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Toledo’s Ban on Drinking Water Finally Lifted

A sample glass of Lake Erie water is photographed near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. More tests are needed to ensure that toxins are out of Toledo's water supply, the mayor said Sunday, instructing the 400,000 people in the region to avoid drinking tap water for a second day. Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, possibly because of algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)At a press conference on Monday morning, the mayor of Toledo, Michael Collins, lifted the ban on drinking water after the federal Environmental Protection Agency performed an analysis to determine that the water is safe for public use. The residents of Toledo, the fourth largest city in Ohio, were without water for three days after tests revealed high levels of toxins in the city’s water supply. The 400,000 people in the area were ordered not to use tap water to drink, brush their teeth, prepare food, or give to their pets. Health officials also advised that children and people with weak immune systems should refrain from using the water to shower or bathe.

Treatment plants found unsafe levels of microcystin, a toxin that turns water green and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, or abnormal liver function. This toxin is likely to be caused by harmful blue-green algae blooms growing in Lake Erie. The blooms are often caused by runoff from overfertilized fields, manure, malfunctioning septic systems, and storm water drains that all wash huge amounts of phosphorus into the lake. Residents were instructed not to boil the water, which would increase the concentration of microcystin. The level of the microcystin has now stabilized below what the World Health Organization deems acceptable.

Environmental groups have been concerned about the steadily increasing amount of algae blooms in recent years because Lake Erie supplies water for 11 million people. Ohio lawmakers took a step towards solving the algae problem when they enacted a law this past spring that requires most farmers to undergo training before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields.  Additionally, a state task force in Ohio has called for a 40 percent reduction in all forms of phosphorus going into the lake.

California Shuts Down Injection Wells to Conserve Water

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California officials have issued an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites in fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers. Because California continues to suffer from serious drought, more than 100 sites in the Central Valley will be later examined by the state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources for possible shut-down

The status of the aquifers is being examined because the waste disposal of the injection sites poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources. Also the aquifers could provide much needed source of drinking water, as a recent report showed that water consumption in California has risen during the worst drought in nearly four decades. The state has failed to achieve the 20% reduction in water use sought by Governor Jerry Brown. The effects of the drought combined with the increasing population and rising temperatures in the region have resulted in shriveling reservoirs.

Previously, more than 100 of the state’s aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality or too deep underground to easily access. The state then exempted these aquifers from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to use them for fracking waste. However, the  cease and desist orders issued by the state show that at least seven injection wells are likely to be pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law instead of other aquifers previously approved by the state.

A nationwide ProPublica investigation found that injection wells are often poorly regulated and many are likely to be polluting underground water supplies, even those  protected by federal law. The investigation also disclosed an EPA program that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from pollution protection, many of them in California. Officials claim that these water wells in question may have been injected with fracking fluid, which is a toxic and sometimes radioactive liquid that comes up during oil production.  Officials hope the aquifers that have been shut down are suitable for drinking and irrigation, a desperate need for California in the midst of the drought.

California Plans to Implement Water Restrictions

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As the impact of the three-year drought continues to spread across California, mandatory statewide water restrictions are expected to be instituted for the first time by the State Water Resources Control Board. State and federal agencies have already sharply reduced water shipments in California, as reservoirs in the western region of the United States are shriveling, like Lake Oroville falling to 39% of capacity.

A recent report showed that water consumption in California has risen during the worst drought in nearly four decades and the state had failed to achieve the 20% reduction in water use sought by Governor Jerry Brown. Upcoming water restrictions are likely to ban practices such as allowing sprinkler water to run off lawns onto streets and washing cars without hoses equipped with a shut-off nozzle. Maximum penalties for violations by individuals would be $500, enforceable by local water agencies. The board estimates the restrictions, which are to take effect in early August, could save enough water to supply more than 3.5 million people for a year.

However, the emergency drought measures in California will not extend to the controversial corporation, Nestle. Nestle is not required to comply with state regulations because its bottling plant is located on a Native American reservation. Native American reservations are considered sovereign nations by the United States government, and, therefore, are not required to comply with federal or state laws. According to reports, Nestle Water is extracting about 200 million gallons of water from an already scarce water source in the desert ecosystem. Drawing water from this location prevents water from seeping downhill to fill aquifers of nearby towns struggling for water during the drought. Additionally, studies have estimated that for every liter of water bottled, 3 liters of water are discarded.

About 58 of the 440 local water districts represented by the Association of California Water Agencies have already implemented some forms of mandatory restriction. Other agencies have implemented tiered pricing, which penalizes heavy water users by charging more for excessive use. In the long term, California and other drought-prone states will have to refocus on expanding their water infrastructure create more storage in order to deal with prolonged dry spells. Help conserve water by switching to a Quench Bottleless Water Cooler, which filters water as you drink it so no water is wasted!

Blue-Green Algae Threatens Lake Erie Drinking Water

lake-erieAfter record outbreaks in 2011 and 2013, the presence of harmful blue-green algae in Lake Erie continues to lessen but still remains significant enough to be a possible threat to drinking water.  Lake Erie provides drinking water for more than 11 million people on both sides of the border between US and Canada. Filtration plants are forced to pay an additional cost of up to $3,000 a day, which adds up to over a million dollars annually, for extra chemical treatment when algae blooms are intense.

The algae blooms in Lake Erie tend to be a particular type of blue-green algae called microcystis, which is a thick greenish, grainy material that accumulates along the lake shore. Dried microcystis scum can contain high concentrations of bacteria for several months. Therefore, toxins dissolve in the water even when the cells are no longer alive and use up the oxygen in the cold bottom layer of water.

Experts use a combination of satellite imagery, computer modeling, and water samples gathered by multiple agencies to create forecasts for the year. This year’s forecast calls for 24,250 tons of blue-green algae to overtake Lake Erie. The accuracy of these forecasts can be affected by unexpected weather, as rains can wash in heavy loads of phosphorus fertilizer that foster the growth of the algae and winds can push blooms. Additionally, blue-green algae are exacerbated by phosphorus runoff from agriculture, lawn care, sewage, industrial wastewater, and other human activity.

High levels of algae toxins can potentially be deadly for people and can therefore cause filtration plants to close down and issue orders to residents not to drink the water. Although there are currently no United States public health standards in regard to algae toxins in drinking water, the toxin levels in 2013 were three times higher than the recommended safety level of the World Health Organization. As low levels of algae toxins can even kill farm animals and pets, both the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control hope to release the first national guidelines by the end of this year.

