Federal Water Tap, August 22: Reclamation Report Sets Deeper Colorado River Cuts

The Rundown

  • Colorado River reservoirs are projected to continue their decline.
  • The Department of Energy publishes a PFAS “roadmap” to outline its response.
  • The EPA proposes rules changes to improve safety at facilities that handle hazardous chemicals.
  • A Supreme Court-appointed special master will hold a conference with Texas and New Mexico representatives in a lawsuit over the Rio Grande.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation selects projects for $310 million in water recycling funds.
  • FEMA publishes a dam safety coloring book for kids.
  • Negotiations over the Columbia River Treaty continue.

And lastly, Mexican and U.S. officials move forward with wastewater improvements in the Tijuana River watershed.

“We have more urgency than ever to upgrade the infrastructure needed to stop the cross-border pollution that burdens communities in the region.” — Martha Guzman, EPA regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. Guzman was commenting on a $474 million effort to clean up sewage pollution in the Tijuana River watershed. Mexican and U.S. officials entered into an agreement to spend those dollars to repair or upgrade sanitation facilities on both sides of the border. The goal is to reduce by 80 percent the volume of untreated sewage flowing into the Pacific.

By the Numbers

11,740: Number of facilities that handle hazardous chemicals and would be subjected to proposed EPA rules revisions to prevent spills and other releases. Covered facilities include chemical manufacturers, food and beverage makers, oil and gas producers, and water and wastewater treatment plants. The rules add more stringent site and hazard assessments and community outreach requirements.

News Briefs

Colorado River Cuts
The precarious status of the Colorado River was brought into sharper focus with the release of a federal study that determines how the basin’s big reservoirs will be operated in the coming year — and which states will be required to limit their water withdrawals from the shrinking river.

With key water supply reservoirs Mead and Powell near record low levels, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico will shoulder the largest cuts from the Colorado River to date, forgoing a combined 721,000 acre-feet of water next year. The largest burden falls on Arizona, which will see its allocation reduced by 21 percent. Under the voluntary agreement signed in 2019 that governs the cuts, no other basin state is required to limit its withdrawals.

Each month Reclamation publishes a study that projects reservoir levels in the basin in each of the next 24 months. The August edition of that forecast is important for two reasons. It determines how much water will be released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead. It also determines the extent of water cuts in the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, as well as Mexico.

The projections are based on a “most probable” scenario – flows into the reservoirs that would be exceeded half the time. Runoff in the basin, however, has trended in the opposite direction, registering consistently below average numbers for the last three years due to dry soils and high temperatures.

To account for this, Reclamation also runs a “probable minimum” scenario. It’s not worst case, but it’s close.

In that scenario, there are severe outcomes by the end of 2023. Lake Powell would be at 3,484 feet — six feet below the point at which hydropower generation stops. Lake Mead would be at 1,010 feet and on its way to an elevation below 1,000 feet by the summer of 2024. That would put it just 100 feet above dead pool, the elevation at which no water flows downstream.

In context: Colorado River States Face Deeper Water Cuts – With More on the Way

Water Recycling Projects Selected
The Bureau of Reclamation announced $310 million in infrastructure bill funding for water recycling projects in the western states.

The funds can be used for project planning, design, and construction. Twenty of the 25 selected projects are in California.

Dam Safety Coloring Book
FEMA wants to influence the elementary school crowd.

The disaster response agency produced a dam safety coloring book, featuring Beaverley the Beaver.

In the 10-page book, Beaverley highlights some dam benefits and cautions youngsters about the dangers of playing in the water around dams.

Studies and Reports

Department of Energy PFAS ‘Roadmap’
The Department of Energy released a document that outlines goals and priority actions through 2025 for PFAS response, research, and remediation.

The department is being pulled in multiple directions. It aims to assess PFAS contamination at its research facilities and in the drinking water systems it operates. It expects its first assessment report by the end of September.

It will also coordinate and conduct research to find solutions to the mess. In addition, staff will update procurement guidelines to minimize future PFAS exposure.

On the Radar

Texas v. New Mexico Hearing
A court-appointed special master set the next conference date for a lawsuit between Texas and New Mexico over water use in the Rio Grande basin.

Texas sued in 2013, alleging that groundwater and surface water extraction in New Mexico is depleting water rightfully owed to Texas, thus violating the Rio Grande Compact. The U.S. Supreme Court has jurisdiction over these interstate water disputes.

The two sides have indicated a willingness to settle. A status conference will be held on August 24.

Water Webinar Series
In conjunction with World Water Week, a Department of Health and Human Services office will host a series of webinars this week on water topics.

Organized by the Office of Community Services, the webinars are open to the public and will run daily from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

Topics include environmental justice, tribal perspectives, and the federal government’s water bill assistance program.

Columbia River Treaty Negotiations
Canadian and U.S. negotiators recently concluded a thirteenth round of talks over updating the Columbia River Treaty.

The treaty governs dam operations in the binational watershed. An updated treaty is likely to include environmental provisions to protect salmon.

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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