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Obama Declares Lead Drinking Water Emergency in Flint, Michigan; Governor May Seek More Federal Funds

President Barack Obama Saturday declared a federal emergency in Michigan, freeing up to $5 million in federal aid to help with the lead water crisis in Flint. The declaration means the federal government will pick up 75% of the cost of bottled water, filters, cartridges and other supplies, up to $5 million, state and federal officials said. If the $5 million is exhausted, Congress has the option to approve additional funding. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder this week made the request to help the city of 100,000, which began experiencing high lead levels in its water after a switch of water source to save money. The president declined a further request by the governor to declare the situation a major disaster, which under law applies to natural disasters and certain other situations, state and federal officials said. The state is looking into an appeal of that decision, the governor’s office said. The water crisis has been unfolding for months in the Rust Belt city, which is still synonymous with closed General Motors plants and the decline of the U.S. auto industry. State officials and others now believe lead began leaching from service lines and plumbing into residents’ drinking water when the city switched its water source to the Flint River in April 2014. The temporary switch was part of a cost-cutting move away from Detroit’s water system before Flint could begin receiving water from another authority in 2016. The city stopped using the Flint River as its water source this fall, after the extent of the contamination became apparent. The percentage of children in Flint with elevated levels of lead nearly doubled from 2.1% before using water from the Flint River to 4% in 2015, according to a report released in September by a medical center in the city. Wall Street Journal 1/16/16

 

El Nino Welcomed to Drought-Stricken California

Despite the potential for flooding and mudslides, storms moving toward California were welcome news for a state suffering from a severe four-year drought. The first of the storms drenched the state on Tuesday, but California's water deficit is so deep after four years of drought that a "steady parade of storms" like these will be needed for years to come, said Mike Anderson, climatologist for the state's Department of Water Resources. NBCSanDiego 01/07/16

 

Obama Signs Bill Banning Water Polluting Microbeads

The bill signed by President Obama gives toothpaste, shampoo, facewash and other cosmetics manufacturers until July 1, 2017 to stop making products with microbeads and until July 1, 2018 to stop selling the products. The new law is known as the Microbead-Free Waters Act (H.R. 1321) and was introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) Scientists have found evidence of microbeads in numerous bodies of water in the United States, including increasingly in the Great Lakes, the world’s largest source of freshwater. In addition to contributing to the buildup of plastic pollution in waterways, microbeads can be mistaken by fish and other organisms as food. If consumed by fish, the chemicals found in synthetic plastic microbeads can then be passed on to other wildlife and humans. Florida Water Daily 12/30/15

 

EPA Broadens Clean Water Regulations
The Obama administration expanded federal protection of U.S. waterways and drinking water supplies Wednesday, issuing a rule through the Environmental Protection Agency that also clarifies which rivers, streams, ponds and wetlands may be covered by the Clean Water Act. The measure, known as the Clean Water Rule, has attracted intense opposition from fertilizer companies, the agriculture sector, energy producers and conservative lawmakers in Congress, who describe it as a “federal overreach” that will hamper economic growth and drive up costs for farmers and chemical producers. The rule was proposed jointly last spring by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, which were expected to release additional details Wednesday afternoon. It has previously been referred to as "Waters of the United States."  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said Waters of the U.S. will not hamper economic growth.

More than 117 million Americans draw their drinking water from streams that may not be protected by the Clean Water Act. The law, enacted in 1972, granted the federal government broad powers to limit pollution in so-called “navigable” waterways like the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. A pair of Supreme Court Decisions in 2001 and 2006, however, muddied the waters, making it unclear whether the act also covered smaller bodies like groundwater, headwaters, streams and wetlands that feed those larger waterways. The Clean Water Rule restores some – but not all – of that authority, the EPA and Obama administration said.  “Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable to pollution,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable.” The rule, he added, was explicitly written to avoid “getting in the way of farming, ranching or forestry.”