Lake Mead Falls to Record Low

LakeMeadLake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United Sates, continues to dwindle during drought of the southwest and is expecting to fall to its lowest level since 1937 this week. The effects of the drought are combined with increasing population and rising temperatures in the region, which has resulted in historically low water levels. The previous record low occurred decades ago in 1937 when the Hoover Dam was completed and the reservoir on the Colorado River was filled. Although flash floods and rain have recently swept through the area, the runoff water is not nearly enough to replenish the lake, which has not been completely full since 1998, over sixteen years ago.

Experts with the Colorado Water Commission express great concern, as the present drought has been a serious issue for the last fourteen years. White mineral rings around Lake Mead are clearly visible on the hard rock surfaces surrounding the lake, acting as a reminder of where the water level was in the past. The lake is estimated to drop to 1,081 feet, which is 23.5 feet lower than last year.

If Lake Mead drops to below 1,075 feet, reductions on the amount of water pumped from the lake may be enforced. Although these reductions will decrease the water available for consumption, authorities from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation believe that the community has conserved enough water to ensure that water obligations will be met at least through next year without a key shortage declaration. As of now, there will continue to be full deliveries to 40 million people in various areas, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. The declining levels of Lake Mead will be closely monitored and storage and conservation efforts are in effect to keep as much water in Lake Mead as possible.

 

Recycling Wastewater As A Reusable Water Source

RecyclingWastewaterDuring the recent spike of droughts across the United States, especially in southwest, many states and municipalities are turning to reusing wastewater as an alternative to groundwater aquifers. After recycling sewage water through a series of filtration and purification techniques, wastewater treatment plants often offer the recycled water for free to local farmers for non-food crops, to local schools and golf courses for watering their grass.

Many treatment plants are working to disinfect and treat the water at a higher level so the recycled wastewater could be used on food crops, allowing farmers to grow crops as they please, even during severe drought.

One treatment plant in Orange County, CA has taken it a step further. By adding several filtration and purification steps, including zapping the water with UV light, Orange County Water District is able to transform sewage water into drinking water for the over 2.4 million residents of Orange County.

Since 2008, Orange County Water District has been returning recycled used water or wastewater back into the massive groundwater aquifer.  Mixing the recycled wastewater with groundwater is largely unnecessary, but helps to allay any public fears about drinking recycled wastewater. As public acceptance grows and the cost of recycling wastewater falls, recycled wastewater can be a major defense to the increasing water scarcity in the United States as well as other parts of the world. The World Water Council estimates that recycled wastewater will be a normal source of drinking water around the world within the next 30 years.

Air Force base fuel leak threatens public drinking water

Kirtland-AFB-signA large fuel leak at the Kirtland Air Base in New Mexico has been contaminating soil for decades and now threatening the nearby municipal drinking water supply. The leak began in the 1950s when the Air Force replaced leaking tanks and aging pipelines with a new fuels facility, but was undiscovered until 1992.

In 1992, Air Base workers observed a huge surface plume in the soil surrounding the fuel facility, but it wasn’t until 1999 when under pressure from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) that the Air Force conducted pressure tests to determine the origin of the leak. Massive holes in the pipeline were both found and created. Original estimation of 100,000 gallons of missing fuel proved to be a low estimation when an Air Force contractor drilled an exploratory well outside the base’s northern boundary and found about four feet of jet fuel floating on top of the water aquifer. While the Air Force believes the leak to be 6 million gallons of jet fuel, about half of the Exxon Valdez spill, NMED estimates that the spill is actually 24 million gallons or twice the size of the Exxon Valdez spill.

No matter the size of the spill, public interest advocates are concerned because the leak which contains a variety highly dangerous chemicals, including benzene, toluene, and ethylene dibromide (EDB).

The EPA banned EDB from commercial and industrial use more than 40 years ago. When EDB is released into the soil, it usually makes its way into the groundwater. It is highly soluble and stable making it harder to find and remove from underground water. EDB has been found by multiple studies to be a carcinogen and can bind itself to DNA and rewrite genetic information causing mutations. A 1990 study from the California Department of Health Services found that those who worked with EDB “had essentially a 100 percent chance of contracting cancer.” The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 required the EPA to determine safe levels of various chemical compounds in drinking water. Based on various studies on EDB, the EPA determined that the maximum safe level of EDB in drinking water, or the level at which no adverse effects would likely occur, is zero. The most recent data shows EDB concentrations in shallow wells on the base at concentrations of 240,000 parts per trillion (ppt).

Current estimates suggest the spill, which is about 1,000 feet wide and more than a mile long, to be moving directly towards the Ridgecrest area at the rate of 385 feet per year. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority operates a series of wells in the area that pump so much water for the city that they actually produce a cone of depression that acts like a straw, pulling the spill closer.

Chief operating office at the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority John Stomp has said “We want to prevent this from further contaminating the aquifer. For contamination for us is, it’s no EDB or EDB. It’s not EDB at drinking water standards. It’s no EDB, because that’s what our customers are accustomed to.” While officials at Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority are well aware of the potential issue and are preparing to prevent further contamination, the Air Force does not have a plan in place to remove EDB from the aquifer. Actually, in the 60 years since it first spilled jet fuel into Albuquerque’s aquifer, KAFB has yet to remove and treat a single gallon of contaminated groundwater.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 to Fund Water-Related Infrastructure

SchoolhouseRock_BillThe Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, which will fund the development and improvement of water-related infrastructure, has passed Congress and President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law soon. The Act will authorize the United States Army Corps of Engineers to construct water projects for mitigating storm and hurricane damage, restoring ecosystems, and improving flood management as well as assisting states and local governments with levee safety programs and Native American tribes with planning and technical assistance for water resources projects. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing the act would cost about $3.5 billion over 2014 – 2018 with adjustments for anticipated inflation.

The Act intends to speed up project delivery by eliminating duplicative studies and requiring concurrent reviews while deauthorizing $18 billion worth of projects that have not been active over the last 5 years. The Act also sets up a Congressional review process for approving projects and allows nonfederal organizations and groups to provide funding for the projects.

When introducing the Act in September 2013, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) said, “This legislation is about jobs and country’s economic prosperity. This measure will strengthen our nation’s transportation network, keep America competitive in the global marketplace, and reform and streamline the way we move forward with improvements to our ports, locks, dams, and other water resources infrastructure.”

