Federal Water Tap, May 8: EPA Agrees to Timeline for Updating Slaughterhouse Water Pollution Standards
- The EPA agrees to a timeline for updating slaughterhouse water pollution standards.
- With higher water releases this year, temporary “shadow accounting” on the Colorado River system goes away.
- Lawmakers introduce bills on PFAS liability for water utilities and labeling non-flushable wipes.
- House Republican proposal to address the debt ceiling would cut funding for lead pipe removal.
- NOAA releases its first Lake Erie harmful algal bloom forecast of the season.
- The EPA proposes baseline water quality standards for waterways on tribal lands.
- Federal agencies want public input on restoring Columbia River salmon.
And lastly, the Justice Department announces an interim agreement in an environmental justice case related to sewage in rural Alabama.
“Black communities and other communities of color are far too often disproportionately impacted by unsafe drinking water, illegal dumping, and other environmental hazards and injustices. As our recent agreement in Lowndes County makes clear, we are committed to using our federal civil rights laws to address environmental injustices that have plagued our most vulnerable communities for generations.” — Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The Justice Department investigated discriminatory actions taken by the Alabama Department of Public Health against residents in majority-Black Lowndes County. The investigation found that ADPH penalized residents who could not afford a septic system that could work in the county’s clay soil. Under the interim agreement, the department will suspend its investigation if ADPH takes a number of actions, such as halting referral of home wastewater violations to law enforcement and expanding a public health campaign about the dangers of raw sewage. ADPH will also request CDC assistance to evaluate public health risks in Lowndes from raw sewage and develop an infrastructure plan for the county.
In context: Septic Infrastructure in the U.S.
Diseases of Poverty Identified in Alabama County Burdened by Poor Sanitation
By the Numbers
250: Approximate number of Indian reservations that will benefit from the EPA’s plan to establish baseline water quality standards for rivers and lakes on tribal lands. Forty-seven tribes have established their own water quality standards, but most have not even applied to the EPA for the authority to do so. The baseline standards are intended to protect aquatic life, recreation, and cultural/traditional uses.
Slaughterhouse Water Pollution Standards
In a court settlement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to a timeline for updating water pollution standards for meat and poultry factories.
The agency must issue a notice of proposed rulemaking by December 13, 2023. The agency must complete its rulemaking by August 31, 2025.
Slaughterhouses are one of the largest industrial contributors of nitrogen and phosphorus to waterways, the agency says.
The lawsuit was brought by a collection of environmental groups including Cape Fear River Watch, Environment America, and Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help.
Water Bills Introduced
Lawmakers introduced two bipartisan bills related to water.
The WIPPES Act would require federal regulators to issue rules that require companies to label sanitary wet wipes with the phrase “Do Not Flush.” Once flushed, the wipes do not break down in the sewer system. They instead gum up wastewater treatment equipment.
The other bill exempts water utilities from liability under CERCLA for PFAS chemicals that pass through their treatment systems. Utilities have argued that they and their customers should not bear legal burdens of pollutants that were generated by others.
Goodbye ‘Operational Neutrality’ in Colorado River Basin
The extra water that the federal government will release this year from Lake Powell into Lake Mead means the end of a form of “shadow accounting” that had existed in the Colorado River watershed’s ledgers in the last year.
To prop up Lake Powell and preserve its hydropower function, the Bureau of Reclamation held back an extra 480,000 acre-feet in the reservoir last year. The reduced flows plunged Lake Mead lower than it was supposed to be. This could have resulted in even harsher restrictions in Arizona and Nevada. To prevent that, the basin pretended — when determining shortage conditions — that the water had been delivered to Mead. The phrase “operational neutrality” referred to this shadow system.
Because of this winter’s unusually deep snowpack, Reclamation will release more water than expected from Powell – 2.5 million acre-feet above what had been forecasted. Those extra releases will eliminate the operational neutrality accounting, according to Dan Bunk of the Bureau of Reclamation.
In context: A Colorado River Glossary
Studies and Reports
Lake Erie Algae Forecast
The annual harmful algal bloom on Lake Erie should be moderate this summer, according to the first NOAA forecast of the season.
A lot could change between now and August, when the bloom usually peaks.
Spring rains are a major factor in determining how much phosphorus is washed into the lake. Phosphorus is the nutrient that triggers the blooms.
The forecast is for the bloom’s size, not its toxicity.
Forests and Watershed Health
U.S. Forest Service researchers contributed to a study that shows the importance of forests in maintaining high-quality water downstream.
The study found that nutrient and sediment concentrations decrease with more forest cover.
On the Radar
U.S. Supreme Court Case on Chevron Doctrine
The nation’s high court agreed to hear a case that could call into question a key legal precedent that guides federal agency actions, Engineering News-Record reports.
The “Chevron doctrine” means deference to agency expertise when federal statutes are imprecise. It is a centerpiece of agency authority to interpret broad directives from Congress, especially environmental laws.
The doctrine dates to the 1984 court case Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council.
Columbia River Dams and Salmon
Federal, state, and tribal governments are negotiating the future of dams and salmon in the Columbia River watershed and they have opened a new avenue for public participation.
The Council on Environmental Quality wants public input on key questions related to the watershed and its fish. Those questions include: What to do about dams on the lower Snake River? How can the federal government support salmon re-introduction in the upper Columbia River? How should federal funds be spent?
The comment period is open for 60 days. Submit comments via www.regulations.gov using docket number CEQ–2023–0002.
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.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton
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