We considered over 1,200 pieces of peer-reviewed & published scientific literature when writing the Clean Water Rule. http://t.co/kmJpEzSJWr
— U.S. EPA (@EPA) March 25, 2015
— Western Govs Assoc. (@westgov) March 25, 2015
Addressing less than 10 people at the Four States Ag Expo on Saturday, March 21, Colorado Representative J. Paul Brown said his top legislative issue was water storage. He’s introduced HB 1157, a bill to study water storage on the South Platte River.
A member of the House Agriculture Committee, Brown said the bill had received broad support, even from environmentalists. He added that sending water from the state’s Western Slope via transcontinental diversion had to be addressed. Since 2010, 2.5 million acre feet of water has been sent out of state on the South Platte River, Brown said.
“We don’t have anymore water to send down,” the District 59 representative proclaimed.
Much of the American west has experienced drought-like conditions in 11 of the past 14 years. Scientists have warned the area could be entering a 35-year mega drought.
“I keep hoping that we’re getting out of the drought,” said Brown. “I’m an eternal optimist. You have to be as a farmer.”
A life-long sheep rancher in Ignacio, Colo., Brown said the worst drought he experienced came in 2002.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but storage is the answer,” said Brown.
Brown added the agriculture committee had received lots of water concerns. He explained a balance was necessary between demands from environmentalists calling for more in-stream flow regulations, for example, and agriculture needs.
“Agriculture is the second leading industry in state at $40 billion,” said Brown. “That’s why we need to store water on the South Platte.”
During the informal agriculture summit discussion, one man questioned Environmental Protection Agency actions.
“The EPA wants a complete power grab,” responded Brown.
Indicating the federal government would control water collected in potholes if they could, Brown said the state would have to be remain vigilant against additional regulations and oversight.
“When they control water, then they control you,” Brown warned.
More 2015 Colorado Legislation coverage here.
The Obama administration is promising to rewrite its proposed Clean Water Act rule to ensure that farmers have clear guidance about what streams, ditches and ponds will be regulated.
Speaking to the National Farmers Union annual convention in Wichita, Kansas, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the final rule is being prepared for White House review, and that the administration still intends to complete it this spring.
EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are working to tighten the definitions of ditches, tributaries and farm-field erosional features to narrow what areas fall under the law’s jurisdiction as “waters of the United States” (WOTUS), she said.
“We are going to come out with a rule that is not only reasonable but implementable,” she said.
The final rule will be accompanied by extensive guidance in a question-and-answer format that will include photographs to make it easier for farmers to understand what areas of their land might be regulated, she said.
“You will have a catalog of your questions answered by putting together real-life things that you’re doing on your farms and ranches,” she said.
The National Farmers Union, unlike the larger American Farm Bureau Federation, was initially supportive of the proposed rule when it was released a year ago but later began to raise concerns as well. In comments filed last fall, NFU pressed EPA to rewrite the definitions to make clear that the agency would not increase the law’s jurisdiction. NFU is scheduled to debate its policy positions on Tuesday.
McCarthy told the group that the administration had bungled the rollout of the rule and should have called it the “Clean Water rule” rather than WOTUS. “Even if we had a less-than-ideal start, that doesn’t preclude us from getting this done right,” she said.
She offered no specifics about the revised language. But she said the final rule would make clear, for example, that erosional features in a farmer’s field would be exempt and that the agency was considering rewriting the definition of “upland ditches” to make it less confusing.
Officials also are “thinking through ways to be more specific” about the definition of “other waters,” which includes wetlands, a critical issue in the northern Plains, she said.
She said the definition of tributary would be made clear that the rule would only cover “natural or constructed streams – the ones that could carry pollution downstream-which have to have the amount, duration and frequency of flow to look, act, and function like a tributary. They are the ones that we don’t want to pollute or destroy without thinking about how to mitigate impacts downstream.”
