Federal Water Tap, October 23: White House Asks Congress for Billions in Humanitarian Aid

The Rundown

  • The Bureau of Reclamation summarizes public comments on managing the Colorado River after 2026, including wishes to analyze a “one dam” option.
  • State Department negotiators continue talks with Canada about updating the Columbia River Treaty.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines that 21 species are now extinct, including eight freshwater mussels in the Southeast.
  • The EPA orders Norfolk Southern to investigate and clean up more stream reaches in eastern Ohio due to oil spilled during a train derailment earlier this year.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation finalizes plans to increase water storage in a major California reservoir by increasing its dam’s height.
  • House Democrats introduce a bill to restore Clean Water Act protections to waterways.
  • The EPA releases a draft toxicity assessment of inorganic arsenic, a drinking water contaminant.
  • The federal government opposes a proposed deal to end a Rio Grande water-use dispute.

And lastly, the Biden administration approves $100 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza and asks Congress to authorize more.

“We remain extremely concerned about civilian access to water, fuel, food, and other supplies in Gaza. The United States has been clear that safe, sustained access for humanitarian assistance to reach civilians in need is imperative. We also have been clear that any interference or diversion of aid by Hamas will jeopardize the continuation of that life-saving assistance.” — Statement from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Biden administration approved $100 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza, the first supplies of which entered the occupied territory via truck convoy on October 21.

The administration asked Congress for $9.15 billion in additional humanitarian aid for Gaza, Israel, and Ukraine. Shalanda Young, the budget director, said the funds would not be allocated to specific places but instead provide “a flexible pot of money that allows us to respond” to the most pressing needs.

By the Numbers

21: Species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will remove from the endangered list because the species are extinct. Eight are Hawaiian birds, and another eight are freshwater mussels in the Southeast – the flat pigtoe, Southern acornshell, turgid-blossom pearly mussel, and others. Freshwater mussels are among the country’s most endangered species due to water pollution and habitat destruction.

News Briefs

U.S. Objects to Rio Grande Deal
The federal government opposes a proposed deal between New Mexico and Texas to end a dispute over water use in the Rio Grande basin, Source New Mexico reports.

In a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers for the federal government urged the nine justices to reject a water-sharing deal. The federal government argues that the deal requires its consent because the proposal would affect the operations of a federal irrigation project in southern New Mexico.

Texas alleges that New Mexico — by allowing farmers to pump groundwater in the southern part of the state — is using more water from the Rio Grande basin than is allowed by compact.

Raising California…Reservoir
The Bureau of Reclamation and a local irrigation district finalized plans to raise the height of a major dam in California by an additional 10 feet, thus increasing its storage capacity.

B.F. Sisk dam is already being raised 10 feet as part of an earthquake safety retrofit. The additional height on the dam will add 130,000 acre-feet of storage to San Luis reservoir, a key piece of the state’s water supply infrastructure.

Clean Water Act Bill
In the wake of a Supreme Court decision that reduced protections for U.S. streams and wetlands, House Democrats introduced legislation to reinstate some of those guardrails.

East Palestine Cleanup Continues
The EPA ordered the rail company Norfolk Southern to do additional investigation and cleanup of streams in eastern Ohio near the site of a train derailment in February that spilled oil and toxic chemicals in waterways.

The cleanup order centers on locating contaminated sediments that could be causing an oily “sheen” in Sulphur Run and Leslie Run.

Studies and Reports

Managing the Colorado River
How will the Bureau of Reclamation manage the Colorado River after current guidelines expire at the end of 2026?

Reclamation started the process of answering that question with a “scoping” period, in which the public can say what issues and strategies should be considered.

In a summary report, the agency identified 10 rather broad themes in the comments – things like supply/demand imbalance, tribal water rights, conservation, augmentation.

Five percent of comments asked Reclamation to consider a “one dam” alternative, which primarily refers to draining Lake Powell and storing that water downstream in Lake Mead. It was the alternative that the highest number of commenters requested to be evaluated.

Reclamation expects a draft environmental impact statement by the end of next year.

Inorganic Arsenic Review
The EPA’s IRIS program, which assesses chemical toxicity, released a draft review of inorganic arsenic.

A drinking water contaminant, inorganic is most commonly found in groundwater in the western U.S.

Children’s Health in Farm Regions
The EPA awarded two $1.9 million research grants for study into environmental factors that could harm the health of children in farming regions.

Florida State University will investigate chemical exposures in rural areas, along with social stresses.

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center will look at gastrointestinal and respiratory illness.

In context: Is Agrochemical Contamination Killing Nebraska’ Children?

On the Radar

House Water Resources Hearing
On October 24, a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee will discuss water infrastructure provided by the Army Corps.

Senate Climate and Supply Chains Hearing
On October 25, the Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the effect of climate change on supply chains.

Columbia River Treaty Negotiations
U.S. and Canadian negotiators held a 19th round of talks on October 12 and 13 as they continue to work on an update to the Columbia River Treaty.

The State Department would not share details of the talks, referring only to a press release. The release says that the sides are working operational agreements, compensation, and ecosystem issues.

Ratified in 1964, the Columbia River Treaty governs the operation of reservoirs for hydropower generation and flood protection. It says little about environmental issues like salmon habitat. Correcting that omission and amending the agreement to account for a changing climate are key points in the current negotiations.

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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