If President Obama signs the Act into law, it will be the first water-related funding package with provisions aimed at bridging the multi-billion dollar funding gap for drinking water and wastewater systems across the country to become law since 2007. Last year, the EPA found that many of the country’s 73,400 water systems are between 50 to 100 years old and estimates that about $384 billion worth of improvements would be needed in the U.S. drinking water infrastructure over the next 20 years.

Contaminated Shallow Groundwater May Migrate to Deeper Aquifers Used for Drinking Water

ContaminatedGroundwaterIn a new study, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Water Replenishment District of Southern California have found that contaminated groundwater found at shallow depths has the potential to migrate to deeper aquifers. This study confirmed previous studies conducted by the Water Replenishment District and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The study, which focused on aquifers in the 280-square mile Central Groundwater Basin, one of the most heavily used groundwater basins in southern California, used new and existing data including simulation models to understand the interconnections and water flow between different aquifer layers.

“Our investigation concluded that contaminated groundwater found at shallow depths in the northeastern portion of the Central Groundwater Basin could migrate to greater depths where many drinking water supply wells are located,” said Eric Reichard, Director of the USGS California Water Science Center. “Now that we’ve established that the potential for migration is there, the next step is to assess the specific risk this may post to the main drinking water aquifers.”

The study did not analyze treated tap water delivered to consumers, as groundwater is typically treated by water distributors prior to delivering it to costumers to ensure compliance with water quality standards for human health. The results of this study will allow the Water Replenishment District to anticipate future contaminant migration and to create proper plans for protecting uncontaminated areas. The results will also inform future monitoring and cleanup actions for contaminated sites in the Central Groundwater Basin.  For more information about the study or to ready the results in full, please visit the U.S. Geological Survey website.

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New Report Shows Thousands of High Priority Wells Were Not Inspected

GAO_SealAccording to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, the government has failed to inspect thousands of oil and gas wells considered “high risk” for water contamination and other environmental damage. The report highlights substantial gaps in oversight by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, which manages oil and gas development on federal and Native American reservations. The report said the agency “cannot accurately and efficiently identify whether federal and Indian resources are properly protected or that federal and Indian resources are at risk of being extracted without agency approval.”

Investigators reviewed 14 states, including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The report found that the Bureau of Land Management has failed to conduct inspections on more than 2,100 of the 3,702 wells that is had specified as “high priority” based on a greater need to protect against possible water contamination and other environmental safety issues. Further the agency has yet to indicate whether an additional 1,784 wells were high priority or not.

In addition to failing to inspect high priority wells, the Bureau of Land Management, according to the report, does not monitor inspection activities at its state and field offices and thus cannot provide “reasonable assurance’ that those offices were completing the required inspections. For example, the investigation found that in Pennsylvania, the state received 398 complaints in 2013, alone, alleging that oil or natural gas drilling polluted or otherwise affected private water wells, but only 100 cases of pollution were confirmed in the past 5 years!

Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council said of the report, “this report reaffirms our concern that the government needs to pay attention to the environment and protect public health and drinking sources from the risks of oil and gas development.”

If the Bureau of Land Management is not accurately inspecting high priority wells, if they are inspecting them at all, your drinking water may be contaminated with oil, natural gas, or other chemicals found at fracking sites.

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White House releases National Climate Assessment with dire Climate Change Warning

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The Obama administration recently released an updated report, known as the National Climate Assessment, to show how the changing climate has touched every corner of the United States. The report, which is over 800 pages long, outlines in detail the effects of climate change have on the different geographic regions and segments of the economy.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the scientists declared in the assessment. “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer.”

By documenting the changes in region-by-region, the assessment shows that few places will be unscathed and some are already feeling the effects of climate change earlier than expected. The assessment found that the Northeast will see an increase in torrential rains and risks from rising sea levels that could repeat the kind of flooding seen during Hurricane Sandy. The Southwest will see more severe water shortages than what they are currently experiencing. While the Midwest will see short term benefits like a longer growing season for crops, but these short term benefits will ultimately lead to escalating damages, particularly to agriculture, in the long run. The assessment stressed that people should not expect climate change to happen at a steady pace or at the same rate throughout the country.

No matter the region, climate change will affect the region’s drinking water supplies. In the Northeast, torrential rains and severe flooding may damage the already aging water infrastructure, leading to contaminated water supplies. While the Northeast may have the issue of an abundance of undrinkable water, the Southwest may have the opposite problem and run out of water.  The Midwest may also run into water shortages as agriculture uses a lot of water. With climate change, we may see a shortage of clean, potable drinking water everywhere in the United States.

The report was supervised and approved by a large committee representing a cross section of American society, including 2 oil companies and 13 government departments and agencies including the Agriculture Department and NASA. This is the 3 assessment in 14 years and many consider it the most urgent in tone, leaving no doubt that scientists consider climate change to be an emerging crisis.

To read the National Climate Assessment in its entirety, please visit: www.globalchange.gov.

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PA DEP Issues Recall for Thousands of Plastic Water Bottles

PA_DEP_LogoThe Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has issued a recall for thousands of large jugs of water, specifically 3-, 4-, and 5-gallon jugs, from Tyler Mountain Water. The bottles were bottled and delivery by Aqua Filter Fresh on April 17 and 18 while the company’s UV disinfecting system was malfunctioning resulting in positive tests for coliform and E. coli. It was determined that the water bottled had been delivered to commercial customers, but Aqua Filter Fresh and Tyler Mountain Water do not know the location of these customers.

While Aqua Filter Fresh has said that randomly selected bottles from April 17 and 18 were free of contamination, it urges customers to not use their water coolers until the water jugs have been replaced. Neither Aqua Filter Fresh nor the Department of Environmental Protection know how the water contaminated by total coliform and E. coli. The presence of total coliforms indicate that the filtered water had interaction with soil or surface water, however the presence of E. coli indicates the filtered water was contaminated by human or animal waste. E. coli can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms and can be a higher health risk for infants, young children, and those with compromised immune systems.

What if you didn’t have to worry about not being able to use your office’s water cooler because of water recalls? Bottleless water coolers filter your building’s water supply ensuring you and your coworkers are always drinking the cleanest, best-tasting water delivered to your glass. And you don’t have to worry about changing the heavy plastic bottles!

