Federal Water Tap, June 10: Researchers Estimate Lithium in U.S. Groundwater

The Rundown

  • USGS researchers use computer models to map lithium, unregulated in drinking water, in groundwater.
  • Montana senators introduce a bill to amend the Crow Tribe water rights settlement.
  • FERC attempts to clarify water quality permitting process for energy projects.
  • Army Corps has $120 million to raise homes in southwest Louisiana against floods.

And lastly, the Army Corps will assess Atlanta’s water system after recent water main breaks.

“We come in and do assessments of the system and find out what needs to be done as far as age of the pipes, what pumps need to be replaced and things of that nature.” – Alou Rice, engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, discussing the Atlanta water system with WSB-TV. Major water main breaks in the first week of June resulted in days of boil-water advisories for many Atlanta residents. The Corps will assess the city’s drinking water system and submit recommendations.

By the Numbers

$700 Million: Funding announced for water conservation and infrastructure projects in the lower Colorado River basin. Specific projects have not yet been finalized, but they will include things like metering, farm efficiency, canal lining, water recycling, and groundwater banking. The money comes from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

News Briefs

Crow Tribe Water Rights
A bill introduced in the Senate would amend the Crow Tribe water rights settlement in order to provide more flexibility as it builds a municipal and industrial water system.

The bill also extends the tribe’s deadline to develop hydropower at the existing Yellowtail Afterbay Dam. And it

Enacted in 2010, the settlement set aside $460 million for a water supply system for the tribe, whose lands are in southern Montana along the Wyoming border.

The bill will be heard in the Indian Affairs Committee on June 12.

Energy Project Permitting
Federal energy regulators are attempting to clarify rules around water quality permits for energy projects.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is looking at Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which requires states and certain tribes to affirm that projects requiring a federal license met local water quality standards. One pertinent question: how long do states and tribes have to act?

FERC proposes a one-year limit, starting when the state or tribe receives the request.

Studies and Reports

Lithium in Groundwater
Drier regions of the country are more likely to have higher concentrations of lithium in groundwater, according to new research led by the U.S. Geological Survey that will assist in evaluating how lithium influences human health.

Lithium occurs naturally and it is used to treat depression. It is not regulated in drinking water, but the EPA is collecting data on its occurrence, to inform potential future restrictions…or beneficial uses.

The study used computer models based on machine learning. Besides precipitation, well depth was also a good predictor. Deeper wells were more likely to have higher lithium concentrations.

The model is more certain for some regions. It is likely that groundwater west of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington is low in lithium and that the Texas Panhandle is high.

“These estimates will be used to calculate human exposure metrics and evaluate associations with various human-health outcomes,” the report states. There is still much work to be done on the levels at which lithium exposure through drinking water is beneficial or harmful.

EPA Watchdog on Grant Management
The EPA’s internal watchdog published two oversight reports, on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and another on New Mexico’s management of water infrastructure loan program.

The Office of Inspector General did not uncover major flaws, but did list potential improvements.

Of the 30 grants reviewed, the Great Lakes report found that about half included environmental justice outcomes.

For New Mexico, the report notes that, while state managers have adequate oversight, they face headwinds from a lack of staff and communities that are reluctant to take on loans.

On the Radar

Raising Homes in Louisiana
The Army Corps of Engineers will hold four public meetings in southwest Louisiana this week as the agency embarks on a $120 million project to reduce flood risk to homes and buildings in the region.

Congress provided $120 million two years ago for the project. The Corps identified 3,462 homes and commercial buildings that could be raised up to 13 feet. The funding is enough for an estimated 600 to 700 structures.

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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