Federal Water Tap, March 4: Permanent Water Bill Assistance Program Proposed in Senate

The Rundown

  • In a Senate proposal, federal water bill assistance program would shed its temporary status.
  • Reclamation tallies water losses in the lower Colorado River basin.
  • EPA program updates its schedule for releasing chemical toxicity assessments.
  • New EPA office will focus on agriculture and rural affairs.
  • GAO assesses environmental justice implementation for federal infrastructure investment.
  • USAID leader discusses water projects with Jordanian officials.

“Just like home energy and nutrition assistance, water rate assistance is crucial for public health and economic prosperity. This program has proven to uplift vulnerable communities across the country, and it’s past time we make it permanent.” – Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), in a written statement regarding his legislation to establish a permanent federal water bill assistance program.

By the Numbers

1.3 Million Acre-Feet: Water lost in the lower Colorado River basin annually to evaporation and riverside vegetation. The numbers – an annual average from 2017 to 2021 – come from a Bureau of Reclamation estimate of water losses from Lake Mead to the Mexican border. It’s more water than Utah uses annually from the basin.

News Briefs

Water Bill Assistance
Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat who has held hearings on the matter, introduced legislation that would make permanent a pandemic-era program to help low-income residents pay their water bills.

The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, or LIHWAP, is currently housed within the Department of Health and Human Services. Where might it live in the future?

The bill says that the DHHS secretary will consult with the EPA administrator to establish the permanent program. The program will then be transferred to EPA once DHHS completes its report to Congress on the pandemic-era version.

No dollars are attached to the bill. Those would be sorted out in the appropriations process.

New EPA Office
The EPA has a new farm and country division.

The Office of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (official name) will interact with agribusiness and the towns that rely on it.

One forum for those discussions is a new advisory council on farming and water quality, which the EPA established last year instead of strengthening regulation of pollution discharges from large-scale animal feeding operations.

New Acting Head of EPA Office of Water
Following the departure of Radhika Fox in February, the EPA Office of Water has acquired a temporary leader.

Bruno Pigott, a principal deputy assistant administrator, was promoted from within to become the acting head of the office until a new nominee is named, E&E News reports. The full-time position requires Senate confirmation.

Before joining the EPA, Pigott was a state regulator, leading the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Water in Jordan
Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, traveled to Jordan last week.

Power met with several ministers to discuss USAID-funded water infrastructure in the arid country. According to a readout of the meeting, Power indicated “ongoing support to maximize Jordan’s limited water resources.”

Studies and Reports

President Joe Biden entered office pledging to ensure that federal infrastructure investment helped disadvantaged areas with a legacy of pollution and poverty. The pledge was codified in February 2021 in an executive order.

Three years on, the Government Accountability Office assessed the implementation of the Justice40 Initiative.

The report found that, above all, the administration needs to manage and assess its programs so that successes are measured and failures are corrected. That means setting goals, communicating plans, and incorporating lessons.

In context: How Can the Biden Administration Deliver on Environmental Justice Pledges?

On the Radar

Toxicity Assessments
The EPA program that evaluates chemical toxicity to humans updated its timetable for publishing new assessments.

The IRIS program updates its schedule at least three times annually. This year it expects to release assessments on hexavalent chromium (a metal) and PFDA (a type of PFAS).

Deadlines for the nitrate assessment are marked “to be determined.” Shelved during the Trump administration, the nitrate assessment was revived last year.

In context: EPA Restarts Assessment of Health Risks from Nitrate in Water

The State of the Union Is…
The president’s annual address to Congress is scheduled for March 7 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. It will be livestreamed here.

House Hearings on Natural Capital and Weather Forecasting
On March 6, a House Science subcommittee will hold a hearing on U.S. weather forecasting capabilities.

A Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on March 7 to discuss the Biden administration’s plan to account for the value of nature in dollar terms and include those figures in economic accounts.

Earmark Audit
The EPA Office of the Inspector General will audit the agency’s distribution of earmarks for water infrastructure. Congress revived earmarks in 2022.

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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