President Trump denounces water-efficient toilets and faucets. The EPA sends a regulatory determination for PFAS in drinking water to the White House for review. Water bills in Congress address aquatic invasive species, western water supplies, drinking water grants, irrigation canal repairs, and more. Congressional negotiators appear to remove certain PFAS provisions from a Defense authorization bill. And lastly, the Bureau of Reclamation will prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed Lake Powell pipeline.
“But together, we’re defending the American workers. We’re using common sense. We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms where you turn the faucet on — in areas where there’s tremendous amounts of water, where the water rushes out to sea because you could never handle it — and you don’t get any water. You turn on the faucet; you don’t get any water. They take a shower and water comes dripping out. It’s dripping out — very quietly dripping out. People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water. So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion.
You go into a new building or a new house or a new home, and they have standards, ‘Oh, you don’t get water.’ You can’t wash your hands, practically, there’s so little water comes out of the faucet. And the end result is you leave the faucet on and it takes you much longer to wash your hands. You end up using the same amount of water.
So we’re looking at, very seriously, at opening up the standard. And there may be some areas where we’ll go the other route — desert areas. But for the most part, you have many states where they have so much water that it comes down — it’s called rain — that they don’t know, they don’t know what to do with it.” — Transcript of President Donald Trump’s remarks at a small business roundtable at the White House on December 6. National efficiency standards for toilets, showerheads, and faucets were introduced as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The standards have been played a significant role in reducing household water use in the country.
In context: Efficient Fixtures Cut U.S. Indoor Water Use
PFAS Determination Sent to White House
Drinking water regulations are a multi-step process. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made another move in the process to regulate toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water last week when it sent a regulatory determination to the White House for review.
Before the agency sets a limit for the chemicals in drinking water, it must officially declare that it will do so. A regulatory determination is the agency’s formal statement of intent to regulate. The agency sent a regulatory determination to the White House for at least five chemicals, two of which are PFOA and PFOS. These are the two most studied of the thousands of PFAS chemicals.
Will the EPA say that PFOA and PFOS should be regulated? Andrew Wheeler, the head of the EPA, indicated previously that the answer would be yes. But he did not reveal what was in the document sent to the White House.
Water Bills in Congress
- Legislation introduced by Rep. T.J. Cox (D-CA) would authorize the Interior Department to provide $100 million in grants to communities for improvements to drinking water systems.
More communities would be eligible for grants than under a current program operated through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Communities with populations up to 60,000 serving areas with a median household income less than $64,800 would be eligible to apply for funds.
“Families across the Central Valley are paying high rates for water that doesn’t meet federal standards,” Cox wrote in a Facebook post. “That’s unacceptable.”
- Cox also introduced a bill that would put $200 million toward repairs to the Friant-Kern canal, a water delivery system in California’s Central Valley that has been damaged by land subsidence and is operating at less than half of capacity. The canal is sagging because farmers in the area pumped so much groundwater that the surrounding land compacted.
- Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) filed a bill that would require the Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a flood plan for the upper Mississippi River watershed.
- Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) focused on water use by plants. His bill would authorize the Agriculture secretary to establish a grant program for removing non-native species along rivers. The program would be funded at $10 million annually.
- Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) takes aim at several provisions in the Clean Water Act. The Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act seeks to put up barriers to citizens who wish to file lawsuits against companies or the government. It does so by forcing the losing party to pay the legal costs. The bill also revokes the EPA’s authority under Section 404 to veto an application to fill in wetlands.
- Senators from Colorado and Montana collaborated on a bipartisan bill to slow the spread of invasive aquatic species, specifically freshwater mussels, which can clog water intake pipes. The bill allows the Bureau of Reclamation to provide assistance to local authorities for inspecting boats and other watercraft that could carry the mussels between waterways.
- A bill that does not have bipartisan support is the Water Optimization for the West Act, introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and endorsed solely by Republicans. The bill would direct more water to farmers in California while addressing other issues. Some of those issues are more contentious: long-term water delivery contracts from the Central Valley Project, repealing the San Joaquin River Settlement. Others, less so: facilitating water transfers, recharging groundwater, and grants for removing nitrate from drinking water.
PFAS Provisions Yanked from Defense Bill
Congressional negotiators will most likely remove controversial PFAS-related provisions that had derailed a Defense authorization bill, Politico reports.
The provision would have listed certain PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law.
Some Democratic lawmakers were not pleased with the maneuvers.
“The end result of negotiations around PFAS provisions in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act is nothing short of disgraceful,” said Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) in a statement. “Instead of arriving at a deal through a transparent and collaborative process that included meaningful input from conferees, leaders in both parties opted to hijack negotiations at the eleventh hour behind closed doors. This is shamefully undemocratic.”
Farmland Conservation Rule
The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed an interim rule for a federal farmland conservation program that was amended in the 2018 farm bill.
The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers not to plant crops on land that that has significant environmental benefits. It also pays for conservation practices that protect water quality.
The 2018 farm bill covers additional types of conservation practices such as prairie strips, which are belts of undisturbed prairie grasses between planted crops.
The legislation also authorized a CRP pilot program that seeks to reduce nutrient runoff that causes harmful algal blooms. Conservation contracts under the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers pilot will be for 30 years.
Studies and Reports
Ocean Warming Affecting Rainfall
Warming of the Indian and Pacific oceans is altering rainfall patterns across the globe, according to NOAA research.
The study, published in the journal Nature, examines a tropical weather pattern called the Madden-Julian oscillation. Ocean warming has changed the pattern, resulting in decreased precipitation in the western United States, northern India, and eastern Africa. At the same time, rainfall has increased in northern Australia and southeastern Asia.
On the Radar
Lake Powell Pipeline
The Bureau of Reclamation intends to prepare an environmental impact statement for the highly controversial proposal to pipe water 140 miles from Lake Powell to southwestern Utah.
Send comments on the scope of the review to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 10. Public scoping meetings will be held in Kanab, St. George, and South Jordan on January 7-9. Details are in the link above.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton