Federal Water Tap, March 28: Sediment Buildup Decreases Lake Powell Storage Capacity

The Rundown

  • Federal scientists calculate Lake Powell’s loss of storage capacity due to sediment buildup.
  • Financial regulators propose corporate climate disclosure rules.
  • Watchdog agency finds thousands of federally backed home loans in 2020 had inadequate flood insurance.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers considers revising an oil and gas pipeline construction permit due to climate, water, and environmental justice concerns.
  • Lawmakers introduce a bunch of water-related bills: on the Chattahoochee River, water and sanitation needs in the U.S., and trading water futures contracts.
  • The White House commits to water security and sanitation abroad.
  • A dam safety project in California receives $100 million from the federal infrastructure bill.
  • Cybersecurity agency reports on digital threats to water and wastewater utilities.
  • White House science advisors begin work to evaluate environmental and climate impacts of cryptocurrencies.

And lastly, a Senate committee holds a hearing on two bills related to water rights for Native American tribes in Arizona.

“The bill is carefully balanced among interests in the Lower Colorado River basin and contains important safeguards to promote the conservation of water.” — Bryan Newland, assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the Department of the Interior. Newland testified at a Senate hearing on two tribal water rights bills affecting tribes in Arizona. One would extend the timeline for a settlement with the White Mountain Apache Tribe and increase authorized funding by $250 million. The other would allow the Colorado River Indian Tribes to lease or store their Colorado River water rights off the reservation.

In context: Colorado River Indian Tribes Take Another Step Toward Marketing Valuable Water in Arizona

By the Numbers

$100 Million: Federal infrastructure act funding that will go toward protecting B.F. Sisk Dam, in California, from earthquake hazards. The funds are part of $500 million that the act allocated to the Bureau of Reclamation for dam safety repairs. Total cost of the Sisk project, which is a joint effort with the California Department of Water Resources, is estimated to be $1.1 billion.

$1.2 Billion: Three-year commitment from the Biden administration to fund water security and sanitation abroad. A U.S. Agency for International Development told Circle of Blue it is the first time that the White House has affirmed water and sanitation as a multi-year foreign assistance funding priority. Funds will be allocated according to the plan established by the Water for the World Act, meaning a primary focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

News Briefs

SEC Proposes Climate Disclosure Rule
Securities regulators signaled their intent to require companies to report on greenhouse gas emissions in their operations, as well as on the risks that climate change poses to their business.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, which protects investors, proposed a number of requirements.

If they take effect, the rules would require companies to report on physical risks such as water scarcity and exposure to severe storms or regions with water stress. They would need to reveal the locations of facilities exposed to the risk. In high water stress areas, the companies would have to calculate the percent of its water usage compared to water withdrawn in the region.

The rules would also require companies to disclose their own greenhouse gas emissions (called Scope 1) and emissions from purchased energy (Scope 2).

In addition, companies would have to disclose how they plan to meet their climate or water-efficiency goals.

Water Bills in Congress
Lots of water proposals in Congress, possibly due to the World Water Day news peg.

  • The Chattahoochee River Act, introduced in the House, would allow the Army Corps to pick up most of the tab for environmental restoration and protection projects in the Georgia watershed. Federal cost-share would be 80 percent but no project could exceed $15 million in total cost.
  • The WASH Sector Development Act, introduced in the Senate, would require the EPA to report to Congress on the number and general location of people who do not have access to drinking water or sanitation infrastructure. The report would also estimate the cost of providing access to these people. The administrator of the EPA would be designated the chair of the working group that would produce the report. The bill also authorizes $50 million a year over five years for a grant program to provide wells or other decentralized systems to low-income households.
  • House and Senate Democrats introduced the Future of Water Act, which would ban the trading of futures contracts for water. In December 2020, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange began offering water futures, which are bets on the price movement of water. They do not involve trading actual water.

Army Corps Pipeline Permitting
Due to concerns about climate, water, and impacts on marginalized communities, the Army Corps said it will consider revising a national general permit used to authorize oil and gas pipelines.

The latest version of Nationwide Permit 12 was approved in the last days of the Trump administration.

General permits are designed to reduce the paperwork needed to approve oil and gas pipelines – so long as the pipelines conform to a list of conditions. The Biden administration is wondering whether its predecessor’s rules were too lenient.

A general permit was at the heart of the recent controversy over the Byhalia Pipeline, which would have cut through Memphis.

The Army Corps is accepting comments through May 27. Submit them to nationwidepermit12@usace.army.mil with the subject line Docket ID No. COE-2022-0003.

In context: In Trump Administration’s Final-Days Deregulatory Push, Army Corps Reduces Stream Protections

Studies and Reports

Lake Powell Storage Capacity
Lake Powell is shrinking, in more ways than one.

Besides the supply-and-demand imbalance that is causing the reservoir to decline, Lake Powell is also losing storage capacity.

According to a U.S. Geological Survey report, its maximum capacity declined by 4 percent, or more than a million acre-feet, between 1986 and 2018.

The decline is due to the buildup of sediments in the reservoir bottom.

Water and Sewer Cyber Threats Report
Hackers are targeting water and sewer providers for geopolitical purposes and financial gain, according to a report on the sector’s cybersecurity threats.

These threats are likely to continue and increase in the near and medium term, the report states.

The report is based on 44 entities that are enrolled in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s threat protection service.

Bitcoin’s Environmental Bite
President Biden’s science advisers are beginning work on his March 9 directive to evaluate the environmental and climate impacts from cryptocurrencies and digital assets.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is seeking public input on important factors to consider in its analysis, including water and energy use to mine cryptocurrencies.

Responses should be no more than 10 pages and emailed to DigitalAssetsRFI@ostp.eop.gov using the subject line RFI Response: Climate Implications of Digital Assets. Full specs for the response are in the above link.

Inadequate Flood Insurance for FHA-Backed Loans
A watchdog agency found 31,500 federally backed home loans in 2020 that did not have appropriate flood insurance, exposing the Federal Housing Authority to $4.5 billion in unnecessary financial risk.

On the Radar

House Drinking Water Hearing
On March 29, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on improving America’s drinking water systems, focusing on opportunities from the federal infrastructure bill.

Great Lakes Advisory Board Meeting
The panel that advises the EPA on matters pertaining to Great Lakes restoration will hold a virtual meeting on April 6. The meeting is public, but you must register by April 1.

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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