In the Pipeline
Wastewater Infrastructure Security
On May 7, 2003, the House approved legislation to authorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make grants for vulnerability assessments, technical assistance and security enhancements at our nation?s wastewater treatment works.
The Wastewater Treatment Works Security Act of 2003 (H.R. 866), authorizes $200 million for wastewater utilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and implement security enhancements at publicly owned treatment works, $15 million for technical assistance on security measures to small wastewater utilities and $5 million for the further development and refinement of vulnerability self-assessment methodologies and tools for wastewater utilities.
"This legislation is designed to help wastewater treatment utilities take immediate and necessary steps to improve security at their facilities and to fill a remaining major security gap with our nation?s critical infrastructure," said House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK). "This is the same bipartisan bill that passed the House in the last Congress. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act on it then. I urge our colleagues in the other body to pass H.R. 866 as soon as possible, so that we can begin to address this issue."
U.S. Water Scarcity Problems
Farming, industry and water supply representatives outlined the growing problems of meeting the nations water supply needs at a June 4, 2003, congressional hearing.
The hearing by the House Transportation Committees Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee was one of a two-part series planned on examining water scarcity and responses to water supply problems. Such problems have recently led some to call water the "oil" of the 21st century.
"As we enter the 21st Century, demands for water are growing and are outstripping supplies in many areas, both in the West and East," said U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN), chairman of the subcommittee.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, highlighted the economic importance of water supply to the nation's agriculture industry and the impacts of water supply problems facing all parts of the United States. He also described the impact of problems on the Mississippi River.
Ronald Gastelum, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, outlined the methods his organization is taking to ensure an adequate long-term water supply for a dense populace living in a naturally dry area.
Water conservation and recycling, supply improvements, storage and desalination are some of the tools the supplier is using to manage water resources.
$15 Million in Grants for Watershed Initiative
Former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced nearly $15 million in grants to 20 watershed organizations selected as part of a new Watershed Initiative to support community-driven initiatives that protect habitats, improve water quality and enhance outdoor recreation.
"This national competition for these Watershed Initiative grants generated an outpouring of outstanding proposals, each with the enthusiastic support of their respective governors and Tribal leaders," Whitman said. "EPA is very excited to commit significant federal dollars to support these top watershed efforts, all of which will serve as national models for other communities to follow. The organizations selected today stand ready to achieve on-the-ground water quality improvements. Two years from now, I am confident that we will see cleaner water and measurable environmental change -- such as the return of native bass and trout fisheries and increased recreational opportunities."
Regional and national experts selected the winners from a field of more than 176 nominations based on the demonstration of the ability to achieve on-the-ground environmental results in a short time frame. Each of these watershed organizations exhibited strong partnerships with a wide variety of support, showed innovation and demonstrated compatibility with existing governmental programs.
The 20 winning watersheds include:
- Meduxnekeag River, Maine
- Narragansett Bay, R.I., Mass.
- Charles River, Mass.
- Raritan River, N.J.
- Susquehanna Headwaters, N.Y., Pa.
- Christina River, Pa., Del.
- Dunkard Creek, Pa., W.Va.
- Upper Tennessee River, Va., Tenn., N.C.
- Cumberland River, Tenn., Ky.
- Great Miami River, Ohio
- Greater Blue Earth Watershed, Minn., Iowa
- Manistee River, Mich.
- Rio Puerco Watershed, N.M.
- Bayou Bartholomew, Ark.
- Rathbun Lake, Iowa
- Upper White Watershed, Ark., Mo.
- Clark Fork-Pend Oreille, Mont., Idaho, Wash.
- Upper South Platte, Colo.
- Hanalei Bay, Hawaii
- Lower Columbia River Ore., Wash.
The winning watersheds cover more than 90,000 square miles of the nation's lakes, rivers and streams. Funds will go toward restoration and protection projects, such as stream stabilization and habitat enhancement, implementing agricultural best management practices and working with local governments and homeowners to promote sustainable practices and strategies. The grants range from $300,000 to $1 million.
Whitman announced the grants on May 2, 2003, at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association's Watershed Nature Reserve in Pennington, N.J., and presented a $15 million check to the nation's watersheds.
For more information log on to www.epa.gov/owow/watershed/initiative.
Algal Blooms Bill
On June 5, 2003, the House Science Subcommittee on Environment approved by unanimous consent H.R. 1856, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research Amendments Act of 2003. The legislation would provide about $30 million annually over three years for research to better respond to and control the problems caused by harmful algal blooms, which can deprive water bodies of oxygen needed to support aquatic life.
