Federal Water Tap, May 22: EPA Proposes Additional Coal Ash Protections

The Rundown

  • The EPA wants to expand the number of coal ash facilities regulated to protect water bodies from contaminants.
  • Lawmakers in Congress introduce bills on hydropower reform, mining law reform, and water technology adoption.
  • The EPA orders Baltimore to protect its drinking water reservoirs from animal waste.
  • A USDA survey finds that nitrate is the most concerning pollutant for groundwater management organizations.
  • Federal agencies update their seasonal wildfire outlook.
  • The USGS releases interactive, online maps of Arizona groundwater levels.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation reports on consumptive water use in the Colorado River basin in 2022.
  • The EPA has research grants for antibiotic resistant bacteria in wastewater.

And lastly, the Army Corps finalizes a new program to finance dam safety improvements.

“Water is selfish, fires are hungry. Those are appetites that do not get satisfied. So we do not stop them from happening all the time. We protect, we mitigate our communities so that we can come back.” — Tennille Smith-Parker, director of the Office of Disaster Recovery at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, speaking at a Western Governors’ Association panel on rebuilding after a disaster.

By the Numbers

30: Percent of U.S. groundwater organizations that say nitrate is a concern. Nitrate was the most concerning water pollutant cited in the survey conducted by the USDA Economic Research Service. Nitrate also affected the most acreage.

$7.5 Billion: Funding available for a new Army Corps program to provide low-interest loans for dam safety improvements at dams that are not owned by the federal government. The program is available for projects that cost $20 million or more.

In context: Country’s Aging Dams, a ‘Sitting Duck,’ Facing a Barrage of Hazards

News Briefs

Water Bills in Congress

  • The Water Infrastructure Modernization Act would provide grants to water utilities for installing digital technology like sensors, data analysis tools, and diagnostics. The bill authorizes $50 million a year over five years.
  • Senators from Washington and Montana introduced bipartisan legislation to update hydropower permitting. The Community and Hydropower Improvement Act would improve agency coordination and project review, empower tribes to protect fish, and advance projects to add turbines to dams without them. The act drew praise from industry, conservation, and tribal groups.
  • The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act would update national mining laws that date to 1872. The bill would impose, for the first time, royalty payments on hardrock mining. The industry, unlike oil and gas, does not make payments to the federal government for the minerals it extracts. The funds would go toward mine cleanup.
  • A bill to designate portions of the Gila River watershed as wild and scenic rivers moved out of committee and will be considered by the full Senate.

In context: U.S. Hydropower Grows by Going Small

Baltimore Drinking Water
The EPA ordered Baltimore to take steps to protect its drinking water from bacteria and parasites in animal waste.

The order applies to reservoirs that hold treated drinking water. Federal rules say that these reservoirs could be covered or the water should be treated again before delivery to customers. Baltimore has not done that for two such reservoirs, despite agreeing to do so by the end of 2018.

Sections of West Baltimore had to boil their water last September because of high E. coli counts in drinking water.

The order requires the city to report on its progress in replacing the reservoirs with tanks, along with increased monitoring of water from the two reservoirs.

Coal Ash Proposal
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to protect water bodies from contamination by coal waste at legacy sites. This includes coal ash storage pits that are no longer receiving waste or pits at electric-generating facilities that are no longer active.

The draft rules are intended to produce environmental and public health benefits due to less exposure to toxic heavy metals that are present in the waste. These chemicals can leach into groundwater from unlined pits or wash into rivers during severe storms.

Public comments are being accepted through July 17. Submit them via www.regulations.gov using docket number EPA–HQ–OLEM–2020–0107.

Studies and Reports

Colorado River Water Consumption
Arizona, California, and Nevada – the three lower basin states in the Colorado River watershed – consumed just over 6.6 million acre-feet of river water in 2022, a substantial decrease from their legal entitlement of 7.5 million acre-feet as they faced mandatory and voluntary restrictions due to declining reservoirs and reduced river flows.

The consumptive use numbers are documented in an annual Bureau of Reclamation report.

Arizona Groundwater Levels
The U.S. Geological Survey developed an interactive tool for Arizona groundwater. The online maps show current and historical groundwater levels as well as trends.

Wildfire Outlook Update
Federal fire agencies in Canada, Mexico, and the United States updated their seasonal wildfire outlook.

All of western Canada has an above-average fire risk through July. Fires are already burning hundreds of thousands of acres in Alberta, an early-season outbreak that has spread smoke into the United States.

Substantial winter moisture in the Four Corners region resulted in below-average fire risk through July.

On the Radar

Colorado River Plan Deadline
The deadline for submitting public comments to the Department of the Interior on how to reduce water use from the Colorado River basin over the next three years is May 30. You can use this webform for comments.

The Washington Post reports that the outlines of a state-led alternative are coming together. The plan hinges on federal funding.

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Research Grant
The EPA has $9.5 million in grant funds to distribute for research into antibiotic resistant bacteria in wastewater. The application deadline is August 16, 2023.

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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