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California Sets Enforceable Standard for Chromium-6

Chromium6StandardsSeveral months ago, California health officials submitted a drinking water standard, the first in the United States, for the chemical hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6. Chromium-6, made famous by the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich, is an industrial pollution and is used in the production of stainless steel, leather tanning, and as an anti-corrosive and is considered a carcinogenic when ingested.

This past Tuesday, California’s Department of Public Health submitted its final regulation setting for chromium-6,  limiting the chemical to 10 parts per billion (ppb) in public drinking water supplies, or the equivalent of 10 drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. If approved, as expected, the standard would take effect on July 1 of this year and will require more than 100 water systems to treat for the contaminant. Public Health Director Ron Chapman said the limit “will protect public health while taking into consideration economic and technical feasibility as required by law.”

California’s standard of 10 ppb is about 500 times greater than the non-enforceable public health goal set earlier this year by California’s EPA. Many environmentalists contend the new limit is not stringent enough.  Avinash Kar, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued the CA Department of Public Health to issue a standard, said of the new regulation “the long-delayed action today simply does not provide enough protection for people’s health. The department both inflated water treatment costs and underestimated the benefits of a stronger standard.”

This legally enforceable standard will replace the current California standard of 50 parts per billion for total chromium. Total chromium includes trivalent chromium, or chromium-3, which is not a carcinogen and is actually necessary in small amounts for human life. The federal standard, set by the EPA, is 100 parts per billion for total chromium.

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Water Professionals urge the Federal Government for Infrastructure Legislation

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Recently more than 130 water utility leaders from 46 states traveled to Capitol Hill to advocate for the creation of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA).  According to American Water Works Association (AWWA), WIFIA – when modeled after Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (commonly called TIFIA) – would be an effective way to help increase United States’ level of investment in water and waste water infrastructure at the lowest possible cost to the federal government.

According to AWWA, WIFIA would lower the cost of infrastructure investments while having little or no long term effect on the federal budget by accessing funds from the U.S. Treasury at long-term Treasury rates and use those funds to provide loans and other credit support for water projects. Funds would then flow from the treasury through WIFIA to larger water projects or to State Revolving Funds wishing to borrow to enlarge their pool of capital. Loan repayments – with interest – would flow back to WIFIA and then into the Treasury. For more information about WIFIA, please read AWWA’s white paper, A Cost Effective Approach to Increasing Investment in Water Infrastructure.

The AWWA and others have documented that our water and wastewater infrastructure is aging and that many communities must significantly increase their levels of investment to the repair and rehabilitation of water infrastructure to protect public health and safety as well as to maintain environmental standards. This year’s State of the Water Industry Report shows that water and wastewater infrastructure is the top concern for water professionals throughout North America.

“Our nation’s water systems protect public health and the environment, make fire protection possible and are vital to any community’s long-term economic growth and stability, said AWWA President Jim Chafee, “By holding down the cost of financing large water projects, WIFIA will result in lower water bills for consumers.”

To receive a free copy the 2014 State of the Water Industry Report, please visit AWWA’s website.

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Time to Define “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act

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The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are seeking public comment to define the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act in an effort to enhance protection for the nation’s public health and aquatic resources and increase predictability and consistency by increasing clarity in the definition of “waters of the United States” as protected under the act. In other words, the EPA is seeking to determine which bodies of water they have the authority to regulate under the Clean Water Act.

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the EPA, states that the agency is seeking to establish greater clarity about its jurisdiction, “we are identifying the rivers, streams, and tributaries and other water bodies that science tells are necessary to really [protect] the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our navigable waters.”

The agencies propose to define “waters of the United States” in section (a) of the Clean Water Act to mean: traditional navigable waters; interstate waters, including wetlands; the territorial seas; and adjacent waters, like tributaries, neighboring floodplains, and adjacent wetlands. Under the proposal waters in these categories would be jurisdictional “waters of the United States” by rule and no additional analysis would be required.

The proposal seeks “to ensure the regulatory definition is consistent with the Clean Water Act, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, and as supported by science, and to provide maximum clarity to the public, as the agencies work to fulfill the Clean Water Act’s objectives and policy to protect water quality, public health, and the environment.”

If you would like to leave a comment, please visit www.regulations.gov.

Celebrate World Water Day with UNICEF

WWD_2014_logo_ENAt the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) an international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended. The UN and its member nations wanted to devote a day to implementing UN recommendations and promoting activities regarding the world’s water resources. Held on March 22 of each year, “World Day for Water” or “World Water Day” is celebrated by highlighting a specific aspect of freshwater.

This year’s theme is “water and energy” and centers on how water and energy are closely interlinked and interdependent. For example, the generation and transmission of energy requires the utilization of water resources, specifically for hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal energy source. Conversely, according to UN-Water, about 8% of the global energy generated is used for the pumping, treating, and transporting of water to various consumers. This year’s key messages are:

  1. Water requires energy and energy requires water – Water is needed to produce nearly all forms of energy while energy is needed in every stage of water extraction, treatment, and distribution.
  2. Supplies are limited and demand is increasing – As the world population increases, the demand for freshwater and energy will also increase presenting a strain on resources in all regions of the world, especially in developing and emerging nations.
  3. Saving energy is saving water and saving water is saving energy – Since water and energy are so closely intertwined, decisions concerning the supply, distribution, price, and use of water and energy will impact each other.
  4. The “bottom billion” urgently needs access to both water, sanitation services, and electricity – Worldwide, about 768 million people do not have access to improved water sources, 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation, and 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity.
  5. Improving water and energy efficiency is imperative as are coordinated, coherent, and concerted policies – By understanding better the connections and effects water and energy have on each other, policy-makers, planners, and practitioners will be able to improve coordination in energy and water planning.

Join in the celebration of World Water Day by participating in the UNICEF Tap Project. UNICEF Tap Project challenges participants to put down their smartphones to fund clean water for a child in need. Donors and sponsors, including Giorgio Armani Fragrances, will donate one day of clean water for every 10 minutes a participant doesn’t move his/her phone. To participate, visit http://tap.unicefusa.org/ on your smartphone and begin the challenge!

International Joint Commission Releases New Recommendations for Lake Erie

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In a new report, released by the International Joint Commission (IJC), a U.S.-Canada agency that oversees the Great Lakes and other transboundary waters, the current phosphorus targets for Lake Erie and its tributaries are not enough to keep the lake from suffering toxic algal blooms or hypoxic dead zones. The report proposes a 46% cut in the average annual phosphorus load in Lake Erie’s central and western basins to reduce the hypoxic dead zone.

