Federal Water Tap, March 27: U.S. Delegation Attends United Nations Water Conference

The Rundown

  • At the UN Water Conference, the government commits funding for water and sanitation.
  • President Biden designates two new national monuments, in Nevada and Texas.
  • A law to compensate marines and their families for exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune has spawned a battle over potentially billions in lawyers’ fees.
  • A U.S. Department of Agriculture report examines new technologies for manure management.
  • The U.S. Forest Service requests a mining-lease moratorium on thousands of acres of federal lands in South Dakota to protect municipal water supply.
  • An energy developer applies to build a pumped storage hydropower project in eastern Nevada.

And lastly, the Army Corps of Engineers extends the timeline for the proposed Line 5 oil pipeline tunnel in the Great Lakes region.

“Drought and other impacts of the climate crisis know no boundaries, and the communities with the least resources to protect themselves suffer the most. This makes our collective, inclusive efforts even more important.” — Deb Haaland, the Interior secretary, speaking at the United Nations during the UN Water Conference. In addition to Haaland, officials from Interior, the State Department, and the Army Corps of Engineers attended the conference.

In context: UN Conference on Water Aims to Rally Support for Ambitious Goals

By the Numbers

$100 Million: Loan that the Development Finance Corporation, a government lending arm to lower-income countries, will provide to the Water Equity Fund, a Matt Damon-backed venture that invests in water and sanitation projects. The loan commitment will bring in an additional $50 million in private financing. The loan will provide a financial return to DFC, an agency spokesperson said.

News Briefs

New National Monuments
Using powers granted by the 1906 Antiquities Act, President Biden designated two national monuments, in Nevada and Texas, setting aside hundreds of thousands of acres in the western drylands for their cultural, historical, and ecological importance.

The designations prohibit mining and development of solar and geothermal projects. Existing infrastructure can be maintained.

Located in southern Nevada, Avi Kwa Ame National Monument covers 506,814 acres and includes petroglyphs and sites that are important historically and culturally to the area’s Indian tribes.

The other site, Castner Range National Monument is smaller, encompassing 6,672 acres near El Paso.

Camp Lejeune Lawsuits
A bill signed into law last year allowed people exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune generations ago to file claims for compensation from the federal government. More than 22,000 claims have been filed since October and billions of dollars are at stake.

Bloomberg News reports that the legal proceedings are happening in parallel with a debate over lawyers’ fees. The initial law had no cap on fees. But some lawmakers are angling for a limit on how much money law firms can collect. Lawyers typically collect 25 to 40 percent of the settlement.

Studies and Reports

Manure Management
Animal manure is a source of nutrients for farmland, but too often it pollutes rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report identified technologies and processes that can expand the use of manure as farm fertilizer, focusing on the economic opportunities available to farmers.

There are two problems to overcome, the report claims. One is the low nutrient-density of manure, which is largely water. The other is that manure often has ratios of nitrogen and phosphorus that are incompatible with crop needs.

More Time for Line 5 Tunnel Evaluation
The Army Corps of Engineers extended the timeline for assessing a proposed oil pipeline tunnel beneath the Great Lakes, saying it needs more time to evaluate the environmental impacts.

Bridge Michigan reports that the delay amounts to another year and a half for the project to tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac, which connects lakes Michigan and Huron.

The tunnel would house oil pipelines operated by the Canadian company Enbridge. Currently, twin 70-year-old pipelines sit at the bottom of the straits, where they pose a risk to Great Lakes water quality if they rupture.

On the Radar

Pumped Storage Proposal in Nevada
White Pine Waterpower submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a pumped storage hydropower project in eastern Nevada.

The project consists of a pair of reservoirs, one at a higher elevation than the other. Water released from the upper reservoir would generate electricity at times of high demand. When electricity demand is low, the water would be pumped back to the upper reservoir.

Each reservoir would be built with a mile-long dam and lined with PVC to prevent water leakage.

About 5,000 acre-feet of groundwater would be needed to fill the lower reservoir, plus 560 acre-feet per year for replenishing water lost to evaporation.

The project is being permitted through the FAST-41 process, which is designed to minimize permitting delays.

Protecting South Dakota Municipal Water Source
The U.S. Forest Service requested that more than 20,000 acres of federally managed public lands in South Dakota be removed from new mining leases for 20 years.

The proposal is intended to protect the drinking water supply for Rapid City and Ellsworth Air Force Base.

Public comments are being accepted through June 20.

1,4-Dioxane Risk Review
The EPA is seeking scientific experts to review an agency assessment of the health and environmental risks of 1,4-dioxane, a chemical used in the manufacturing of other chemicals.

The risk evaluation is being conducted under amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act that were signed into law in 2016.

Nominations are due April 24. Submission guidelines are in 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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