From The New York Times (Emmarie Huetteman):
The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced the first federal guidelines for disposing of coal ash, instructing power plants to implement safeguards against contaminating nearby water supplies.
But the agency did not require many of the restrictions that had been urged by environmentalists and other advocates, who point to studies showing coal ash — the material that remains when coal is burned to produce electricity — contains a significant amount of carcinogens.
“This rule is a pragmatic step forward that protects public health while allowing the industry the time it needs to meet these requirements,” said Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. administrator.
The E.P.A. declined to designate coal ash a hazardous material, but said power plants would have to meet certain minimum structural standards for landfills and disposal ponds, and monitor them for leaks. If a breach is discovered, it will be the utility company’s responsibility to reinforce or close the pond. New ponds and landfills will have to be lined to provide a barrier against leaks. Controls must be used to prevent people from breathing in coal ash dust.
Power plants will also have to report the results of their inspections on a public website. The rule provides little oversight, leaving it to citizens and the states to sue if power plants are suspected of not adhering to the E.P.A.’s guidelines.
The rule is a victory for electric utility companies and the coal industry, which had decried the increased financial burden that would have been placed on companies to revamp their existing disposal facilities if the E.P.A. had decided to phase out ponds and impose other, stricter guidelines.
The decision also reinforced the growing, multibillion-dollar coal ash recycling business, in which coal ash is used to make wallboard, concrete and other products. The United States produced nearly 114.7 million tons of coal ash in 2013, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the American Coal Ash Association. Of that, less than 51.4 million tons were reused.
Officials celebrated the end of what they characterized as a costly period of uncertainty for an environmentally friendly industry.
“This stuff is just as safe as we thought it was before the rule-making started, and it’s time to keep that growth going,” said Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association.
Advocates for stronger restrictions on coal ash expressed disappointment in the rule, especially that coal-fired power plants would be allowed to continue dumping the ash into existing ponds that they are left to largely police themselves.
“As we’ve seen over the past six years, irresponsible storage of coal ash by big utilities has caused unprecedented disasters and threatened the health and safety of Americans around the country,” Frank Holleman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “While there are some new tools for addressing our nation’s coal ash problem in these new federal protections, there are glaring flaws in the E.P.A.’s approach.”
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“When the day’s done, the E.P.A. regulates toxic coal ash less stringently than household waste,” said Lisa Evans, a lawyer with Earthjustice who used to work for the E.P.A.
More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.
From the Colorado Corn Growers Association via the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:
Leaders with the Colorado Corn Growers Association recently submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, voicing concerns about the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. CCGA leaders stressed they believe the intentions of federal officials in their WOTUS rule-making efforts (clarifying protection under the Clean Water Act) are wildly different from what the outcome will actually be (an expanded jurisdiction of the EPA).
Below is a portion of the letter submitted to the EPA by CCGA President Dave Eckhardt:
“As president of the Colorado Corn Growers Association, I agree whole-heartedly with many of the points made by our National Corn Growers Association leaders in the letters they’ve sent you regarding this rule. Like them, I believe this unprecedented increase in jurisdiction must not be finalized without first undergoing significant revision. I also agree there is tremendous uncertainty we face because of the way the rule defines what is ‘tributary,’ and what is ‘adjacent.’ And it concerns me as well that a vast number of ditches are or could be subject to federal jurisdiction, and if these or other waters like them on my farm are made jurisdictional, I fear I would face serious risk of lawsuits.
“But my concerns and those of so many others here in Colorado go beyond that, largely because of our unique water situation, and our local rules and restrictions that are so different here than in other places across the U.S. That is the point I want to stress above all others; I find it impossible that the EPA can create a one-size-fits-all set of rules for everyone, when, just to provide one very basic example, places like the Midwest need systems and rules in place to divert excess water off their fields, while we in Colorado and across the West require infrastructure and regulations to divert limited water on to our fields. There are just so few consistencies region-to-region when it comes to water functions, making it incredibly difficult to create something that works for everybody.”