The IJC also gives specific recommendations to state and federal governments in both the United States and Canada. The recommendations focus on reducing phosphorus from the agricultural industry and on reducing dissolved reactive phosphorus. These recommendations include:

  • Listing Lake Erie as an impaired waterway under the Clean Water Act, allowing the EPA and state regulatory agencies to set Total Daily Maximum Load for the lake and its tributaries with legal requirements;
  • Expanding incentive-based programs encouraging farmers to adopt practices that reduce phosphorus and create restrictions on when and how fertilizer is applied to farms;
  • Banning phosphorus fertilizers for lawn care;
  • Increasing the amount of green infrastructure in cities; and
  • Expanding monitoring programs for water quality in the Lake Erie basin.

The IJC suggests achieving these reductions by applying Public Trust Doctrine. The Public Trust Doctrine, based on ancient governing and legal principles, would establish the Great Lakes as a “commons,” an understanding held by societies that a select group of resources – air, hunting grounds, water ways, including rivers, oceans, and lakes – are so vital that they are community assets that are to be collectively shared and protected.  The IJC views the Public Trust Doctrine as a necessary legal tool that would provide local governments the authority to protect the waters from any source that may cause harm.

According to FLOW, an environmental organization in Michigan who also advocates the use of the Public Trust Doctrine for the Great Lakes, “the public trust guarantees each person as a member of the public the right to fish, boat, swim, and recreate in Lake Erie, and to enjoy the protection of the water quality and quantity of these waters, free of impairment. The effects of harmful algal blooms – from “dead zones” that suffocate aquatic species, to toxic secretions that close beaches and pose health hazards to boaters, fishers, and swimmers – are clear violations of the public trust. Thus, as sworn guardians of the Great Lakes waters under the public trust, the states have a duty to take reasonable measures to restore the water quality and ensure that the public can fully enjoy their protected water uses.”

While the report has been transmitted to governments in both the United States and Canada, the IJC does not have the authority to take further action.

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Space: The Final Frontier… for Water?

2014-01-18-DroughtResevoir-thumbThis past year is the third year – in a row – that California has struggled with severe water shortages. The year has seen hundreds of thousands of acres of fertile farmland are fallow, the Sierra snowpack that feeds streams and reservoirs have reached historic lows, seventeen communities in California are in danger of running out of water in the next few months, and the federal government announced Friday that it could not provide any water from its reservoirs to farmers. California is not the only area suffering from moderate to severe drought, large parts of India, China, and Africa have battled droughts and the resulting food shortages in recent years.

According to a report from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, “warming temperatures associated with climate change will likely create increasingly dry soil conditions across much of the globe in the next 30 years, possibly reaching a scale in some regions by the end of the century that has rarely if ever been observed in modern times.”

Could there be a solution in rocket science?

Michael Flynn and his team at the Water Technology Development Lab might have the solution to severe droughts. The Water Technology Development Lab works to make sure astronauts don’t die of dehydration in space, particularly in the possible 3 year journey to and from Mars.

Given the constraints of any spacecraft, the only way to ensure a ready supply of water is to recycle the astronauts’ sweat and urine. Flynn and his team have found the best way to recycle sweat and urine is to mimic the human body’s own processes by using synthetic membranes that, like our intestines, are lined with lipids and proteins that evolution has engineered into ideal water filters.

A Danish biotech company, Aquaporin, has already developed this technology. Aquaporin’s biomimetic membranes are lined with aquaporin proteins, naturally occurring compounds in cell walls that blocks salt particles and toxins but allows water through. This technology requires about one-tenth of the amount of power than reverse osmosis, which requires pressure to move the water through the semi-permeable membrane. However these membranes have a shelf life as the proteins eventually unfold and lose the structure that makes them ideal. Michael Flynn and his colleagues are working with this technology to create living membranes that would be able to essentially self-repair.

Flynn and his colleagues plan to integrate the membrane into NASA’s Next Generation Life Support Water Recycling Processor as well as build the technology into spacesuits to provide an emergency system should astronauts need to spend extended periods of time outside the spacecraft. As NASA improves the technology, it will be tested on the International Space Station and in the closed-loop water systems of the NASA Ames Building known as Sustainability Base.

David Sedlak, co-director of the Berkeley Water Center and the author of Water 4.0, and others believe that while the three options for adding to the water supply – recycling waste water, desalinizing sea water, and capturing storm runoff – could benefit from the advances being explored at NASA, there is no reason to wait around for radical breakthroughs to begin addressing the dwindling water supply. He continues that we simply need the political will and capital to begin deploying them, like building more desalination plants, adding storage capacity, installing infrastructure for capturing urban storm water, and designing office buildings and homes with systems that can recycle and reuse water.

However, NASA’s work in making more reliable and less energy-intensive water membranes could make desalination and waste-water recycling more affordable and efficient. Currently there is a vast difference in the cost between traditional approaches and the emerging ones. Groundwater starts at $375 per acre foot, while recycled water begins at $1,200 per acre foot and seawater desalination costs at least $1,800 per acre foot, according to a 2010 Equinox Center analysis for San Diego County, CA.

If the National Center for Atmospheric Research is correct, the entire United States could be experiencing severe drought in the next 80 -85 years. It might be time to look to NASA for a way to create water here on Earth.

Documentary Series, “Running Dry,” Explores Water Scarcity

RunningDryDrought, failing infrastructure, and severe weather events all threaten the availability of water, both domestically and abroad. Jim Thebaut, President and Executive Producer of The Chronicles Group, explores these themes in his documentary series, “Running Dry.”

Inspired by U.S. Senator Paul Simon’s book, Tapped Out, “Running Dry” documentary series is a comprehensive public information/education project, established to raise awareness regarding the worsening global humanitarian water crisis. The first in the series, “Running Dry: The Documentary” explores the water crisis in China, India, the Middle East as well as United States. This initial documentary led to the enactment of the Water for Poor Act, which authorizes funding for water and sanitation projects in developing nations.

The second in the series is “The American Southwest: Are We Running Dry?” specifically investigates the water crisis in the American Southwest. Thebaut, in a recent interview for Water Quality Products magazine, described the crisis in the American Southwest as a “challenge to establish a long-term sustainable water supply throughout the region for its growing population without compromising its fragile ecosystem.” Giving the example of California, Thebaut continues that the current water systems “are strained to the maximum because they were designed to serve a population of 25 million and now must support 38 million, with future population projects of 50 million or more by mid-century.”

