Federal Water Tap, June 12: NOAA Expects Below-Average Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone This Summer

The Rundown

  • NOAA foresees a smaller low-oxygen dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Army Corps launches a five-year study to inform the management of the lower Mississippi River.
  • The Army Corps also reevaluates water infrastructure needs for Everglades restoration and revokes a water quality permit for a proposed copper-nickel mine in Minnesota.
  • The EPA allocates funds to fix the water system in Jackson, Mississippi.
  • Public comment period extended for proposed changes to agency cost-benefit analysis.

And lastly, the Bureau of Reclamation updates stakeholders on the Colorado River.

“The next steps remain the hardest that we have to take. We must continue to work together through these difficult decisions.” — Camille Touton, head of the Bureau of Reclamation, speaking at a University of Colorado water law conference about the Colorado River. Touton announced that Reclamation will open the formal process this week to renegotiate an agreement between the river’s seven basin states on how to operate its reservoirs, KUNC reports. The current agreement expires in 2026. Touton also said that Reclamation will release a report later this year that details the amount of water lost in the lower basin to evaporation and transmission.

By the Numbers

$115 Million: Federal funds allocated to Jackson, Mississippi, to repair the city’s troubled water system. The funds will fix leaks, maintain pressure, and assess the system’s assets.

In context: The Jackson Water Crisis and the Health Effects of Racism

$8 Million: Amount for which the Bureau of Reclamation purchased the water intake and delivery system of the shuttered San Juan Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant. The water infrastructure will be integrated into the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which will provide municipal water to the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache Nation, and Gallup, New Mexico.

News Briefs

Lower Mississippi River Management
The Army Corps of Engineers launched a five-year study that will inform the agency’s management of the river across a seven-state region.

The study will examine the full range of the river’s reach from flood risk and ecosystem restoration to hydropower, navigation, and recreation.

The river in recent years has experienced sharp swings. Just last fall commercial shipping in the lower basin was halted because of low water levels.

Permit Revoked
The Army Corps of Engineers revoked a water quality permit for a proposed copper-nickel mine in Minnesota, arguing that the project would harm tribal waters downstream.

The Associated Press reports that by revoking the Section 404 permit, the Army Corps has signaled that NewRange, which can reapply for a permit, is unlikely to be able to meet all conditions to prevent water pollution. The mine is more commonly known by its former name, PolyMet.

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, located downstream of the mine, has strict water quality standards to protect fish and wild rice that are an integral part of the local diet.

Studies and Reports

Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone
NOAA expects the low-oxygen, fish-killing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico to be about 25 percent smaller this summer than its historical average.

The size of the dead zone, which is caused by the decomposition of algae that pull oxygen out of the water, is typically compared to New England states. This year the dead zone is forecasted to be roughly 4,155 square miles, which is a bit smaller than Connecticut.

Algal growth in the Gulf is fueled by an influx of nutrients from the Mississippi River basin. Those nutrients largely come from farms.

On the Radar

Regulatory Analysis Comment Period Extended
The Office of Management and Budget extended until June 20 the public comment period for consequential proposed changes to how federal agencies analyze the costs and benefits of regulation.

Known as Circular A-4, the guidance applies to regulatory considerations like the discount rate and public participation.

Everglades Reevaluation
The Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District will reassess water infrastructure needs related to a multibillion-dollar project to restore the Everglades, the Miami Herald reports.

The study could result in changes to the restoration plan.

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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