The Clean Water Rule reportedly upholds exemptions for agriculture. However, some tributaries that may be dry for prolonged periods but feed larger waterways when flooded will be covered by the new rule, federal officials said. Farmers must pay fees or obtain permits for work that may send polluted water into any body covered by the Clean Water Act.  US News and World Report_5/27/15

 

EPA Loophole Allows Streams of Wastewater in Wyoming

The Environmental Protection Agency last month issued revised permits for oil companies to dump literally rivers of wastewater—including hydraulic fracturing fluids—on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

Some of the chemicals the companies have told the EPA they are adding to the wells, or that have been found in the wastewater, include benzene, arsenic and hydrogen sulfide. These chemicals are known to or likely to cause cancer or other serious effects when consumed or breathed in at high enough concentrations. The remote streams of wastewater are used by livestock and wildlife, but not by people as drinking water, creating a regulatory loophole.

High Country News_ 4/14/15

MIT Water Innovation Prize Awards Three Student Startups with $20,000 in Innovation Grants

As concerns about water scarcity, a growing world population, and mounting pressures from climate change put further strain on our global water resources, so does the MIT community strive harder than ever to promote the importance of water innovation. On April 6, the student-led MIT Water Club hosted the final pitches for its inaugural Water Innovation Prize — an opportunity for MIT students to work in tandem with real-world investment, corporate, and/or entrepreneurial mentors on ventures with application in monitoring and analytics, oil and gas, recycling and reuse, and drinking water and sanitation.

Newsoffice.MIT.edu_4/15/15

California Water Issues

Drought to Deluge? El Nino's Impact on California
As bad as California's drought has gotten, a strengthening El Nino season could mean help is on the way, bringing much needed showers to the Golden State. But El Nino may present its own problems. A CNBC analysis of annual California rainfall over the past 60 years shows a significantly wetter rain season—averaging nearly five more inches of rain during moderate to very strong El Nino events. In fact, the six wettest years in California over the last half-century followed at least a moderate El Nino recording. The likelihood that the United States will in 2015 experience an El Nino that persists all the way through summer now stands at 90 percent, according to the Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Weather Service that focuses on El Nino forecasts. Meteorologists like Jan Null say there are no guarantees when it comes to weather modeling, but a strong El Nino event could be coming.  CNBC_5/27/15

With Eye On Water, State Sued Over Oil Regulations

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday, May 7, seeking an immediate halt to oil and gas development at 2,500 wells across California, saying the state is not doing enough to protect precious groundwater.

The suit seeks to halt emergency regulations issued by the Department of Conservation after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raised concerns about state oversight of the oil and gas industry when it comes to potential drinking water sources, a hot-button issue as California endures a fourth year of drought. The rules call for industry wastewater injections into federally protected aquifers to be phased out, but environmentalists say it should be stopped immediately. Monterey County Herald_ 5/7/15

California Regulators Approve Unprecedented Water Cutbacks to Combat Drought

California regulators approved sweeping, unprecedented restrictions Tuesday on how people, governments and businesses can use water amid the state’s ongoing drought in the hope of enticing residents to conserve more water.  The State Water Resources Control Board approved rules forcing cities to limit watering on public property, encouraging homeowners to let their lawns die and imposing mandatory water-savings targets for hundreds of local agencies and cities that supply water to California customers.  Gov. Jerry Brown sought to tighten the already strict regulations, arguing that voluntary conservation efforts have not yielded the water savings needed amid a four-year drought. Brown ordered water agencies to cut urban water use by 25 percent from levels in 2013, the year before the drought emergency was declared.  FoxNews.com_5/6/15

California Farmers Are Watering Their Crops With Oil Wastewater, And No One Knows What’s In It

As California farmers face a fourth year of the state’s historic drought, they’re finding water in unexpected places — like Chevron’s Kern River oil field, which has been selling recycled wastewater from oil production to farmers in California’s Kern County. Each day, Chevron recycles and sells 21 million gallons of wastewater to farmers, which is then applied on about 10 percent of Kern County’s farmland. And while some praise the program as a model for dealing with water shortages, environmental groups are raising concerns about the water’s safety, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

Tests conducted by Water Defense, an environmental group founded by actor Mark Ruffalo in 2010, have found high levels of acetone and methylene chloride — compounds that can be toxic to humans — in wastewater from Chevron used for irrigation purposes. The tests also found the presence of oil, which is supposed to be removed from the wastewater during recycling.