Eckhardt—who, in May, hosted a gathering of EPA officials at his farm in LaSalle, Colorado, to discuss this proposed rule—also noted in his letter it isn’t just farmers in the state who are concerned. Municipalities and many other non-ag water officials across Colorado have also voiced their dire concerns about how this would impact our complex water system and unique set of local regulations.
Leaders with the National Corn Growers Association—as well as ag organizations and other groups across the U.S.—have also weighed in.
“We appreciate efforts to bring greater clarity and certainty to the understanding of what are waters of the U.S. Unfortunately, this proposed rule provides neither,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling. “This rule will adversely impact more than 300,000 corn farmers. As it is currently written, the financial and practical consequences for farmers are unacceptable.”
Bowling emphasized that NCGA has and will continue to work with the EPA to create a fair and workable rule. In October, Bowling, too, hosted nearly a dozen EPA staffers at his southern Maryland farm, part of a series of meetings between NCGA and the Agency on WOTUS.
“Farmers are proud of their conservation efforts and are committed to protecting and restoring water quality,” said Bowling. “We have and will continue to work with federal and state agencies and other organizations that care about water quality.”
More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.
From CUIndependent.com (Gabriel Larsen-Santos):
In early September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted $4 million to CU Boulder’s engineering department to establish a national center to improve drinking water treatment facilities for small towns and rural communities.What do you think?
Known as DeRISK, or Design of Risk Reducing, Innovative Implementable Small System Knowledge Center, this new center will develop sustainable methods to reduce water contaminants.What do you think?
“In order to create more natural and cost-efficient water treatment systems, we’re focused on improving how these systems are implemented, as well as developing technologies that don’t require any chemical addition,” said Professor R. Scott Summers, director of DeRISK and an engineering professor at CU.What do you think?
Hundreds of various contaminants are legally discharged into rivers and aquifers across the United States every day, causing harmful chemicals to flow into drinking water.What do you think?
“This center will facilitate public health for the rural communities that don’t have access to low-cost treatment options,” Summers said.What do you think?
DeRISK has two major focuses — a front end of outreach and ease of communication, and a back end of developing non-conventional technologies for public use.What do you think?
“Part of what we’re doing is evaluating sustainability,” said Elizabeth Shilling, a 22-year-old graduate student researcher and environmental engineering major. “This includes the cost of building facilities, the ongoing cost of operations, and also environmental factors — waste and emissions management.”What do you think?
It’s more difficult for rural communities to afford the scientists and technicians that larger urban water treatment facilities employ. But other resources, such as cheaper and more plentiful land, put some rural communities in a unique position over cities to benefit from non-conventional water purification systems.What do you think?
Examples of non-conventional systems that minimize overall costs include using the sun’s ultraviolet radiation to purify water in ponds, or using bacterial filters that reduce chemical contaminants. Conventional water treatment includes methods like water chlorination, which may be right for some communities, but produces chemical byproducts.What do you think?
Most importantly, DeRISK is developing a uniformed approach to make it simpler and more affordable for rural communities to implement the water treatment technology that suits their environment. Small towns might have miles of pipeline between two houses, so water quality is more likely to degrade in rural areas as it stagnates in the pipes and develops bacterial contaminants.What do you think?
“In order to make it easier for smaller drinking water plants to figure out the best treatment system for their parameters, we’re developing a sustainability index,” Shilling said. “Basically, it will show these small town facilities which technology would be best for them in terms of long term costs and environmental impacts.”What do you think?
One of the many goals of DeRISK is to develop technologies that can be installed in the distribution systems themselves, instead of in centralized water treatment facilities, which is the solution typically utilized across the United States. This would ensure that water remains drinkable no matter how far it travels from the primary treatment center.What do you think?
“We see it as a service to public health,” Summers said. “So that when you stop at a gas station someplace out in the country and you drink from the water fountain, you won’t have to worry if the water’s safe to drink, because that gas station could double as a water treatment facility.”
More water treatment coverage here.