Federal Water Tap, June 3: EPA Proposal Aims for Structural Change in U.S. Drinking Water Sector

The Rundown

  • Proposed EPA rule, by targeting structural problems, aims at the root of utility drinking water violations.
  • Report shows Colorado River water use in three lower basin states drops to four-decade low.
  • IRS proposal would allow new hydropower generation access to federal clean electricity tax credits.
  • Reclamation allocates hundreds of millions for water reuse, storage, and conveyance in the western states.
  • EPA orders a California water company to comply with federal drinking water rules.
  • Federal Maritime Commission opens investigation of Canadian ballast water rules.

And lastly, the Supreme Court takes on a Clean Water Act case about defining pollution discharge limits.

“Rather than tell San Francisco how much it needs to control its discharges to comply with the Act, the generic prohibitions leave the City vulnerable to enforcement based on whether the Pacific Ocean meets state-adopted water quality standards.” – Petition from San Francisco to the Supreme Court requesting the Court hear its appeal related to the EPA’s pollution discharge standards for a sewage treatment plant. The Court agreed to hear the case.

By the Numbers

$179 Million: Federal funding allocated to four water reuse projects – three in California and one in Utah. The bulk of the money ($99 million) goes to planning and design for a water recycling project overseen by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a wholesaler that serves 19 million people by importing water from distant basins. When completed, that facility will recycle some 118,000 acre-feet of water annually.

$242 Million: Federal funding allocated to five water storage and conveyance projects – one each in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Washington, and two in California. Projects include Sites Reservoir, a new storage facility in northern California, and the Arkansas Valley Conduit, for delivering municipal and industrial water in southeastern Colorado.

News Briefs

Restructuring Water Utilities
A new EPA proposal is taking aim at structural problems that result in public water systems providing dirty water.

The so-called Water System Restructuring Assessment Rule would provide states the authority to evaluate the financial, managerial, and technical capacity of water utilities that consistently fail to meet federal drinking water standards and propose remedies.

The proposal would give states the authority to require an assessment of restructuring options.

Potential remedies for these failing systems are numerous. They could share trained operators with other nearby systems or combine administrative tasks. If funding is available, they could upgrade their infrastructure or connect via pipeline with neighboring systems. If the rot is too deep, the utility could be absorbed into a better-run system, a process known as consolidation.

States would be required to involve the community and hold public meetings.

In context: In Bid for Cleaner Water, California Seeks Arranged Utility Marriages

Supreme Court Case
The Supreme Court will take on its third Clean Water Act case in the last four years.

As with Maui (groundwater) and Sackett (wetlands and intermittent streams), the question is about definitions. In this case, San Francisco v. EPA, it is pollution discharges.

San Francisco want numbers for pollution discharge permits for the Oceanside sewage plant, rather than “narrative” standards that, it claims, are less clear. The federal government’s lawyer contends that the limits are clear enough.

The case will be heard in October.

Renewable Energy Tax Credits
The purpose of the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in August 2022, is to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to low-carbon energy.

One of the wonkier aspects of the law is the treatment of clean electricity tax credits, both for production and investment. The Internal Revenue Service published a proposed rule for judging the eligibility of certain energy-generation technologies.

In the proposal, which replaces existing rules, hydropower – from pumped storage and dam turbines to marine-based wave power – is included alongside wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear, and some waste-to-energy projects. Greenhouse gas emissions from reservoirs do not count against hydropower.

To be eligible, projects must start operating after December 31, 2024. The credit is 0.3 cents per kilowatt hour.

Water Company’s Drinking Water Violations
The EPA ordered Havasu Water Company, a public water provider in California, to comply with federal clean drinking water rules.

The company provides water to about 360 people within the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe Reservation, in southern California. The water exceeds federal standards for total trihalomethanes, a contaminant that forms when chlorine interacts with organic matter.

Studies and Reports

2023 Colorado River Water Use Drops
The Bureau of Reclamation published a report detailing a sharp drop in Colorado River water use last year by Arizona, California, and Nevada.

Consumptive use from the river totaled just under 5.8 million acre-feet, a decline of 13 percent compared to 2022, and 18 percent compared to 2021. The last time consumptive use was this low in the three lower basin states? Forty years ago, in 1983.

The sharp reduction is due to a number of factors. Mandatory conservation kept more water in Lake Mead. And a wet winter in California allowed the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to reduce its draw. Met, as the big wholesaler is known, cut its Colorado River water use by 465,000 acre-feet last year.

On the Radar

Canadian Ballast Water Inquiry
The Federal Maritime Commission opened an investigation into the effect of environmental rules in Canada on U.S. ships operating on the Great Lakes.

The Lake Carriers Association, a trade group, asked the federal body to intervene. The association thinks that upcoming Canadian regulations on ballast water will hurt its members’ business by requiring them to install unnecessary equipment.

If it agrees with the trade group, the commission can retaliate against Canadian-flagged ships with fines or denial of entry. The commission will recommend the State Department pursue a diplomatic solution.

Cargo ships carry ballast water to balance their loads. The water can transport non-native species.

Climate and Insurance Hearing
On June 5, the Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing about climate change’s effect on insurance markets.

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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