“All these chemicals of concern are flowing in the irrigation canal,” Scott Smith, chief scientist for Water Defense, told ThinkProgress. “If you were a gas station and were spilling these kinds of chemicals into the water, you would be shut down and fined.” ThinkProgress.org_5/6/15__

California Water Saving Mandate Shrinks Cuts for Some Cities

 In an acknowledgment that some areas have done a better job of conserving water during California's severe, and worsening drought, state water officials on Saturday rolled out a revised water-reduction plan that eases required cutbacks for some communities while increasing mandatory targets for others.

The plan's release ahead of the summer season when water use typically spikes came in the wake of criticism that Gov. Jerry Brown's statewide reduction mandate was too broad and penalized too many communities that have already curtailed water use.  San Jose Mercury News_ 4/18/15

Nestlé's Permit to Pump California Spring Water Expired Decades Ago

Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water officially takes its name from a rock formation in the San Bernardino Mountains. But news that the company, which is owned by the food giant Nestlé, has been pumping spring water out of the San Bernardino National Forest under a permit that expired in 1988 puts the brand more in line with the historic water grab of Lake Arrowhead than with any geological feature.

Takepart.com_ 4/14/15

California Gov. Jerry Brown Signs $687 Million Drought Relief Bill

The bi-partisan legislation requires the state’s Department of Public Health to adopt new groundwater replenishment regulations by July 1, and the State Water Resources Control Board and the Department of Public Health to develop other ways that allow the recycled water and storm water to increase the available water supply. Southern California Public Radio_3/1/14

Around the U.S.

Michigan Attorney General Apparently Changes His Mind and Investigates Lead in Flint Water

Attorney General Bill Schuette says his office is investigating the Flint water crisis. Less than a month ago, an aide said an investigation was unnecessary because federal authorities and other agencies were reviewing the matter. Flint's tap water became contaminated with lead after the city switched water supplies in 2014 while a new pipeline was under construction. Corrosive water leached lead from old pipes. Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized for lead-tainted water in Flint. He is requesting a federal disaster declaration and millions of dollars that could pay for clean water, filters and other essentials. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the request will be considered "expeditiously." AP/ABC News 1/16/16

 

What Did Michigan's Governor Know About Lead in Flint's Water, and When Did He Know It?
Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency Tuesday due to lead in the Flint water supply. The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it is investigating what went wrong in the city. Several top officials have resigned, and Snyder apologized. But that’s only so comforting for residents. They’re drinking donated water supplies—though those donations are reportedly running dry—or using filters. Public schools have been ordered to shut off taps. Residents, and particularly children, are being poisoned by lead, which can cause irreversible brain damage and affect physical health. It could cost $1.5 billion to fix the problem, a staggering sum for any city, much less one already struggling as badly as Flint is. On Thursday, while declaring the state of emergency, Snyder wouldn’t say when he became aware of the lead problem in Flint. The Atlantic 01/09/16

 

