Federal Water Tap, February 12: Modifying Glen Canyon Dam Operations to Combat Non-native Fish

The Rundown

  • Bureau of Reclamation proposes changes to Glen Canyon Dam operations because of non-native fish.
  • Legislation in Congress would facilitate watershed recovery after forest fires and reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
  • Army Corps launches a new permit review system for faster processing.
  • NOAA foretells El Niño’s demise.
  • DOE pays hydropower operators to improve their equipment so they can generate more electricity.
  • CDC investigates a waterborne pathogen that killed several people along the Atlantic coast last summer during a heat wave.
  • FWS will study the conservation status of a spring-dwelling snail in Nevada that lives near a lithium mine development.

And lastly, the Army Corps ends low-water warnings along the Mississippi River in Louisiana.

“I’m happy to report there are no draft restrictions on the Mississippi River for the third week and we do not have dredges operating for low water.” — Brigadier General Kimberly Peeples, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Division. Low-water conditions and saltwater intrusion that plagued the lower Mississippi River basin for months have waned. The river is open for commercial traffic, and no communities along the river have salt concentrations above recommended levels. Since saltwater began moving up the river last summer, the Army Corps barged 153 million gallons of water to salt-affected communities.

By the Numbers

$71.5 Million: Payments the Department of Energy will make to 46 hydropower operators so that they can increase electricity output by investing in efficiency improvements at their facilities. The funds come from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

5: Patients who died from a waterborne pathogen in three eastern U.S. states last summer. A CDC report investigated the Vibrio vulnificus infections. Most of the 11 total infections likely came via an open wound and exposure to water or raw seafood. Vibrio likes warm coastal waters and the region was hot last summer. “Although these cases reported during July–August cannot be solely attributed to the heat waves, the relationship between vibriosis incidence and environmental conditions favorable to Vibrio growth, namely elevated water surface temperatures and low salinity, is well-documented,” the CDC noted.

News Briefs

Water Bills in Congress
Great Lakes representatives in the House and Senate introduced legislation to reauthorize and increase funding levels for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an ecosystem cleanup that began in 2010.

Authorized funding is $300 million a year. Under the bill, that amount would increase to $475 million in 2026 and the $500 million annually through 2031. The money, however, would still have to be secured in the annual budget process.

Farther west, representatives from states beyond the 100th meridian introduced bipartisan legislation to facilitate river restoration after wildfires in order to protect drinking water for downstream communities.

The bill would make it easier to repair rivers on U.S. Forest Service land. It is an important piece of a larger puzzle that includes comparable work on private lands.

In context: Billions in Federal Assistance after New Mexico’s Largest Wildfire. But Little Money to Repair Streams

Permit Review
The Army Corps of Engineers, in hopes of quickening processing time, is rolling out a new web-based system for submitting permit requests for those wanting to build in wetlands or regulated waters.

The Regulatory Request System, which will be fully functional later this year, will accept requests to determine if building sites are under federal regulatory jurisdiction and require individual or general permits.

Speaking of permits, a House committee advanced a bill that would adjust several Clean Water Act permitting processes. The bill would also require the EPA to issue guidance about regulated waters that aligns with the Supreme Court’s recent Sackett decision.

The Republican-led House is expected to vote on it this week.

Studies and Reports

Glen Canyon Dam Operations Change
To prevent the downstream spread of non-native fish in the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation is proposing to change the timing of water releases from Glen Canyon Dam.

Reclamation analyzed five options in a draft environmental impact statement, in addition to a “no action” option.

Recent water-level declines in Lake Powell pose many problems, one of which relates to ecosystem vitality: non-native fish such as the voracious smallmouth bass live in a band of warm water that is now closer to the pipes that send water downstream. The bass prey on federally protected native fish.

The intent of the operations changes is to keep river temperatures downstream low enough (60 F or below) to interfere with spawning.

Four of the options do this by releasing water through the river outlet works, which are located deeper in the reservoir, where water is colder. One drawback is that less water goes through the turbines to generate electricity. Hydropower output, in these scenarios, decreases by about 1 percent.

Public comments are being accepted through March 25. Send them to LTEMPSEIS@usbr.gov.

A webinar will be held February 16 at 10:00 a.m. Mountain time. Register here.

A Snail’s Place
In a preliminary assessment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found enough evidence for an in-depth study to determine whether a small aquatic snail in Nevada is endangered or threatened.

The Kings River pyrg is found in Humboldt County, an area of the state where the Thacker Pass lithium mine, of the largest in the world, is being developed.

The $2.3 billion mining project will provide the raw material for clean energy technologies, but it is proceeding against the wishes of Native American tribes in the area who say that the site is sacred due to the fact that their ancestors were massacred there in 1865.

The request for an evaluation of the Kings River pyrg came from Western Watersheds Project, a non-profit conservation group. It claims that the snail is affected by habitat alterations derived from grazing, mining, roads, and a drying climate.

On the Radar

Demise of El Niño
The waters of the eastern Pacific should begin cooling in the coming months, flipping the climate cycle from El Niño to a neutral state, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Forecasters assign a 79 percent probability of neutral conditions by June, and a 55 percent chance that La Niña then develops over the summer.

The waxing and waning of sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific influences rainfall and heat patterns across the planet. Record-high temperatures last year were due to a strong El Niño pattern layered on top of extra warmth trapped by rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Envoy Investigation
The House Oversight Committee is requesting documents from the office of the White House’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. The committee wants to gauge the office’s relationship with environmental groups as it pursues climate policies.

John Kerry, the climate envoy, has indicated that he will step down in the next few months.

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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