Federal Water Tap, April 8: Western U.S. Snowpack Is High and Low

The Rundown

  • Reclamation provides funds for tribal drinking water projects and solar panels at irrigation canals.
  • EPA financial advisers will meet this week to discuss water affordability and federal infrastructure investment.
  • States and tribes request extensions for spending household water bill assistance funds.
  • Western mountain snowpack is a tale of two regions at the end of winter.
  • EPA honors innovative water infrastructure projects.
  • Federal agencies prepare environmental impact statements for an Iowa rural water project and retirement of coal-fired units at a TVA power plant.

And lastly, the head of the EPA discusses administration priorities and promises a “very strong step” for PFAS drinking water rules.

“We’ll do whatever we need to do to protect it, while we also do the work that we need to do to make sure the right people get these resources.” – Michael Regan, EPA administrator, speaking about implementing the Biden administration’s signature climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act. Regan was part of a question-and-answer session at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Questions ranged widely, touching on nutrient pollution, plastics, and chemical regulation. Regan said that the agency does not yet have enough data to regulate PFAS as a class of chemicals. But he promised a “very strong step” with the agency’s first-ever regulations for PFAS in drinking water. Regan said the final rules will be released “in the coming weeks.”

By the Numbers

89: Number of states and tribes that asked for a six-month extension to spend federal funds for low-income water bill assistance. The extension allows them to expend the funds by then end of June. Sixty-three states and tribes did not request an extension and ended their programs on December 31, 2023. The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program was established during the pandemic.

$19 Million: Additional federal funding to test the viability of installing solar panels at irrigation canals in the western states. The majority of the funding will go to a project studying the use of floating solar panels on the Delta-Mendota canal, in California. Other projects are in Oregon and Utah. The announcement follows a $5.6 million federal investment in solar panels over an irrigation canal in the Gila River Indian Community, in Arizona.

$320 Million: Funding available to Native American tribes in the western states for planning, designing, and constructing drinking water infrastructure. The purpose of the program, a part of the Inflation Reduction Act, is to provide households with reliable drinking water. Applications are due August 4.

News Briefs

Cybersecurity Rules
Closing a data gap, water and wastewater systems would be required to report cyberattacks against them, according to draft cybersecurity rules from the Department of Homeland Security.

The rules propose designating all community water and wastewater systems that serve more than 3,300 people as “covered entities” that would have to file a report following an attack or ransom payment.

Water utilities are increasingly the target of cyberattacks. But there is no standardized reporting system for tracking them. The federal government wants state and industry help to strengthen cybersecurity.

Public comments are being accepted through June 3. Submit them via www.regulations.gov using docket number CISA-2022-0010.

Studies and Reports

Snowpack Update
April 1, by tradition, is a threshold for snowpack in the mountain west. The date marks the transition between snow accumulation and snow melt. Which makes it an advantageous time to assess water supplies for the coming summer. What’s the outlook?

According to federal data, it’s a split decision. Snowpack in the northern Rockies and Washington state’s Olympic and Cascades ranges is below normal – 60 to 70 percent of average. Snow piles elsewhere in the west are much larger.

In the testy Colorado River basin, hydrological conditions improved in March. Runoff into Lake Powell in the key April-July period is forecasted to be 89 percent of average.

Environmental Impact Statements
Federal agencies announced environmental reviews for several projects:

  • Clarke County Water Supply Project, which will serve three towns as well as unincorporated areas of the southern Iowa county. Osceola has been in a water emergency since last October due to a drought that depleted its reservoir. The water supply project is still in the planning phase. A 38-mile pipeline to Des Moines or a new dam/reservoir are under consideration.
  • A new plan to manage the natural resources of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, in southern New Mexico.
  • A record of decision to decommission and demolish nine coal-fired power generating units at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston plant. The generating capacity will be replaced with natural gas and solar, in addition to battery storage. The Kingston plant was the location of a devastating coal ash spill in 2008 that sickened workers and killed fish.

Awarding Innovation
The EPA commended 32 water projects for general excellence and innovation.

The annual awards recognize projects funded through the state revolving funds, the main federal low-interest loan and grant program for water infrastructure.

Clean water winners included a regional wastewater treatment plant for Carlisle, South Carolina. On the drinking water side, winners included lead service line replacement in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

On the Radar

Cybersecurity Senate Hearing
On April 10, a Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on water utility cybersecurity.

EPA Finance Advisers Meeting
The Environmental Financial Advisory Board, which consults with the EPA on money matters, will hold a public meeting April 10-12.

The board, among other duties, is working on a report about water affordability.

Register for the webcast by the end of today.

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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