The most recent installment in the series, “Running Dry: Beyond the Brink” looks at the impact drought and water scarcity has on energy, health, agriculture, food supply and international security.

Trailers and information on screening the documentaries can be found on the “Running Dry” website.

Another Contaminated Waterway – This Time in North Carolina

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Just a little over a month since the chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River, a 48-inch storm water pipe ruptured beneath an ash basin, dumping between 50,000 and 80,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina. Between 24 million and 27 million tons of polluted water from the ash basin also poured into the Dan River.

The Dan River plant, closed in 2012, is one of Duke Energy’s seven decommissioned coal-fired plants. Duke Energy spokeswoman, Paige Sheehan, has said company tests showed only traces of heavy metals within accepted safety standards for drinking water, fish, and wildlife.

However, Waterkeeper Alliance has said its tests of water collected just yards from the spill site showed dangerous levels of toxins, including arsenic, chromium, lead, iron, and other heavy metals. Specifically arsenic levels were 35 times higher than the maximum containment level set by the EPA. Samples also collected 48 hours after the spill was discovered also showed dangerous levels of boron, manganese, zinc and iron.

The president of Waterkeeper Alliance, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said “Duke could have avoided contaminating the Dan River and poisoning Virginia’s water supplies if it had removed its toxic ash heaps years ago after being warned by the EPA.”

One year before the spill, coal ash contamination was a concern in North Carolina, prompting the state to file lawsuits against Duke Energy, asking the court to order the utility to deal with the groundwater and wastewater violations at 14 sites where the byproducts of coal power plants are stored.

It is unclear how long it will take to clean the spill, but Duke Energy is committed to clean up any damage. “We’re committed to the Dan River and the communities that it serves,” Charlie Gates, the company’s senior vice president of power generation operations. “We are accountable for what has happened and have plenty of work ahead of us.”

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Communities in California May Run Out of Water in 60 Days

SierraNevadaSnowpack_NOAA-e1391444313113While the East Coast cannot go a week without snow, the severe drought in California has left 17 rural communities, which provides water to 40,000 people, are in danger of running out of water within 60 to 120 days.

The State Water Project, the main municipal water distribution system, announced Friday that it did not have enough water to supplement the dwindling supplies of local agencies that provide water to an additional 25 million people. Many state officials believe this number will rise in the months ahead.

California state reservoir water levels are lower than they were in 1977, the last time the state endured a drought this severe. State officials are moving to put emergency plans in place, including possibly imposing mandatory water conservation measures on homeowners and businesses. In worst-case scenarios, they said drinking water will have to brought by truck into the parched communities and additional wells would have to be drilled to draw on groundwater.

Governor Jerry Brown, who was the governor during the drought in 1976-77, said “Every day this drought goes on we are going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing.”

Farmers in Nevada are not planting this year, while ranchers in Northern California and New Mexico are being forced to sell off cattle as the fields to feed them are brown with dead stalks. Fishing and camping in much of California has been outlawed, to protect the endangered salmon and guard against forest fires. Many people have already cut back drastically by taking stop-start-stop-start showers, and limiting watering plants.

Without the rain to clean the air, pollution in the Los Angeles basin, which has declined over the past decade, has returned to dangerous levels as evident from the brown-tinged air. In the San Joaquin Valley, federal limits for particulate matter were breached for most of December and January. Area schools used flags to signal when it was safe for children to play outdoors and homeowners have been instructed to stop burning wood in their fireplaces.

Sacramento has gone 52 days without water and Albuquerque has gone 42 days without rain or snow as of Saturday. Each day the drought continues, Californians will have to become more creative in sourcing water, even filtering wastewater!

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New Legislative Bill to Prevent Future Chemical Spills in Drinking Water Supplies

USSenateSealU.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee Barbara Boxer (D-CA) reached agreement on legislative language that will protect Americans from chemical spills that threaten drinking water, like the chemical spill in West Virginia. The bill, named the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act, aims to bring together in one place the tools used to provide oversight of chemical facilities and to strengthen states’ ability to prevent chemical spills that contaminate water supplies.

“The fact that there was a lack of regulations which allowed this particular storage facility to go uninspected for so many years is absurd,” Senator Rockefeller said. “I’m encouraged we are taking these steps to bring some accountability to industry that will help protect West Virginia families and our state’s economy.”

The bill includes common sense measures designed to ensure industrial facilities are properly inspected by state officials and both the chemical industry and emergency response agencies are prepared for future chemical incidents or emergencies. Key principles in the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection act include:

  • Requiring regular state inspections of above-ground chemical storage facilities
  • Requiring industry to develop state-approved emergency response plans that meet at least minimum guidelines established in the bill
  • Allowing states to recoup costs incurred from responding to emergencies
  • Ensuring drinking water systems have the tools and information to respond to emergencies

“This legislation protects children and families across the nation by providing the tools necessary to help prevent dangerous chemical spills that threaten their drinking water,” said Senator Boxer.

The senators plan to introduce the bill when Congress returns later this month.

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Trace Amounts of Pharmaceuticals Found in Water Supply

drugsinwater_147x240Did you know you have been taking trace amounts of hydrocodone for pain, ranitidine for acid reflux, and hydrochlorothiazide for congestive heart failure simply from drinking tap water? A new national study, conducted by the EPA, has found trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in water supplies nationwide.

The pharmaceuticals enter the water supply two ways: from our bodies releasing them when we urinate or from when we flush old pharmaceuticals down the toilet. Studies have proven that the low-doses of pharmaceuticals are affecting fish, frogs, and lobsters, with one study showing that some male fish are developing eggs.

In the new study, set to be released in this month’s Environmental Pollution, researchers examined water samples from 50 large-size wastewater treatment plants from all over the U.S. and tested for 56 drugs, including oxycodone, high-blood pressure medications, and over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and ibuprofen. More than half of the samples tested positive for at least 25 of the drugs monitored, with high blood pressure medications appearing in the highest concentrations and most frequently. While health officials say these compounds in water pose a low risk to humans, there are currently no models to predict the effect the cocktail of medications have on human or aquatic life.  Also there are no federal or state regulations requiring drinking water or wastewater plants to monitor for pharmaceuticals.

