Federal Water Tap, June 17: ‘Connecticut-Sized’ Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone This Summer, NOAA Says

The Rundown

  • Federal forecast estimates size of Gulf of Mexico dead zone.
  • EPA watchdog says agency is not prepared for public notification rules for lead in drinking water.
  • House passes non-flushable wipes labeling bill.
  • EPA publishes guidelines for a toxic tire chemical in rivers and lakes.
  • USGS reports on groundwater levels in the Navajo aquifer, in northeastern Arizona.
  • Another month, another heat record.

And lastly, federal energy regulators allow a controversial natural gas pipeline that crosses the Appalachians to begin operating.

“Since our state’s founding in 1863, West Virginians have stepped forward time and again for causes greater than ourselves. We’ve mined the coal that forged the steel that helped turn our country into the greatest industrial might the world has ever seen. And along the way, our great state burnished our legacy as America’s energy powerhouse.” – Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in a statement celebrating the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile natural gas conduit that began operating in the state last week. Unmentioned in the senator’s statement is West Virginia’s history of labor organizing against dangerous and deadly working conditions in the state’s extractive industries.

By the Numbers

12: Consecutive months in which the global average temperature set a monthly record, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

News Briefs

Dead Zone Forecast
At least the comp isn’t Massachusetts?

NOAA released its annual forecast for the summer dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the low-oxygen area that is fatal for fish and other marine life.

The forecast is for a dead zone of 5,827 square miles – a bit bigger than Connecticut. That’s the midpoint of a forecast range between 3,266 and 8,370 square miles.

The dead zone is caused by excess nutrients flushed into the Gulf, largely from the Mississippi River. A rainy spring increased runoff in the watershed, and phosphorus loads this spring are 22 percent higher than the long-term average.

In the last two years the actual dead zone was smaller than the midpoint forecast, but within the forecast range.

House Passes Non-Flushable Wipes Bill
“Wipes clog pipes” is the rallying cry for utilities that don’t want to see their sewage systems hobbled by sanitary products that aren’t toilet paper.

The House helped the cause by endorsing consumer education. Representatives passed the WIPPES Act, which requires a “Do Not Flush” label on these products, which have misleadingly been labeled as flushable. The Federal Trade Commission is the enforcement agency.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, a trade group, estimated in 2020 that clogs and other problems from flushed wipes increased utility operating costs by $441 million annually in the U.S.

Studies and Reports

Lead in Drinking Water
The EPA is not yet ready to carry out public notification requirements when water systems find lead in drinking water above federal limits.

That is the conclusion from an audit by the Office of Inspector General.

The public notification requirements go into effect this October. Water utilities are required to tell customers within 24 hours after discovering lead levels higher than the federal standard. If utilities do not notify customers, the EPA must do so.

The audit determined that the agency needs better data tracking in order to issue notices in such a short time frame. The audit also recommended that the agency finalize a plan for coordinating with states and utilities. The agency agreed with the recommendations.

Tire Chemical
The EPA published non-enforceable water quality guidelines for toxic chemicals from vehicle tires that have polluted waterways.

States and tribes can incorporate the “screening values” for the chemicals 6PPD and 6PPD-q into their water quality standards, if they choose. The values are intended to protect aquatic life from immediate death, and are not designed to guard against effects from long-term exposure.

The chemicals are particularly toxic to salmon, but there is not widespread data on their effects.

Navajo Aquifer
The U.S. Geological Survey published its annual report on water levels and water quality in the Navajo aquifer, in northeastern Arizona.

On the Radar

Mountain Valley Pipeline
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave the green light for a controversial natural gas pipeline to begin operating.

Object of numerous lawsuits, the Mountain Valley Pipeline extends 303 miles across the Appalachians, from West Virginia to Virginia

Completing the pipeline was a priority of Sen. Joe Manchin, who secured that outcome as part of negotiations last year to raise the federal debt ceiling.

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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