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Federal Water Tap, May 20: EPA Estimates Wastewater Funding Needs over Next Two Decades

The Rundown

  • Some $630 billion is needed for sewage treatment and stormwater control.
  • A bill in Congress would require a report on efforts to engage with Canada on nuclear waste disposal in the Great Lakes basin.
  • EPA announces the first meeting of an advisory committee that will recommend ways to address water pollution from animal feedlots.
  • House committee unveils its farm bill proposal.
  • EPA finalizes changes to annual drinking water quality reports sent to utility customers.
  • Reclamation selects 57 water infrastructure projects in the western states for repair funds.
  • Senate committee will markup keystone water resources legislation this week.
  • EPA internal watchdog flags data errors in agency’s allocation of lead pipe replacement funds and criticizes Mississippi state officials for contributing to the Jackson water crisis.

And lastly, infrastructure week put the spotlight on federal funding for critical systems.

“We need to show the American people that this is their tax dollars at work. We need to be able to tell the stories both of the cathedral projects – the enormous, transformational ones – but also the backyard ones and even more importantly the people, the communities that it benefits.” – Samantha Silverberg, deputy assistant to the president for infrastructure implementation, speaking at an Infrastructure Week event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Accelerator for America Action. Silverberg mentioned three key goals for the infrastructure bill implementation: deliver results; build the teams that coordinate projection selection, design, and construction; and tell the story. This is the halfway point of the five-year infrastructure bill.

By the Numbers

$630 Billion: Estimated capital investment need over the next 20 years for the nation’s sewage and stormwater control systems. A quarter of the need is for pipes and pumping stations to move water to and from a treatment plant. The EPA uses the survey to apportion federal funds to states, tribes, and territories.

$520 Million: Reclamation funding for 57 projects to repair aging water infrastructure in the western states. “Aging” takes many forms. It covers a planning study for the Delta-Mendota canal, in California, that is impaired because of land subsidence from large-scale agricultural groundwater pumping. It also funds new screens for a water treatment plant intake pipe in North Dakota to keep out mussels that damage the treatment works.

News Briefs

Great Lakes and Nuclear Waste
The House passed an amended version of a Senate bill on firefighter financial assistance. The bill has other purposes, too. It acts as a vehicle for nuclear energy legislation.

The bill requires a report to Congress on licensing nuclear energy for nonelectric purposes, including desalination.

The bill also orders the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to submit a report on its engagement with the Canadian government on nuclear waste disposal in the Great Lakes basin.

The Canadian nonprofit tasked with long-term management of the country’s nuclear waste is considering a site near Lake Huron for an underground dump. The House and Senate introduced a bipartisan resolution last year opposing nuclear waste storage in the Great Lakes basin.

Reforming the ‘What’s in My Water?’ Report
The EPA finalized changes to the annual reports that water utilities must send to customers informing them about contaminants in their water.

The Consumer Confidence Reports have been criticized as too technical and difficult for the lay reader to understand. Changes include twice-annual reports for systems serving 10,000 or more people, electric delivery, and notification about work to reduce lead levels in drinking water.

The changes go into effect starting in 2027.

Studies and Reports

Lead Service Line Funds and Data Errors
The EPA’s internal watchdog flagged data errors that might have resulted in the agency misallocating funds for replacing lead drinking water pipes.

The Office of Inspector General issued a memo on its finding, which came from an audit the office is still conducting on the federal infrastructure bill.

The memo notes that the agency did not ensure that data collected from states on the number of lead service lines was correctly documented. It found a handful of errors in which water systems submitted inaccurate estimates of the number of lead service lines.

The errors could result in those states receiving a larger share of federal funds than they should.

Jackson Water Crisis
The EPA Office of Inspector General also investigated the Jackson water crisis, finding that state officials could have done more to prevent the deterioration of the capital’s water system. The lack of proactive state assistance was compounded by poor communication between the city and water department staff about problems operating the treatment plant.

The audit concluded that the Mississippi State Department of Health, which is responsible for the state’s water infrastructure loan program, did not make available cheaper loans to financially disadvantaged communities like Jackson, nor did it offer technical assistance.

Availability of such loan subsidies could have prompted Jackson officials to improve its water system before calamity struck, the report says.

Jackson’s O.B. Curtis water treatment plant failed during flooding in August 2022, leaving many of the city’s 160,000 residents without running water for a week.

On the Radar

Water Resources Development Act Markup
On May 22, the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources will vote on the Water Resources Development Act, legislation that comes before the committee every two years and authorizes Army Corps of Engineers water projects.

The markup session also includes legislation to reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program.

Water Pollution from Animal Feedlots
Deliberative governance or meek regulators?

Instead of issuing stricter limits on water pollution from animal feedlots, as environmental groups had petitioned, the EPA last year instead formed an advisory panel.

That panel – the Animal Agriculture and Water Quality Subcommittee – will hold its first public meeting on May 30-31.

Composed of nonprofits, academics, regulatory, and industry representatives, the subcommittee will recommend to the agency ways to reduce nutrient pollution in waterways from animal feedlots.

The meeting, with in-person and online options, is open to the public. Register here.

Farm Bill Season
Let’s try this again.

The Republican-led House Agriculture Committee released draft farm bill text, setting the table for debate on a massive piece of food and environmental policy legislation. Not only that, the farm bill also authorizes rural water and wastewater grant and assistance programs.

The farm bill was supposed to be completed last September. But Congress failed to act in time, thus requiring a year-long extension.

And there will be debate. Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, noted concerns with the House proposal.

Explosives Disposal
The EPA extended the public comment period for proposed changes to rules regarding the open burning and detonation of waste explosives.

The comment period now ends on June 20.

Resources from Wastewater
The Department of Energy’s technology development branch is looking for public input to inform a potential program on extracting nutrients and high-value minerals from wastewater.

Wastewater includes municipal, industrial, mining, and agricultural.

Submissions are due June 5 and should be sent in pdf format to ARPA-E-RFI@hq.doe.gov.

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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