmental Quality to develop a climate and economic screening tool that would complement the EPA’s current EJSCREEN.

Continuing, Regan said that relationships, transparency, and partnerships are important for rebuilding not just infrastructure in these communities but also economic foundations and public trust.

In context: How Can the Biden Administration Deliver on Environmental Justice Pledges?

Water Infrastructure Funding
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works advanced legislation that would authorize a total of $35 billion in water and wastewater investments. Remember, though that authorization does not mean appropriation, and the program funding would depend on the annual budget process.

The bill includes authorization of $14.7 billion over five years for both the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds. The bill also authorizes funding for lead pipe removal, asset management aid to small systems, workforce training, septic system repairs, and a report on water affordability.

Other Water Bills in Congress
Lots more action…

  • A Senate committee advanced the Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act, which would increase authorized spending on tribal drinking water systems to $50 million annually (up from $20 million) and expand the program to include 10 projects in the Columbia River basin and adjacent coastal basins. The federal government would fund 100 percent of the costs.
  • Thirty-two House Democrats sponsored a bill that would eliminate the exemption in the Safe Drinking Water Act for regulation of chemicals in hydraulic fracturing.
  • Oregon’s Democratic senators introduced the Water for Conservation and Farming Act, which would establish a water infrastructure fund within the Bureau of Reclamation. The bill authorizes $300 million annually to the fund, from 2031 through 2061, for water reuse, conservation, and dam safety. Among environmental provisions, there is fisheries drought planning and a $3.5 million program to pay farmers who create bird habitat on their land.
  • Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) reintroduced a bill to expand the use of federal funds for training the next generation of wastewater treatment operators.
  • The bipartisan Camp Lejeune Justice Act allows former military members or their families to sue for compensation if they were exposed to toxic chemicals in drinking water at the base. The act does not allow the United States to claim immunity. The base’s drinking water was contaminated by TCE, PCE, and other chemicals from the 1950s through the 1980s, leading to cancers of the bladder and kidneys.

Studies and Reports

Hazardous Spills Into Drinking Water Sources
A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the number, location, and characteristics of chemical and toxic spills into U.S. drinking water sources.

Using a combination of federal data sets covering the years between 2010 and 2019, the assessment found 3,931 incidents of toxic spills into groundwater, rivers, or lakes used for drinking water.

The spills occurred in the vicinity of 15 percent of the country’s drinking water intakes that draw from surface water but in less than 1 percent of groundwater wells used as a public supply source. A spill in the vicinity does not necessarily mean that drinking water was compromised.

“The findings from this study demonstrate there is a significant risk of releases into sources of drinking water at a national scale,” according to the report. “However, the risk to a community water system will depend on their unique circumstances.”

In context: EPA Report Identifies Hot Spots for Hazardous Spills into Drinking Water Sources

On the Radar

Minnesota Tribe Requests Water Regulatory Authority
The EPA is reviewing an application from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, which wants to gain authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate water quality for the 371 miles of rivers and streams and 135 lakes on the tribe’s land in northern Minnesota.

The waterways on the tribe’s land are in the headwaters of the Red River basin, which drains into the Hudson Bay. In its application, the tribe notes the importance of fishing and wild rice as local, native food sources.

Comments on the application are being accepted through May 11 and can be sent to horak.david@epa.gov.

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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