Federal Water Tap, July 17: Legislation Seeks to Encourage Novel Groundwater Conservation Tool

The Rundown

  • Bipartisan Senate bill would promote groundwater conservation easements.
  • Federal appeals court pauses EPA cybersecurity rule for water agencies.
  • A national forest in Arizona approves repair of a water-supply pipeline that was damaged in floods last year after a wildfire.
  • The EPA assesses cancer risks from the industrial solvent 1,4-dioxane in drinking water.
  • CDC tallies waterborne disease cases.
  • The EPA’s internal watchdog will investigate the agency’s use of waivers to a federal law to promote American raw materials in infrastructure projects.
  • The EPA watchdog also finds some states failing to assist disadvantaged communities with water infrastructure loans.
  • A Supreme Court-appointed judge recommends the court accept a Rio Grande water-use agreement between Texas and New Mexico.

And lastly, House Democrats ask the EPA to document the impact to wetlands from the Supreme Court’s Sackett decision.

“Considering the potential overwhelming adverse impacts of this decision to our nation, its citizens, and our environment, it is incumbent on EPA and the Corps to systematically document the individual and cumulative impacts of the Sackett decision on national efforts to protect water quality, as well as the myriad of public, private, human health and environmental benefits that are associated with clean water.” — Letter from Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, and Michael Connor, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers. The letter asks the agencies to calculate the “number, location, acreage, and potential loss of ecological and hydrologic function” of wetlands in the country due to the Sackett decision.

By the Numbers

7.15 Million: Cases of infectious waterborne disease in the United States in 2014, according to new CDC research. People can be exposed to pathogens from playing, drinking, inhaling, or skin contact with contaminated water. The highest number of hospitalizations were linked to drinking water.

In context: As Legionnaires’ Disease Cases Surge, Lawsuits Pile Up

News Briefs

Groundwater Conservation for Agriculture
Senators representing states that are depleting their aquifers introduced bipartisan legislation intended to promote the use of a novel groundwater conservation tool.

Conservation easements – restrictions on the use of a natural resource in exchange for payments or tax breaks – have a long history in land protection. But only recently with their adoption in Colorado and Nebraska have they been directed at restraining the over-pumping of groundwater.

To encourage more farmers to pursue easements, the Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act offers financial incentives. It would establish a groundwater easement program within the Natural Resources Conservation Service and allow NRCS to pay up to 5 percent of the cost of executing an agreement. And, for tax purposes, easement payments would not count in annual farm income.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).

In context: Tax Incentives Find New Purpose for Conserving Water in American West

Court Pauses EPA Cybersecurity Rule
The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit paused the implementation of an EPA cybersecurity mandate pending a lawsuit from three states seeking to overturn the rule.

The petition for a stay came from industry lobby groups the American Water Works Association and National Rural Water Association. The stay will apply at least to their members, and possibly nationwide.

Attorneys general in Arkansas, Iowa, and Missouri are challenging the EPA’s rule, arguing that it imposes excessive costs on small water systems and that the agency took the wrong approach when it required cybersecurity assessments as part of periodic reviews called sanitary surveys.

The EPA published a memo in March that outlined utility requirements for cybersecurity assessments.

Water systems in California, Florida, Kansas, and Nevada have been recent targets of online attacks.

Studies and Reports

Rio Grande Settlement
A Supreme Court-appointed federal judge recommended, against the objection of the U.S. government, that the court accept a settlement negotiated between New Mexico and Texas for sharing the water of the Rio Grande basin.

The settlement goes beyond water in the river. It also covers groundwater in southern New Mexico, the extraction of which spurred Texas to file the lawsuit in 2014. Texas claimed that New Mexico farmers were stealing water that would have flowed underground to the river.

Under the agreement, New Mexico will deliver a certain amount of water via the river to Texas. If it does not, some water will be transferred from a New Mexico irrigation district to a Texas counterpart.

Colorado, because it is part of the watershed, is also party to the agreement.

Updated Risk Assessment for 1,4-Dioxane
In an draft update to its risk assessment for the commercial solvent 1,4-dioxane, the EPA investigated health risks from exposure to the chemical via drinking water, which was not a part of the 2020 assessment.

The agency found that developing cancer is a higher risk than other diseases from 1,4-dioxane exposure.

There is no national drinking water standard for 1,4-dioxane.

States Could Do More to Help Disadvantaged Communities with Water Infrastructure Loans
The EPA Office of the Inspector General investigated how seven states use revolving loan funds for drinking water infrastructure.

The review found that Alabama and Maryland, in 2017 through 2020, failed to provide enough subsidized loans to disadvantaged communities to meet statutory requirements. Maryland has since changed course, but Alabama has not.

To avoid these outcomes, the report recommends that the EPA work more closely with the states and track subsidy loans.

On the Radar

Post-Wildfire Water Infrastructure Damage in Arizona
A water pipeline that supplies Flagstaff, Arizona, was damaged last year in flooding that occurred in a national forest that burned in the June 2022 Pipeline Fire.

Aaron Mayville, the supervisor of Coconino National Forest, signed a decision memo on June 29 to approve the use of forest service lands to repair the leaking Inner Basin Pipeline and nearby roads that were also damaged.

The 13-mile pipeline supplies about 20 percent of Flagstaff’s water in the summer.

Construction is expected to be completed in November 2024.

In context: Western Wildfire Damages, Contaminate Drinking Water Systems

Build America, Buy America Waivers
The EPA’s internal watchdog will investigate the agency’s use of waivers for the Build America, Buy America Act, a provision in the federal infrastructure law to boost the use of American-sourced raw materials in building projects.

FEMA Dam Safety
FEMA released its six-year strategic plan for improving the safety of the country’s roughly 90,000 dams.

The plan focuses on understanding, communicating, and reducing risks.

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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