- At a White House summit, the Biden administration pledges financial and regulatory support for tribal nations.
- The EPA proposes increasing the amount of biofuels in the nation’s energy supply through 2025.
- The Justice Department proposes an independent operator for the Jackson, Mississippi, water system.
- The Interior Department allocates $250 million for Salton Sea restoration.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines a Nevada toad species is endangered due to geothermal energy projects and groundwater pumping.
- The Senate passes a bill to authorize a Great Basin lakes monitoring program.
- The EPA approves Denver’s approach to removing lead drinking water pipes.
And lastly, Congress signs legislation to avert a railroad workers’ strike.
“Our nation’s rail system is literally the backbone of our supply chain, as you all well know. And so much of what we rely on is delivered on our rail, from clean water to food and gas and every other good. A rail shutdown would have devastated our economy.” — President Joe Biden, who signed legislation to avert a rail strike that could have prevented water utilities from accessing essential treatment chemicals like chlorine.
By the Numbers
$250 Million: Federal funding pledged to accelerate projects to prevent toxic dust from swirling around California’s shrinking Salton Sea. The bulk of the funds are contingent on local water agencies carrying out their lake restoration plans.
$75 Million: Federal funding for three tribal nations to move homes and critical infrastructure away from climate threats like rising seas. The recipients are the Quinault Indian Nation, in Washington, and Newtok Village and Native Village of Napakiak, both in Alaska.
In conjunction with a White House summit, the Biden administration proposed strengthening water quality standards for rivers and lakes in order to preserve the ability of Indian tribes to fish, gather, and use their lands in ceremonies.
The proposal lays out the process by which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will set water quality standards, a requirement under the federal Clean Water Act.
Tribal members often eat more fish than the general public and are more vulnerable to pollutants that accumulate in fish tissue. In recent years, the EPA has ordered states to revise their pollution limits to protect tribal uses.
Biofuels Targets Rise
The EPA is proposing to increase the amount of ethanol and other biofuels in the nation’s energy supply through 2025, when the target will be 10 percent larger than today.
Biofuels are touted as a domestic fuel source, but corn-based biofuels are also linked to water depletion in the High Plains, water pollution, and degradation of prairie.
This is the first time the EPA has set biofuels targets under the program that began in 2006. Before now, the targets were mandated by Congress.
The EPA plans a public hearing on its proposal on January 10, 2023. To sign up send an email to RFS-Hearing@epa.gov.
Jackson Water Crisis
The Justice Department will install an independent operator to temporarily oversee the troubled drinking water system in Jackson, Mississippi. The department filed the proposal in federal court after the city and state agreed to its terms.
Federal lawyers also filed suit against Jackson, a temporary measure until negotiations can take place to shore up the creaking water system. Pumps at one of two treatment plants failed in August during heavy rains.
The third-party operator proposed in the filling is Ted Henifin, who retired this year as the general manager of Hampton Roads Sanitation District, in Virginia.
Henifin told WJTV that his top priority is staffing.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed as an endangered species the Dixie Valley toad, which lives in Nevada and is at risk mainly from geothermal energy development but also from groundwater pumping, climate change, and agriculture.
The agency acted after receiving a petition in 2017 from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Studies and Reports
Disadvantaged Communities Map
The White House released a mapping tool that will help identify disadvantaged communities — those that bear a history of pollution and underinvestment. They are supposed to receive at least 40 percent of the benefits of the administration’s climate, clean energy, and clean water spending.
EPA Management Challenges
The EPA Office of the Inspector General identified the agency’s eight top management challenges for 2023.
They include wisely spending infrastructure dollars, adapting to climate change, ensuring regulatory compliance, and integrating environmental justice.
On the Radar
Reservoir Storage in the Western States
Entering a pivotal winter, reservoirs in California and the Colorado River basin are well below normal.
A teacup diagram from the Bureau of Reclamation — now updated with modern graphic design — shows the status of major reservoirs as of December 1.
With La Nina conditions in place — meaning drier than normal in the southwest — the next three months are not expected to bring much relief.
Lead Pipe Removal in Denver
The EPA issued final approval for Denver Water’s approach to addressing lead drinking water.
The variance allows Denver Water to forgo the use of a chemical designed to reduce corrosion in favor of a plan to remove all lead service lines while also carefully monitoring water chemistry to prevent lines from deteriorating while in the ground.
Denver Water did not want to use orthophosphate to manage corrosion because it would require additional costs to remove the chemical from the wastewater system.
Great Basin Lakes
The Senate passed a bill that would authorize a U.S. Geological Survey program to assess saline lakes in the Great Basin and their role as habitat for migratory birds.
A multi-state region centered on Nevada, the Great Basin is a closed hydrological system. Its rivers do not flow to the ocean.
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
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