When pharmaceutical companies apply for a new drug approval, they have to submit an estimate of how much of the drug will end up in the environment, based on how many people they estimate will take the drug, how it will pass through the body, and how it degrades in water. If this estimate is over 1 part per billion (ppb) the FDA may ask for a more thorough evaluation of how the drug will affect aquatic life.

Shane Snyder, the co-director of the Arizona Laboratory for Emerging Contaminants at the University of Arizona, has been studying pharmaceuticals in water supplies for more than a decade. Snyder contends it would not be difficult to determine how to remove the compounds from the water, however it might be costly and the byproducts might be worse than the original contaminants.

“If you put in ozone or advance oxidation to take out a compound, when you oxidize chemicals it becomes something different,” he said. “So while it’s no longer a statin it’s not some byproduct. It’s now very common to make water more toxic after treatment than it was before treatment.”

The FDA says it is working to study the how low-levels of pharmaceuticals affect human health, but other researchers would like to see studies on the low-level mixture of pharmaceuticals in the water supply. Nick Schroeck, the executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit, says “The scary thing for me is not one particular drug, although do I want to be drinking Viagra in my water? No. It’s potentially hundreds or thousands of compounds interacting with each other and how that affects aquatic life and human health.”

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Don’t Drink the Water! Or bathe in it, cook, or even wash your clothes with it!

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About 300,000 people are without water in West Virginia after a chemical leaked into the Elk River. The chemical, 4-Methylcylohexane Methanol (MCHM), leaked from a 48,000 gallon storage tank, overran a containment area and went into the Elk River about a mile north of the state’s largest water treatment plant. Though officials are uncertain how much of MCHM spilled into the river and at what concentration, they have ordered that residents in Boone, Cabell, Kanawha, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Roane and Putnam counties not to drink, bathe, cook, or wash clothes using their tap water. Officials also stressed that boiling the water will not help to remove the chemical and to only use the water to flush toilets and put out fires. School and restaurants have been ordered to close and grocery stores are sold out of bottled water.

“I don’t know if the water is not safe,” said Jeff McIntyre, West Virginia American Water Company president. “Until we get out and flush the actual system and do more testing, we can’t say how long this (advisory) will last at this time.”

President Obama has issued an emergency declaration for the state and has ordered federal air to supplement state and local response efforts. While MCHM is not lethal in its strongest form, it is harmful if swallowed or inhaled. It can also cause eye and skin irritation. The chemical, which smells like licorice, is used as a foaming agent during the froth flotation process of coal washing and preparation.

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MIT’s Water Clubs Holds Water Summit

MITWaterClubOn December 12, MIT’s Water Club held the first MIT Water Summit to bring together water experts from industry, academia, government, and investment to discuss the challenges and cutting-edge developments in the water sector.

The day revolved around four panels, Who Owns Water, Food-Water Nexus, Water-Energy Nexus, and Emerging Pollutants. During the Who Owns Water panel, speakers discussed the exploitation of water resources as population and industrialization has increased trying to answer the question of who owns water. Speakers of the Food-Water Nexus panel discussed the complexities of improving the efficiency of water in agriculture settings while increasing food production since agriculture currently accounts for 70% of freshwater consumption today and is predicted to outstrip the water supply by 2030. The Water-Energy panel looked at how energy and water are linked  –  water is require to generate energy and energy is required to produce portable water. The fourth panel, Emerging Pollutants, examined the entry of chemicals into the environment, including pharmaceuticals, synthetic fragrances, detergents, disinfectants, plasticizers, preservatives and other chemicals found in wastewater, and agricultural or urban runoff.

Two main themes of the summit emerged: the creation of new resources for potable freshwater and the viability of recycling used water. Opening speaker, Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT, Franklin Fisher, contended that “every country with a seacoast can have as much water as it wants, if it is willing to incur the costs” of desalination. While in wealthier regions, desalination is currently a solution for dwindling water supplies, like in Saudi Arabia which gets 50% of its potable water from desalination or Dubai which receives 90%, however for less affluent regions desalination is not a viable solution without outside funding. Kenneth Strzepek, a research scientist at MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, argued that while freshwater makes up just 2.5% of the planet’s water, most of it is not consumed, but “dirtied up and put back” either as agricultural runoff, treated sewage, or as heated water from industrial cooling systems.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif closed the summit by sharing the sentiments of the panelists, speakers, and attendees by praising the MIT Water Club for its initiative in tackling the issue.

Water Contamination Confirmed at Camp Lejeune

CampLejeuneThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study confirming a long-suspected link between the chemical contaminants in the tap water at Camp Lejeune military base and serious birth defects.

The Study, released by the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, surveyed the parents of over 12,500 children born at Camp Lejeune between the years 1968 and 1985. Researchers found that babies born to mothers who drank the tap water while pregnant were four times as likely to have serious birth defects, like Spina Bifida, than babies born to mothers who did not drink the tap water. They were also found to have a slightly higher risk for childhood cancers, like leukemia. The study, similar to ones used to investigate possible reasons for disease outbreaks, relied on models and therefore was unable to determine how much of the tainted tap water those surveyed consumed. While researchers did not look at the health effects of adults who drank the tap water, more than 80 men with Camp Lejeune ties have been diagnosed with an extremely rare form of breast cancer.

This study contradicts the longstanding position of the military which has issued public statements downplaying the health risks for decades. After decades of extensive testing, the most contaminated wells were closed in 1984 and 1985 after dangerous concentrations of toxins associated with degreasing solvents and gasoline. A prior CDC study cited a February 1985 level of trichloroethylene of 18,400 parts per billion in one drinking well – nearly 4,000 times today’s maximum allowed health limit. In previous studies the contamination was traced to several possible sources including on-base leaking storage tanks, industrial spills, a leaky fuel depot and an off-base nearby dry cleaner.

In 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Camp Lejeune Veterans and Family Act to provide medical care and screening for the Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune and eligible family members. The Act requires health care for one or more 15 specified illnesses or conditions, including female infertility, miscarriage, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and bladder, breast, esophageal, kidney and lung cancers.

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The EPA is Looking for a Few Good Men and Women

EPALogo_132x132The EPA has posted a request for nominations for a three-year appointment to the National Drinking Water Advisory Council. The National Drinking Water Advisory Council was established by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to provide practical and independent advice, consultation, and recommendations to the EPA Administrator on the activities, functions, policies, and regulations required by the Act. The EPA needs to fill five vacancies; two vacancies will represent state and local agencies concerned with water hygiene and public water supply while three vacancies will work with private organizations or groups who demonstrate an active interest in the field of water hygiene and public water supply.