H.R. 1856, sponsored by Subcommittee Chairman Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI), is designed to deal with organisms that cause "dead zones" and other biological problems in the nations coastal areas and the Great Lakes. The subcommittee estimates algal blooms cost the U.S. economy upwards of $50 million a year. The full Science Committee will consider H.R. 1856 later this summer. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-OH) introduced similar legislation (S. 937) that was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on April 29, 2003.
To view the text of the bill, visit thomas.loc.gov.
National Listing of Fish and Wildlife Advisories
EPA Assistant Administrator for Water G. Tracy Mehan III released the annual National Listing of Fish and Wildlife Advisories on June 4, 2003, which is designed to protect susceptible populations such as young children and women of child-bearing age. The report highlights a 93 percent increase in state safe eating guidelines, which are issued to inform the public that fish caught from specific waterbodies have been tested and are safe to eat.
"States are warning the public about chemical contaminants in fish tissues and informing the public about which fish and which waterbodies are safe. This promotes the enjoyment of recreational fishing," said Mehan. "I want to especially congratulate Alaska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas for the outstanding job they are doing in identifying areas where the fish is safe to eat."
The safe eating guidelines began in 1993, and only 20 guidelines were issued. The number increased slowly until 2002, when 164 new safe eating guidelines were issued. Currently 3,084 miles of rivers and 4,342,920 lake acres nationally have safe eating guidelines for at least one fish species in the continental United States.
"Our expectation is that these guidelines will grow as additional states identify safe fishing waters," said Mehan. "States are doing a better job of monitoring and have flexibility in the different types of advisories they issue."
For example, some advisories recommend no or limited consumption of some species caught during recreational fishing, while others may recommend certain preparation and cooking methods to reduce risks. An advisory may be targeted to the population at large, to specific groups such as pregnant women and/or children; it may be limited to certain sizes or species of fish, or it may apply to fish caught in a particular section of a waterway or to all waterways.
Although there are advisories for a total of 39 chemical contaminants, most advisories involve five primary contaminants: mercury, PCBs, dioxins, DDT and chlordane.
The National Listing of Fish and Wildlife Advisories and additional information on fish consumption advisories are available at www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish or by contacting your local department of health.
Arsenic in New England Private Wells
A study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has found that potentially more than 103,000 people who use private wells for drinking water in parts of eastern New England could have water supplies with arsenic levels that are higher than federal standards.
"Part of the USGS' mission is to use science to address public health and safety issues," said Joseph Ayotte, USGS hydrologist and principle scientist of the study. "The level of arsenic found in these wells may be associated with health concerns, primarily cancer."
About 80 percent of drinking water in New England is publicly supplied and 20 percent is privately supplied from bedrock wells. The USGS conducted a similar study on New England public drinking water wells in 1999 and provided the information to state environmental and health agencies, which regulate and treat public water supplies to ensure compliance with federal standards.
"Moderate to high concentrations of arsenic are known to occur in wells in eastern New England, but the importance of this study is that private wells are not regulated and do not have to meet federal standards," Ayotte said. He said that arsenic is known to occur naturally in bedrock throughout New England.
The USGS sampled 88 private bedrock wells in 2001 and 2002 in western Maine, eastern New Hampshire and Massachusetts and all of Rhode Island. Concentrations of arsenic exceeding EPA's standard of 10 parts per billion in 17 percent of the water samples were found. The study results describe where the arsenic was found in eastern New England and what natural earth processes, such as rock type and chemistry could be controlling its occurrence. Finally, an analysis was done to estimate the number of people using private wells with arsenic greater than 10 parts per billion (ppb).
Pacific Northwest Water Temperature Guidelines
EPA Region 10 issued its final guidance to help the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho to adopt temperature water quality standards that EPA can approve consistent with its obligations under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The CWA requires states and authorized tribes to adopt water quality standards and requires the EPA to approve or disapprove those standards. The ESA requires EPA, in consultation with the federal fisheries agencies, to ensure its approval of a state or tribes water quality standards does not jeopardize the continued existence of endangered or threatened species.
Water temperature is a critical aspect of the freshwater habitat of Pacific Northwest salmon and trout. These fish, including those listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, need cold water to survive. Human-caused increases in river water temperatures have been identified as a factor in the decline of ESA-listed fish in the Pacific Northwest.
The guidance represents one approach for water temperature standards that a state or tribe could adopt that would likely pass the complex approval process. The guidance, however, is optional and states and tribes can adopt alternative standards as long as EPA determines they meet CWA and ESA requirements.
The guidance can be accessed at www.epa.gov/r10earth/temperature.htm.
This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2003 issue of Environmental Protection.