Federal Water Tap, December 4: EPA Proposes 10-Year Timeline to Remove Most Lead Pipes

The Rundown

  • EPA thinks most utilities can remove lead pipes within a decade, but a few will not.
  • National security agencies detail recent cyberattacks on water systems by Iran-linked hackers.
  • S. officials attend the UN climate summit in Dubai and pledge to triple nuclear energy capacity globally.
  • CDC report shows multiple uses for pandemic-era wastewater surveillance.
  • NOAA report examines drought assessment in a changing climate.
  • House Republicans from the Pacific Northwest want the Biden administration to clarify its position on Columbia River dams.

And lastly, the Army Corps continues to deliver fresh water to two communities in southern Louisiana coping with salt water in the Mississippi River.

“The reality is the climate crisis and the health crisis are one and the same — totally connected and totally converging at this moment in time.” — John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, speaking at the UN climate summit in Dubai.

In context: Cholera Cases Spike Amid Extreme Weather, Conflict

By the Numbers

100,000 Acre-Feet: Water that is expected to be conserved and stored in Lake Mead due to $77 million in efficiency and conservation projects in Imperial Irrigation District, the biggest user of Colorado River water. Coming out of taxpayer funds, the agreement is between the irrigation district and the Bureau of Reclamation.

110 Million Gallons: Water the Army Corps of Engineers has delivered to treatment facilities in two Louisiana delta communities — Port Sulphur and Pointe A La Hache – as a result of salt water moving upstream in the Mississippi River. The saltwater wedge is not expected to move much farther upriver, according to the Army Corps’ November 30 forecast.

News Briefs

Lead and Copper Rule Proposal
In an update to one of the most complex federal drinking water rules, the Biden administration proposes removing almost all lead drinking water pipes within 10 years.

The draft proposal — which includes a number of changes to system inventories, public notification, and testing procedures — estimates that 96 to 99 percent of community water systems can meet that 10-year deadline..

For the remaining few — those that have an unusually high number of lead pipes (three or four cities) or a high number relative to their population (between 663 and 2,134 systems) — the proposal offers some leeway. It allows for an extended deadline so that replacement is financially and logistically feasible. Of the larger cities, Chicago would be eligible for a deferral.

Water System Cyberattacks
U.S. national security agencies say that CyberAv3ngers, a group affiliated with Iran’s military, attacked Israeli-made computer equipment used by U.S. water utilities.

According to a federal advisory, the series of cyberattacks since November 22 has targeted water and wastewater systems in multiple states including Pennsylvania.

The attacks are directed at programmable logic controllers made by Unitronics, a company based outside Tel Aviv. To guard against further attacks, the federal government’s cybersecurity agency recommends that utilities not use default passwords and not connect the controllers to the public internet.

Columbia River Dams
Four Republican representatives from the Pacific Northwest wrote to President Biden asking to clarify the administration’s position on dams in the Columbia River basin.

The letter makes reference to a “mediation document” from the administration that outlines potential federal actions on river restoration and renewable energy development in the Columbia basin.

One of the pressing issues for the basin is the fate of four dams on the Lower Snake River. The letter asks the administration for its position on breaching the dams. Such a move would allow threatened and endangered salmon to move upstream with less obstruction. But it would also affect commercial navigation, hydropower, irrigation, and recreation.

UN Climate Summit
The United States was one of 22 countries that pledged to triple nuclear energy capacity globally by 2050, in an effort to power the world while reducing carbon emissions.

Such an expansion must contend with the environmental drawbacks of nuclear power: uranium mining, thermal pollution in rivers, vulnerability to low river flows during drought, and aquatic life killed by the pipes that draw water to cool the equipment.

The U.S. sent a delegation of 20 senior officials to Dubai for the UN climate summit known as COP28.

Heading the delegation will be John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, and Kamala Harris, the vice president. President Biden will not attend.

Studies and Reports

Wastewater Surveillance for Respiratory Illness
CDC and state agency researchers published a snapshot report showing how systems set up during the pandemic to test wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 have helped state and local health departments respond to other respiratory viruses.

The CDC established four “centers of excellence” — in California, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Houston — to facilitate wastewater surveillance.

Those networks have continued to provide early warnings about the presence of SARS-CoV-2 variants, RSV, and influenza.

Drought Assessment
A NOAA-led report outlined research needs for improving U.S. drought assessment.

Drought assessments should be more expansive, the report concludes. They should incorporate not only physical changes but community exposure and vulnerability and consider the risks from compounding hazards.

On the Radar

Lead and Copper Rule Webinar
The EPA will hold a public webinar to discuss its proposed changes to federal rules for lead drinking water pipes.

The webinar is scheduled for December 6 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Register here.

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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