The National Drinking Water Advisory Council members represent the general public, state and local agencies, private organizations or groups, including small, rural public water systems, as they relate to water hygiene and public water supply. Any interested person and/or organization may nominate qualified individuals for membership. While all nominations will be considered there are specific criteria that will be used to evaluate, including an absence of financial conflicts of interest. For more information about nominating an individual, please visit the Office of Federal Register website

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National Drought Resilience Partnership

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As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Administration has created the National Drought Resilience Partnership to help communities better prepare for future droughts and reduce the impact of drought events on livelihoods and the economy. Spearheaded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Partnership will coordinate the delivery of Federal Government policies, programs, information, and tools designed to help communities plan for and respond to drought. Along with the Department of the Interior, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Energy, the Partnership will make it easier to access federal drought resources and will help link information like monitoring, forecasts, and outlooks with longer-term drought resilience strategies in agriculture, municipal water systems, energy, recreation, tourism, and manufacturing.

For its first year, the Partnership has four main goals: create a new web-based portal to ease access to federal agency drought recovery resources; host more frequent regional drought outlook forums, which provide access to experts and locally relevant information; support the coordination of the national soil moisture monitoring network to help improve forecasting and monitoring drought conditions; and identify a single point of contact for the public.

Working with local, state, and regional governments, the Partnership will also start a pilot project in an area hit hard by drought to create a local-scale drought resilience plan that could be applied in other areas. The Partnership will also address high-priority funding and technical assistance needs in rural communities in 16 states, including Texas, with special emphasis on historically underserved communities.

“Last year, the worst drought in generations devastated farms and ranches across the nation, and the Obama Administration took every possible measure to help. But our work isn’t done and we can always better prepare for the future,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, “Today’s partnership will help rural residents, farmers, ranchers, and business owners prepare for drought events like the one we experienced in 2012.”

The National Drought Resilience Partnership reflects the work of the White House Rural Council which focuses on job creation and economic development of rural areas, including working to increase capital flow, the creation of jobs, and access to quality health care, education, and housing. The Partnership also follows the President’s November 2013 Executive Order on preparing communities for the impacts of climate change.

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Ethanol Looked Like a Greener Alternative, But Was It?

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Ethanol looked good on paper. Compared to the oil industry and the environmentally unfriendly practice of hydraulic fracturing, growing more corn to produce the green fuel of ethanol looked like the smart solution. It’s why presidential candidate Barack Obama made it the centerpiece of his environmental plan to slow global warming and why President George W. Bush signed a law in 2007 requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline each year. However, in an AP investigative story released today, the production of ethanol has proven far more damaging to the environment than originally promised.

When the ethanol mandate was passed, Congress required the EPA to study the effects the increase in corn production would have on water and air pollution, but the administration has never conducted the studies. According to AP’s estimates, corn farmers have increased their use of nitrogen fertilizer by 2 billion pounds since 2005. Many officials and environmentalist say this increase in fertilizer is having a dire effect on the local water supplies as well as international water. For example, the Des Moines Water Works, which supplies drinking water to 500,000 people, has faced high nitrate levels for many years in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. Usually when pollution is too high in one river, workers would draw water from the other, but this past year saw high nitrate levels in both rivers. For three months this past summer, workers kept water filtration machines running around the clock to clean the drinking water and asked customers to use less water so the machines had a chance to keep up!

Last year’s dry weather kept the nitrogen-based fertilizer atop the soil in the fields. This spring’s rains flushed the fertilizer into the water. The nitrates in the fertilizer travel through the local waterways into the Gulf of Mexico, where they help boost the growth of the enormous algae fields. As the algae die and decompose, they consume the oxygen in the water leaving behind a zone where no aquatic life can survive. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico covered 5,800 square miles of seafloor, roughly the size of Connecticut.

Corn-based ethanol as an alternative to oil and natural gas looked like a greener alternative, but left unchecked the increase corn production has created more of an environmental mess. To read more about the push for green energy from corn-based ethanol and its effects on the environment, please click here.

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Quick Review of Federal Government Water News

In recent weeks, all three branches of the Federal Government have made environmental or water news. Below is a quick review of the stories:

The House passed $8.2 billion water projects bill

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act allows the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed work on 23 shipping channel, flood management, and other water projects as well as gives the “go-ahead” for a slew of new projects, including flood protection projects, and port expansion projects. The bill also shelves older, inactive projects. The Bill has passed the Senate with amendments and the White House is not threatening a veto.  For more information about the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, please click here.

Environmentalists are getting creative

Environmental activists are working to apply existing laws to control atmospheric emissions. From the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA is required to regulate greenhouse gases in the air. Following similar train of thought, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a federal suit against the EPA stating that under the Clean Water Act the EPA should regulate ocean acidification since it is largely caused by CO2 emissions.  To read more about the suit, check out The Grist’s article.

The Supreme Court respectfully declines

The Supreme Court declined to review a Florida water case that the US EPA claims sets a harmful precedent for the length of time environmental groups have to challenge the agency’s regulations in court. The EPA has ruled that water transfers between two sources, like from the canals to Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida, do not require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System or NPDES permits, which mandate that point sources meet pollution limits. However, environmentalists and public health advocates are trying to force the EPA to require the permits for the water moved from the canals to Lake Okeechobee. The case centers on which court has jurisdiction over an environmental group: the federal district court which gives environmentalists 6 years to file or the appellate court which gives them 120 days. Read more about the Florida water case and the Supreme Court’s decline here.

President Obama signs an Executive Order  on Climate Change Impacts

On Friday, President Obama established a Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the Administration on the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change. The Executive Order directs federal agencies to:

  • Modernize Federal programs to support climate-resilient investments, like agency grants, technical assistance, and other programs in sectors from transportation and water management to conservation and disaster relief.
  • Manage lands and waters for climate preparedness and resilience, including natural storm barriers like dunes and wetlands.
  • Provide information, data and tools for climate change preparedness and resilience
  • Plan for climate change related risk by developing and implementing strategies to evaluate and address their significant climate change related risks by building on the Federal agency adaptation plans released earlier this year.

For more information on the Executive Order, please visit the White House website.