- The House, by a narrow margin, passed the Build Back Better Act that has billions for lead pipe removal, drinking water systems, and more.
- The EPA proposes reinstating the Clean Water Act definition that existed before 2015.
- Two federal agencies sign an order affirming their duty to protect the interests of Native American tribes in land and water management.
- A National Institutes of Health advisory council will discuss the possibility of a new government program on climate change and health.
- A CDC agency wants to conduct more PFAS exposure assessments, and it releases the results of an assessment in Westfield, Massachusetts.
And lastly, the CDC investigates cases of liver disease linked to bottled water.
“As I traveled around the state and talked to these local governments, I see them advancing long delayed capital projects, water and wastewater upgrades, closing the digital divide by investing in broadband, constructing community centers in parts of the community that haven’t received investments in the past.” — Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) discussing how Virginia communities were spending American Rescue Plan Act funds.
In context: Congress’s Stealth Water Infrastructure Deal
By the Numbers
25: Probable or suspected cases of liver illness due to drinking Real Water, a brand of bottled alkaline water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal and state agencies investigated the November 2020 outbreak, finding the highest number of cases in Nevada.
A long, circuitous journey continues.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed restoring the pre-2015 definition of which water bodies have federal protection under the Clean Water Act. Doing so would take the definition back to an era before the Obama and Trump administrations attempted to clarify the regulatory reach of the landmark law.
The Biden administration is in the early stages of its own endeavor to answer one of the most notorious questions in U.S. environmental law. The EPA and Army Corps are still conducting public outreach. A series of “regional roundtables” is slated to be held early in 2022.
Build Back Better Act Passes House
The counterpart bill to President Biden’s economic recovery plan passed the House — but just barely.
By a 220 to 213 margin the House passed the Build Back Better Act, a roughly $2 trillion spending bill that aims to remake America’s social contract.
For water, the bill complements investments in the infrastructure agreement. It includes:
- $9 billion for disadvantaged communities to replace lead service lines, acquire lead filters for schools and day cares, and replace drinking water fountains in schools.
- $970 million for replacing lead service lines in rural communities.
- $225 million to assist low-income households with water bills and past-due balances.
- $25 million to study, design, and pilot the covering of canals with solar panels.
- $1 billion for Pacific salmon restoration projects.
- $550 million for the Bureau of Reclamation to construct drinking water projects for communities without reliable water.
- $100 million for water reuse grants.
- $500 million to the EPA for stormwater reuse and sewer overflow grants.
- $150 million for replacing septic systems or installing them in homes without sewer access or a functioning septic system.
- $1.8 billion to the Rural Housing Service for grants and loans to improve home water and energy efficiency, bolster protections against flood and fire, and remove health hazards.
Acknowledging Tribes in Land and Water Management
The secretaries of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior signed an order that affirms their commitment to managing land and water in a way that protects the interests and cultural resources of Native American tribes.
The order outlines steps the departments will take to ensure tribal rights are respected. Those include consultation, consideration of Indigenous land management practices, and potential co-management of land and water overseen by the federal government.
Studies and Reports
Request for Additional PFAS Exposure Assessments
The CDC agency that deals with hazardous chemicals wants to expand its investigations into PFAS contamination.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is requesting that it be allowed to conduct seven additional exposure assessments for PFAS chemicals. These assessments, which are the first step before evaluating health impacts, determine the extent to which people have the chemicals in their bodies or how long they were exposed to them in drinking water.
The agency has conducted eight exposure assessments, plus two pilot assessments.
PFAS Exposure Assessment for Westfield, MA
Last week ATSDR released results of the exposure assessment for Westfield, Massachusetts.
Levels of PFHxS, PFOS, and PFOA in residents’ blood were higher than national averages.
The source of PFAS contamination in Westfield was firefighting foam used at Barnes Air National Guard Base. The chemicals got into the town’s wells.
Uranium in Grand Canyon Region Groundwater
The U.S. Geological Survey tested water from wells and springs in the Grand Canyon region for uranium, which naturally occurs in the area.
Ninety-five percent of the sites had uranium concentrations below the federal drinking water limit.
The samples were taken between 1981 and 2020. During the Obama administration, new uranium mining was prohibited on about one million acres of federally managed lands for a period of 20 years. The USGS data will set a baseline for understanding how uranium affects the region’s groundwater.
On the Radar
Climate Change and Health Initiative
On November 29, a federal advisory group will hold a public meeting to discuss the Biden administration’s directive to develop a better understanding of the links between climate change and health.
The National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council will consider standing up a new research and outreach program within the National Institutes of Health that will take on these issues.
National Drinking Water Advisory Council Meeting
The expert group that advises the EPA on drinking water topics will hold a virtual meeting on December 1 and 2.
The main agenda item is discussing recommendations for updating the water quality reports that utilities are required to send to customers. Congress tasked the EPA with creating new rules that would make the information presented in the reports clearer.
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