Federal Water Tap, November 21: Klamath Dam Removal Approved by Energy Regulator

The Rundown

  • The nation’s largest dam removal clears a major hurdle by gaining federal approval.
  • Senate committees advance tribal water rights legislation and water-related bills.
  • The EPA Office of the Inspector General begins three audits: Jackson’s drinking water troubles, lead drinking water pipes, and compliance with public notification laws for lead in drinking water.
  • The EPA reinstates stricter pollution standards for rivers and lakes in Washington state.

And lastly, a controversial natural gas pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia will undergo additional review of its impact on soil and water.

“So enjoy even less electricity. Enjoy even less food grown in my district and Mr. Bentz’ district. Enjoy even more of the crisis that is facing us in rural California, rural America, and on our store shelves and in our electrical wires due to even more unfounded environmental rules being forced upon us to tear down perfectly good hydroelectric dams. Thanks one hell of a lot.” — Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), denouncing FERC’s decision to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. According to FERC, the dams produce about 686,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year. Based on numbers from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, that is enough electricity for 62,000 homes annually in the Pacific Northwest. Besides producing electricity, the dams block hundreds of miles of salmon habitat and contribute to harmful algal blooms.

By the Numbers

10: Western regions highlighted in a U.S. Department of Agriculture interactive map showing actions to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. The regions include the Four Forests Restoration Initiative, in Arizona, and North Yuba, in California.

In context: In New Mexico, Partners Collaborate to End Siege from Megafires

News Briefs

Klamath Dam Removal
The nation’s largest dam removal project cleared a major hurdle when FERC, the federal energy regulator, approved decommissioning four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.

Located in northern California and southern Oregon, the four dams block hundreds of miles of salmon habitat. The reservoirs are a source of harmful algal blooms. PacifiCorp, the dam owner, determined that upgrading the facilities to be less environmentally damaging would have been too costly.

FERC approved a license transfer from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. The transfer is a technical necessity that allows KRRC to oversee the demolition project.

Dam removal, which is strongly supported by tribes in the Klamath basin, will begin next year and be completed in 2024.

Tribal Water Rights Legislation Moves out of House Committee
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs heard testimony about three tribal water rights bills and voted to advance three others.

The informational hearing concerned water rights bills for the Acoma, Laguna, Jemez, and Zia pueblos, and the Tule River tribe.

The bills that will move on for consideration by the full Senate include legislation to authorize the Hualapai water rights settlement and to authorize the Colorado River Indian Tribes to lease Colorado River water to entities outside of the tribe’s reservation

Water Bills Move out of House Committee
The House Natural Resources Committee advanced a handful of water-related bills to the House.

One bill would establish a USGS program to monitor saline lakes in the Great Basin and the wildlife that depend on them. Another would authorize NOAA to maintain a database of coastal flood risk, including sea-level rise, Great Lakes water levels, and land lost to erosion or subsidence. A third would authorize, at $25 million annually, a watershed restoration program for the New York-New Jersey harbor watershed.

Stronger Water Quality Standards Restored in Washington State
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reinstated stricter water quality standards for rivers and lakes in Washington state.

The standards are designed to protect native peoples, who eat more fish and are thus at higher risk of consuming contaminants than the general population.

The standards had been revoked during the Trump administration.

Studies and Reports

EPA Watchdog Begins Three Audits
The EPA Office of the Inspector General will begin three water-related audits.

The first will investigate how federal funds were spent at the state and local level regarding the drinking water system for Jackson, Mississippi.

The second will assess how the EPA identified disadvantaged communities eligible for federal funds to remove lead pipes, and whether the agency successfully distributed funds to them.

The third audit will evaluate how well the EPA and state agencies enforced requirements for local utilities to notify customers of lead in drinking water.

EPA Contractors Enlist Alaska Residents for Novel Study
Residents who live near an area of groundwater contamination in Fairbanks, Alaska, are being asked to participate in a first-of-its-kind study to track the movement of contaminants.

KUAC reports that researchers hope about 30 households will assist with the work. Participants will install sensors in their homes that will monitor the presence of harmful gases. The gases come from chemicals in groundwater linked to dry cleaning facilities in the area.

The study is being conducted by RTI International, an EPA contractor.

On the Radar

Lower Colorado River Conservation Funding Deadline Today
Water users in the lower Colorado River have until the end of today to submit proposals to be paid for water conservation.

Congress provided the Bureau of Reclamation with $4 billion to spend on drought response in the Colorado River and in other basins with high water stress.

Nature-Based Solutions Conference
On November 30, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will host a one-day conference on measuring the benefits of nature-based solutions to flooding and other water problems.

Representatives from a slew of federal agencies — Army Corps, EPA, NOAA, Reclamation — will speak at the conference, which will also be webcast.

Registration is required.

More Review for Appalachian Natural Gas Pipeline
The U.S. Forest Service will conduct additional analysis of the environmental impacts of a contested natural gas pipeline that will cross West Virginia and Virginia.

The supplemental review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline will focus on a 3.5 mile section located in Jefferson National Forest. Special attention will be given to impacts on soil and water.

A draft is expected in January 2023.

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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