Federal Water Tap, January 22: BLM Develops Large-Scale Solar Plan to Protect Habitats, Expand Renewable Energy

The Rundown

  • Federal cybersecurity agency publishes a guide for water and wastewater utilities.
  • GAO reports on foreign investment in U.S. farmland.
  • BLM draft review aims to facilitate large-scale solar development in the western states.
  • Senate committee will hold a hearing on the National Flood Insurance Program.
  • EPA begins accepting applications for regional stormwater “centers of excellence.”

And lastly, CDC researchers assess the performance of wastewater surveillance for tracking Mpox cases.

“Some of you may know that the word human comes from the Latin term for earth, for soil. There are few things that are more human, and more important to humanity, than figuring out how to cultivate this planet so that it can feed and support all of us.” – Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Blinken discussed U.S. efforts to improve soil health and food security globally.

By the Numbers

40 Million: Acres of U.S. agricultural land – roughly the size of Georgia – attributed to foreign ownership and investment. The number, based on 2021 data, comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and includes lands for forestry, pasture, and farming. In recent years, members of Congress have raised objections to the transactions, in part because of concerns that water in western states is being exported, in the form of forage crops, to countries like Saudi Arabia.

News Briefs

Solar in the American West
The Bureau of Land Management would prioritize 22 million acres of federal land in 11 western states for large-scale solar development under a draft proposal to facilitate renewable energy growth in a way that protects sensitive habitats.

Priority is largely determined by lands that are near transmission lines.

The draft environmental impact statement is an update of a 2012 plan that centered on six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The update would cover an additional five states farther north: Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.

It focuses on solar photovoltaic projects capable of generating 20 megawatts or more that would be sited on BLM-managed lands. Currently, the BLM has permitted 41 solar projects on lands it manages. Twenty-three are operating.

What about water? Solar photovoltaic uses relatively little. Based on recent projects, water use during construction averaged 1.8 acre-feet per megawatt. Water use for operations, such as cleaning dust from panels, averaged 0.05 acre-feet per year per megawatt.

For example: the Oberon Renewable Energy Project, in Riverside County, California, has a 500-megawatt capacity and uses 40 acre-feet per year.

Studies and Reports

The federal agency that coordinates responses to attacks on computer systems published a cybersecurity guide for water and wastewater utilities.

The guide – from CISA with input from the EPA, FBI, and industry experts – outlines how utilities should respond to a cyberattack. It also describes federal agency roles and responsibilities.

Searching for Mpox in the Sewers
The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the use of wastewater surveillance as a public health tool. Now it’s being put to use to track the Mpox virus.

CDC researchers investigated the performance of the disease-tracking technique for Mpox. If wastewater testing did not reveal any virus particles, then it is likely that few cases are present in the community, the study found. The results, they argue, should give public health officials confidence in using wastewater to inform their Mpox decisions.

“Because wastewater surveillance is sufficiently sensitive to detect very few Mpox cases, a single, isolated wastewater detection might not warrant a large public health response,” the authors wrote.

Wastewater surveillance is the testing of sewage to detect the presence of chemical or biological markers. For viruses, the technique provides a broad picture of a community’s disease burden.

U.S. Geological Survey Studies
USGS researchers published or contributed to several water-related studies:

On the Radar

Senate Flood Insurance Hearing
On January 25, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will hold a hearing on the National Flood Insurance Program. The federal program that insures properties in flood zones needs to be reauthorized by February 2.

Stormwater Centers of Excellence
The EPA is now accepting applications for a $3 million grant program to establish three to five “centers of excellence” for stormwater.

The centers will research technologies to control and manage the flow of water from streets and hard surfaces after storms. They will also assist local governments with projects that use innovative stormwater technologies.

Applications are due March 18.

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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