Federal Water Tap, April 15: EPA Limits Six PFAS in Drinking Water

The Rundown

  • EPA sets first national drinking water standards for PFAS.
  • Justice Department finds Canadian energy company is “liable for trespass” in continuing to operate an oil pipeline on a northern Wisconsin tribe’s land.
  • Department of Energy water research hub receives more funding to investigate water treatment technology.
  • Justice Department also settles a Clean Water Act violation from an energy company’s oil spill into Corpus Christi Bay, in Texas.
  • EPA watchdog finds half of states not including climate adaptation in clean water spending plans.
  • New EPA data shows greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment were flat in 2022.

And lastly, a Senate subcommittee learns about cybersecurity for dams and other water infrastructure.

“As the Chairman of the subcommittee responsible for dams, I don’t want to wake up to a news report about a small town in the Pacific Northwest getting wiped out because of a cyberattack against a private dam upriver.” – Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), speaking at a subcommittee hearing on cybersecurity of the nation’s water infrastructure. At the hearing, Terry Turpin, director of the Office of Energy Projects at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, discussed the cybersecurity program for the 2,500 non-federal hydropower dams the agency regulates.

By the Numbers

$75 Million: Funding, over five years, for a national consortium to research more effective means of removing salt and pollutants from water. The National Alliance for Water Innovation, a Department of Energy-funded partnership between industry and academia, was established in 2019 to increase the nation’s water supply through better technology and management of energy-water linkages. In this second five-year cycle, the program will focus on energy efficiency and wastewater reuse.

14,000: Gallons of crude oil that spilled into Corpus Christi Bay from an oil storage facility operated by Flint Hills Resources. The company entered into a settlement agreement with the Justice Department for violating the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act for damage to the bay’s water and wildlife that resulted from the December 2022 spill. The company will pay a fine of $989,212.

$830 Million: Grant funding from the Department of Transportation for projects to respond to a changing climate. The 80 projects that received funding are supposed to make roadways, bridges, and culverts more suitable to rising seas, extreme weather, floods, and heat.

News Briefs

PFAS Regulation
The EPA imposed the first national limits for PFAS in drinking water, regulating six of the so-called “forever chemicals” in a rule-making that is intended to protect public health but will also raise the cost of municipal water service.

The agency will regulate, in various ways, six PFAS. The two most-studied forms – PFOA and PFOS – will have a maximum limit of 4 parts per trillion. Three others – PFHxS, PFNA, and GenX chemicals – will be capped at 10 parts per trillion.

The sixth chemical – PFNA – will be regulated in concert with the three that have the higher limits. Together these four will be regulated under a “hazard index,” which counts combined concentrations. These chemicals are linked to high cholesterol, low birth weight, kidney cancer, and thyroid problems.

The final regulations are slightly altered from their draft form, which did not have individual limits for PFHxS, PFNA, and GenX chemicals.

Change will not come immediately. The EPA gave water systems three years to complete initial monitoring, and five years to meet the new standards.

The regulation is not universally admired. Water utilities lament that the cost of upgrading their treatment systems will be passed to customers. Utilities are already dealing with federal requirements to replace lead service lines.

Line 5 Lawsuit
In a first, the U.S. government took a position on the legal status of the controversial Line 5 oil pipeline that extends across the Great Lakes region.

In a court filing, the Justice Department said that Enbridge, the pipeline owner, is “liable for trepass” for continuing to operate the pipeline where it does not have rights of way – namely, certain parcels of land on the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The tribe sued Enbridge in 2019 in an attempt to force the Canadian company to decommission the section of Line 5 that crosses its reservation in northern Wisconsin.

Further downline, Line 5 crosses the Straits of Mackinac, which separates lakes Michigan and Huron. Environmental groups and tribes are also working to shut down Line 5 at that crossing, due to the ecosystem and drinking water damage that could come from an oil spill.

Studies and Reports

Climate Adaptation and Water Infrastructure
The EPA’s internal watchdog found that many states are not prioritizing climate adaptation and resilience when they select projects for water infrastructure funding.

In 2022, the report found, half of states included climate adaptation and resilience in their spending plans for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the primary way the federal government supports local water infrastructure.

“The long-term sustainability of federal investments through the CWSRF is at risk when states do not include climate adaptation in their planning,” the EPA Office of the Inspector General said in the report.

GHG Emissions from Wastewater Treatment
The EPA releases its annual audit of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Planet-warming emissions from municipal wastewater treatment were essentially flat in 2022, at 35 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

While national emissions have decreased since 1990, wastewater emissions have climbed in the same period by 13 percent.

On the Radar

2025 Budget
The budget work never stops.

House and Senate committees are holding hearings on the next federal spending plan.

On April 17, the House Appropriations Committee will hear from the Interior Department, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation.

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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