Federal Water Tap, May 17: White House Advisory Council Outlines Environmental Justice Recommendations

The Rundown

A White House advisory council drafts a plan for ensuring disadvantaged communities receive 40 percent of the benefits of the administration’s climate investments. The Treasury Department details how $350 billion in state, local, and tribal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act can be used for water infrastructure. Washington state senator opposes a Snake River watershed renewal plan. The EPA evaluates the water system in Jackson, Mississippi. NOAA forecasts a smaller-than-average harmful algal bloom this summer on Lake Erie. And lastly, the Bureau of Reclamation is cutting irrigation water from a major Klamath basin canal for the first time in its century-long history.

“It is a necessity. And what the pandemic did was elevate so many of the other disparities in our society and one of them is the access to clean water.” — Ike Irby, a policy adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris, discussing how the Biden administration views water. Irby went on to say that responding to the climate crisis means addressing water infrastructure.

By the Numbers

$9.6 million: Funding awarded by the EPA for monitoring water quality at beaches.

News Briefs

Salmon and Dams in the Pacific Northwest
Top Democrats in Washington state said they oppose a proposal from an Idaho congressman to breach four Snake River dams and invest in the regional economy and salmon restoration.

Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement that while they appreciate the effort from Rep. Mike Simpson to solve a vexing resource management problem they cannot support the $33.5 billion proposal without more input from regional stakeholders.

“We are calling for a formal, regional process that is based on science, consensus, and ensuring all voices in the region are heard,” they wrote.

Jackson Water
EPA officials visited water treatment facilities in Jackson, where a boil-water advisory lasted a month following severe winter storms in February that broke pipes and damaged treatment works.

According to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, Carol Kemker, the director of the Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division at EPA Region 4, said that it would “take several years” for the city to repair deficiencies in its system.

American Rescue Plan Funds
Congress approved $350 billion for state, local, and tribal governments as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.

The act is explicit that funds can be used for “necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.” But what is necessary?

The Treasury Department released guidance that clarifies the point.

Necessary investments maintain service that meets health standards or adds resilience to climate change. Acceptable projects include those that are eligible for state revolving fund loans: transmission, storage, distribution, treatment, lead service line removal, pollution prevention, stormwater capture, and system consolidation.

Studies and Reports

Tracking Climate Investment Benefits for EJ Communities
The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council released an interim final report on how to implement the administration’s climate plans.

President Biden said that he wants 40 percent of the benefits of his climate investments to flow to low-income areas and communities of color.

To attain this lofty goal, the council recommends starting with the basics. It said the administration needs to build the technical and managerial capacity of these communities. Application processes need to be “user friendly.”

The report went on to say that the Justice40 initiative should be overseen by a central office and a green bank should be established for financing projects.

For water, the report recommends a number of areas that funds could be directed: rural water systems, water in schools, monitoring coal ash ponds, and cleaning up abandoned mines. It also recommends that state revolving fund loans be extended to homes, residences, schools, and childcare facilities.

The report also suggests how to define “investment benefits” and what data is needed to target the right communities.

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

Trash in Waterways
The EPA should take a closer look at ways to reduce plastics and trash in U.S. waterways, according to an audit by the agency’s internal watchdog.

The Office of the Inspector General recommended that the agency submit a report on obstacles that states face in using Clean Water Act tools to target trash.

The audit found that only 10 states and the District of Columbia have listed waterways as “impaired” due to trash. Most states do not use numeric criteria when evaluating trash in waterways.

On the Radar

Klamath Basin Water Crunch
The water supply outlook worsened in the Klamath basin of southern Oregon as the Bureau of Reclamation announced it would not deliver any water to irrigators from a major canal.

This will be the first time that the A Canal has not delivered water since it opened in 1907.

In context: Deepening Drought Triggers Historic Near-Shutdown of the Klamath Project

Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Forecast
In the first forecast of the season, NOAA scientists say they expect a smaller-than-average bloom this summer on Lake Erie.

The forecast is based on inputs of phosphorus from the Maumee River in the spring and early summer that is in a form on which cyanobacteria can feed.

In context: Harmful Algal Blooms in Clear Lake, California

Senate Hearings

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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