November 7: Supreme Court Takes Up Navajo Nation’s Claim to Colorado River

The Rundown

  • The Supreme Court takes up a case regarding the Navajo Nation’s rights to the Colorado River.
  • The EPA publishes a new list of unregulated drinking water contaminants that could be regulated in the future.
  • EPA drinking water advisers will meet at the end of November.
  • USGS researchers investigate contaminants in groundwater used for public supply.
  • Lake Erie algal bloom continues in November.
  • S. officials will take part in the UN climate summit in Egypt.

And lastly, along with other G7 nations, the U.S. agrees to support rebuilding Ukraine’s water and energy systems.

“President Putin seems to have decided that if he can’t seize Ukraine by force, he will try to freeze it into submission. This is just the latest crime that President Putin is committing against the people of Ukraine. It was not enough to fill mass graves in Bucha and Irpin. It was not enough to cut off food, water, and medicine to the residents of Mariupol.  It was not enough to violently uproot tens of thousands of Ukrainians from their homes and deport them to Russia through so-called filtration operations.” — Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, speaking with reporters after the G7 meeting in Germany. The group of democratic nations, which includes the U.S., agreed to support the rebuilding of critical water and energy systems in Ukraine that were damaged by Russian attacks.

By the Numbers

29: Number of environmental finance centers that the EPA is funding. These centers, some housed at universities and others at nonprofits, are supposed to help communities access federal infrastructure funds.

81: Number of unregulated drinking water contaminants that the EPA has put on a watch list for potential regulation. This is the fifth version of the Contaminant Candidate List, which includes 66 chemicals, three chemical groups, and 12 microbes. The grouped chemicals are PFAS, cyanotoxins, and byproducts from dousing drinking water with disinfectant. By law, the EPA must decide whether to regulate at least five CCL contaminants in drinking water.

News Briefs

Navajo Nation and the Colorado River
The Supreme Court will hear a case regarding the Navajo Nation’s rights to water from the Colorado River.

The crux of the case is a question of legal jurisdiction: who gets to establish the Navajo Nation’s water rights?

The Supreme Court has the power to allocate the waters of the lower Colorado River, in whose basin the Navajo Nation is located. But the Ninth Circuit, in a 2022 ruling, said that the federal government should draw up a plan to incorporate the Nation’s implied rights to water in its management of the river.

The U.S. government, which protects water rights for Indian tribes, has never submitted a claim on behalf of the Navajo Nation for water from the main channel of the Colorado.

The Navajo Nation argues, in the lawsuit that originated in 2003, that this is a breach of the federal government’s duty.

Agencies from Arizona, California, and Nevada — the states in the lower basin — petitioned the Supreme Court to sort out the mess. They argue that the Ninth Circuit’s decision is a de facto transfer of water-rights-granting power in the lower Colorado: from the Supreme Court to the executive branch. The agencies also argue that if the Navajo Nation is granted rights they stand to lose water, because the Navajo Nation’s claims would take precedence.

Studies and Reports

Lake Erie Algae Bloom Continues
NOAA reports that the annual algal bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie is continuing into November.

Currently measured at 260 square miles, the bloom is centered offshore in Maumee Bay.

In context: Danger Looms Where Toxic Algae Blooms

Groundwater Contaminants in Public Water Sources
U.S. Geological Survey researchers investigated the presence of contaminants in the main aquifers used for public water supply in the country.

They tested untreated water for 502 regulated and unregulated contaminants. Those that turned up most frequently were arsenic, manganese, radionuclides, and nitrate.

On the Radar

President Biden to Attend COP27
The UN’s annual climate summit begins this week in Egypt, and several high-ranking U.S. officials will participate.

Early arrivals include Monica Medina, the State Department special envoy for biodiversity and water resources, and John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, who will lead the U.S. delegation.

President Joe Biden joins COP27 at its halfway point. He is scheduled to attend on November 11, before leaving the next day for Cambodia where he will appear at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit.

National Drinking Water Advisory Council Meeting
The expert panel that advises the EPA on drinking water matters will hold a virtual meeting on November 30 from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

On the agenda: changes to the Lead and Copper Rule.

The meeting is open to the public. Register here.

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