Federal Water Tap, April 29: Coal Power Plant Pollution Limits and Wetlands Restoration Pledge

The Rundown

  • Biden administration restricts power plant pollution and aims to restore millions of acres of wetlands.
  • Federal health and weather agencies develop a tool to forecast heat risk to human health.
  • Bureau of Reclamation finds insufficient river sediment to do a high-flow water release this spring from Glen Canyon Dam.
  • Two federal agencies sign an agreement to facilitate drinking water and sanitation improvements for tribal communities.
  • Justice Department finalizes ADA accessibility rules that will affect water utility websites.
  • A new rule aims to make public housing more resilient to flooding.
  • Infrastructure bill funding is available for fish passage and dam removal.

And lastly, the White House launches a groundwater working group.

“To safeguard our future water security, food security, and economic security, we need a clear understanding of total groundwater use, recharge, and storage across the United States. Then we need to build on that understanding to guide the development of national stewardship strategies for this critical resource.” – Message from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, announcing the formation of a working group to address groundwater sustainability. The council is asking for public input. (See the link for a list of questions it wants to address.) Send comments to pcast@ostp.eop.gov by July 1, 2024, with the subject line “Groundwater.”

By the Numbers

$700 Million: Funding allocated this fiscal year for drinking water and sanitation projects for tribal communities. The funds, administered by the Indian Health Service, are part of the $3.5 billion the agency was granted for that purpose in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, in 2021. Funded projects are listed here once the money is disbursed.

The IHS announcement was paired with $320 million now available from the Bureau of Reclamation for tribes in the 17 western states for drinking water projects. Reclamation expects to award that money this winter.

$70 Million: Funding allocated this year for fish passage and dam removal projects. The funds, which will support 43 projects, are part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

News Briefs

Freshwater Challenge
The Biden administration set out ambitious goals for the nation’s waters: restore and protect 8 million acres of wetlands and 100,000 miles of streams, both by 2030.

To achieve this and prevent the loss of wetlands, the administration called on states, cities, tribes, and others to develop policies and strategies to help the cause.

Power Plant Rules
The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a suite of rules intended to cut air and water pollution from coal-fired power plants and their wastes.

Of the four rules in the package, three will greatly improve the country’s waterways. Stricter limits on mercury and other toxic emissions will also reduce airborne deposition of the chemicals into rivers and lakes.

Stronger regulations on wastewater discharge at coal-fired power plants will reduce heavy metals, nutrients, and dissolved solids from entering waterways. There are exemptions for plants that are in the process of shutting down or switching to natural gas.

And tighter oversight of coal ash dumps, including “legacy” structures that were not covered by previous rules but are leaking, will prevent the pits from leaching heavy metals into groundwater and streams.

Public Housing and Flooding
The Department of Housing and Urban Development finalized a rule to safeguard public housing against flooding.

The rule aims to prevent federally financed housing projects from being sited in high-risk floodplains. It also requires elevating homes that are within the 100-year flood zone.

ADA Accessibility
The Justice Department finalized new rules for ensuring that disabled people have access to local and state government websites and the public documents posted there.

The rules apply to municipal water utilities. Depending on their size, they will have different timelines for changing how they configure their web and mobile sites. Agencies and special districts serving 50,000 people or more have two years to comply. Smaller entities have three. Consult your lawyers for more info.

Studies and Reports

Heat Risk Mapping
Severe heat brought on by the greenhouse effect prompted federal health and weather agencies to develop a seven-day heat risk forecasting tool.

A joint effort by NOAA and CDC, the tool displays heat risk according to a five-tier, colored-coded system, akin to the EPA’s Air Quality Index.

Water and Sanitation for Tribes
The Bureau of Reclamation and the Indian Health Service signed an agreement to cooperate and facilitate drinking water and sanitation infrastructure for tribal communities.

In the memo of understanding, the agencies agree to begin with a pilot project, in which they will collaborate on planning, design, and construction services. A successful pilot would mean renewing and expanding the partnership.

On the Radar

No High Flow
There will be no high-flow release of water this spring from Glen Canyon Dam. The Bureau of Reclamation determined that two downstream tributaries have not deposited enough sediment in the river to support the action.

The high-flow releases are meant to build sandbars downstream of Glen Canyon, located on the Arizona-Utah border.

The next meeting of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Work Group is scheduled for May 15.

The work group is an advisory committee that consults with the Interior Department on matters related to the dam. The meeting agenda includes updates on 2024 basin hydrology, experiments that could be carried out this year, and long-term funding.

The virtual meeting is open to the public. Register at the link above.

Budget Hearings
Congress continues its fiscal year 2025 budget work.

On April 30, a House Appropriations subcommittee will hear testimony from Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, about the agency’s budget request. The next day, on May 1, Regan will appear before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

Interior “Activist Groups” Hearing
A House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on April 30 on the influence of nonprofit groups on Interior Department policy.

The Republican-led committee calls out “extreme environmental activist groups.” It claims in a hearing memo that the department has “cultivated intimate and potentially improper relationships with radical NGOs.”

Republican leadership is particularly incensed about the department withdrawing lands in Minnesota and New Mexico from mining. Representatives from Pueblo Action Alliance and The Wilderness Society, two groups named in the memo as being involved in negotiations over the fate of those lands, declined to testify.

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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