Fracking, Wastewater-injection Wells Raise Ohio’s Quake Rrisk, Feds Say

It wasn’t that long ago that Denison University professor Erik Klemetti added a caveat when he taught his students about earthquakes. “When I used to show (seismicity) maps in my intro class, I’d say, ‘Ohio is about as earthquake-free as you get,’??” Klemetti said. “Now, it has a bull’s-eye on it, at least to some degree.”That bull’s-eye, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey report, is directly linked to  hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas and to injection wells for fracking wastewater. The report was the survey’s first large-scale examination of the connection between earthquakes and oil and gas extraction. Geologists identified 17 regions across the country, including the area around Youngstown in northeastern Ohio, that are at higher risk of earthquakes because of oil and gas activities. The report focuses largely on Oklahoma, where magnitude 3.0 earthquakes, once uncommon, now occur nearly every day. This increased seismic activity, the report’s authors say, is directly linked to injection wells, where fracking wastewater is pumped underground at high pressure. Oil and gas activities have created hundreds of earthquakes in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Ohio, the report found. The Columbus Dispatch_5/4/15

Senior Staff Leave St. Johns River Water Management District; Environmental Worry Over Impact

Four senior staffers are abruptly leaving the St. Johns River (Fla.) Water Management District, alarming activists who say their knowledge is needed to protect the region’s water supplies.  “This is another move to dumb-down the district and erode our water-quality protection,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman, who said there had been rumors of a push coming to clear out key staff.

Robert Christianson, a division director for strategic planning, and Tom Bartol, assistant director at another division who had overseen complicated water supply studies, resigned “in lieu of termination,” letters they filed Tuesday with the agency said.  District Chief of Staff Jeffrey Cole also resigned, and Hal Wilkening, a division director whose work included overseeing a plan to supply water to Northeast Florida, filed notice that he was retiring after 32 years at the agency.

 

The notices were signed the day after the acting executive director, Mike Register, took over the agency’s top staff post, succeeding former head Hans Tanzler.  “While I do not believe that it is productive or necessary to expound upon the reasons for the resignations, my decision to accept them was based upon my conclusion that it was in the best interest of the district,” Register said In a written statement.

Activists disputed that, saying the four have about a century of experience between them and their leaving creates knowledge gaps that will hurt the agency.

 

The water management district controls permits to pump water from the aquifer for homes, businesses and farms in an area covering 18 counties where close to 5 million people live. It’s also responsible for protecting water levels that support Florida’s varied wildlife and plants, and ensuring aquifers aren’t harmed by excessive withdrawals.  Serving both goals has become harder over time, particularly in high-growth areas of Central Florida where communities have made plans to tap the St. Johns River as another source of water. Jacksonville.com_ 5/6/15

Water War: State Senators Blast EPA’s ‘End Run'Rule

Virginia’s 21 Republican state senators say a “Waters of the United States” rule targets farmers and could cost the state and landowners untold millions of dollars.

Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, called the proposed regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “an attempted end-run around Congress and two Supreme Court rulings.”

“(It) would significantly expand the scope of ‘navigable waters’ subject to the Clean Water Act jurisdiction by regulating small and remote waters,” the senators stated in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.  “By increasing federal jurisdiction over lands, the rule would establish federal power to regulate farming and other land uses,” wrote Chafin, an attorney and farmer who sits on the state Senate’s Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.  FoxNews.com_5/6/15

Shipping Great Lakes Water? That's California Dreaming

Amid rising water supply crises, could the parched American Southwest ever get its hands on the world's most abundant and valuable liquid fresh water supply — our Great Lakes?  Setting aside the astronomical expense and infrastructure requirements, as a policy matter, a large-scale diversion of Great Lakes water is a virtual impossibility. But that's only because of states and Canadian provinces around the lakes coming together to solidify protections within the last decade.

