Federal Water Tap, October 31: Reclamation to Chart Course for Limiting Future Colorado River Releases

The Rundown

  • The Bureau of Reclamation begins paperwork to would allow for less water to be released from lakes Mead and Powell.
  • The EPA publishes a plan for improving sewage lagoons.
  • Government, state, and industry officials discuss low Mississippi River water levels.

And lastly, Senate Democrats ask the EPA to adopt a “strong” Lead and Copper Rule.

“Service lines should be fully replaced regardless of homeowners’ ability to pay and the costs should include repairs to homes from this replacement.” — Text of a letter from 14 Senate Democrats and Bernie Sanders to Michael Regan, the head of the EPA. The senators support a “strong” Lead and Copper Rule that requires all lead service lines to be replaced in the next decade. The EPA is reviewing the rule and expects a final version by 2024.

By the Numbers

4,500: Approximate number of sewage lagoons in the U.S. that discharge to surface waters and do not have advanced treatment. The EPA proposed new actions to improve the performance of these wastewater treatment systems.

News Briefs

Colorado River Preparations
Claiming that another dry winter or bad runoff season in the Colorado River basin poses “unacceptable risks” to water supplies and dam operations, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that it will begin laying the administrative groundwork that would allow the agency to reduce the flow of water from the basin’s two big reservoirs in the next two years.

Guidelines developed in 2007 have governed operations at lakes Mead and Powell. But the agency that oversees the reservoirs says “routine operations” are inadequate in 2023 and 2024.

Reclamation already intervened, reducing releases from Powell this year by 480,000 acre-feet. That lifted Powell, but lowered Mead.

Camille Touton, the commissioner of Reclamation, told the basin states to come up with a plan to cut water use by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet next year, or the agency would do so itself.

Mississippi River Blues
The White House met with federal, state, and industry officials to discuss ways to keep the Mississippi River open to commercial traffic during a period of extremely low water. The Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging sections of the river to maintain a shipping channel.

Studies and Reports

Sewage Lagoons
Instead of mechanized facilities, many small and rural communities send their wastewater to ponds. These sewage lagoons are a low-cost, low-tech treatment option that use sunlight and bacteria. But some are not working as well as they should.

The EPA published an “action plan” for improving the performance of these systems. The plan involves data collection, technical assistance, evaluating the cost of technology upgrades, and expanding partnerships.

CISA, the federal cybersecurity agency that focuses on critical infrastructure, published a three-year strategic plan to prevent and respond to computer-based attacks on water, energy, telecommunications, and other key systems.

Central to this goal is fostering more collaboration among public and private sector entities, as well as ramping up the agency’s defensive capabilities.

On the Radar

Public Meeting for Lead and Copper Rule
The EPA will host a public meeting to take comments on its revisions to federal rules for lead and copper in drinking water.

The online event, which will focus on the rule’s impact on low-income and communities of color, is scheduled for November 1 from 5:00 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern. Register here.

EPA Science Advisory Board Meeting
The agency’s science advisers will meet on November 3 and 4 to discuss, among other topics, the environmental justice impacts of lead service line removal.

The public meetings will be held from noon to 6 p.m. Eastern. Webcast and dial-in information is posted at the above link.

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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