Don't think the idea of a raid on Great Lakes water is that far-fetched. Plans were in the works to allow a Canadian company to sell Lake Superior water to Asia via tanker ships as recently as 1998. A coal company in 1981 wanted to pipe Superior water to Wyoming to move its semi-liquefied product back to the Midwest. And in 1982, Congress mandated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study the feasibility of using Great Lakes water to replenish supplies needed for the heavily agricultural Plains states. (It wasn't feasible.)  Detroit Free Press_4/19/15

International News

China’s Grand Plan to Fight Water Pollution

The government’s recently released plan for water pollution sets ambitious goals for cleaning up the country’s heavily polluted bodies of water, a step forward in a long battle against heavy pollution.
On April 16, the State Council, China’s cabinet, unveiled its Action Plan for Water Pollution Prevention and Control, the official roadmap for tackling the worsening water pollution, a source of rising public discontent. Sources close to policy makers said the drafting of the plan took about two years and underwent 30 revisions. Dubbed “10 measures for water,” the plan is the latest official effort to tackle China’s pollution problems, following a similar version targeting air pollution in 2013. The latest plan says that by 2020 some 70% of seven major rivers, including the Yangtze, Yellow, Pearl and Huai, will be in good condition. The figures will rise to 75% by 2030. Overall improvement of water quality nationwide and of aquatic ecosystems can be expected by 2050, it says. CAIXIN_5/4/15

Radisson Blu Partners with “Just a Drop,” International Water Aid Charity

To raise awareness of the millions of people across the globe that do not have access to safe drinking water, Radisson Blu hotels around the world will hold Walk for Water events on April 22-24. The events will benefit the “Just a Drop” international water aid charity.  Over the course of three days, beginning on Earth Day, April 22,Radisson Blu hotels will invite guests to walk for roughly 35 feet/10 meters carrying ‘jerry cans’ full of water to illustrate the daily struggle millions of people around the globe face in their efforts to access safe drinking water. For every 330-feet/100 meters walked, Radisson Blu will donate the funds to provide one child with safe drinking water for life through Just a Drop.  Through these events, Radisson Blu expects to provide more than 280 children with access to safe drinking water. Forimmediatrelease.net_4/17/15

 

Wastewater

Feds Laud Energy-Saving Efforts at Fort Worth Wastewater Reclamation Facility

You may not want your wastewater, but one of nature’s curiosities is that there are creatures out there that do. Very tiny little creatures, with questionable taste. Fort Worth’s Village Creek Water Reclamation Facility has found a way to put those microorganisms to good use, capturing the methane they release to power 75 percent of the plant’s energy needs — a bit of ingenuity that has made the site a model of energy-saving success. “We take what nature does and speed it up,” said Jerry Pressley, the facility’s water-systems superintendent. “There’s very much a science to it. We’ve established conditions that favor one group of organisms to do what we want them to do.” Dallasnews.com_4/19/15

FROM SEWAGE TO DRINKING WATER

Potable water reuse or recycling — purifying wastewater so it can be used as drinking water — eliminates the need for a separate network of purple pipes. However, it also has faced fits and starts in this region because of the “yuck factor” and other reasons.  In January, (San Diego) Mayor Kevin Faulconer and some environmentalists formed a coalition to promote potable water recycling. Their name for the concept: the Pure Water Project. From each gallon of wastewater, the city envisions converting 80 percent into ultra-clean water and flushing the remaining 20 percent as waste.  The pitch is part of a complex request that needs clearances from federal and state regulators. The plan is to release the repurified water into reservoirs, to be treated again along with incoming fresh water. This plan is called “indirect potable reuse,” as opposed to direct potable reuse, in which repurified water is directly piped back to customers.  If all goes well, the city estimates that by 2035 it can produce 83 million gallons of drinkable water per day from the project. That would be about one-third of San Diego’s total potable water consumption by then.  UTsandiego.com_ 4/18/15

Study Raises Questions About Measuring Radioactivity in Fracking Wastewater

Commonly used testing methods may underestimate the total radioactivity of wastewater produced by gas wells that use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to tap the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation in the northeastern United States, concludes a new study. The findings suggest government agencies should consider retooling some testing recommendations and take a fresh look at possible worker exposure to potentially harmful waste, the authors say. But some outside researchers are skeptical that the laboratory study reflects real-world conditions.  Sciencemag.org_4/9/15

 

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