New USGS Water Quality Tracking Tool for Rivers and Streams

The U.S. Geological Survey has developed a new online graphical data tool that tracks water quality in the nation’s rivers and streams.  The tool can be used to:

  • Compare recent water-quality conditions to long-term conditions (1993-2013) at each site,
  • Download water-quality datasets (streamflow, concentrations, and loads), and
  • Evaluate nutrient loading to coastal areas and large tributaries throughout the Mississippi River Basin.

The tool also provides annual summaries of nutrient and sediment concentrations and loading information that can provide water resource managers with timely information to track how loadings and concentrations are changing over time in response to nutrient reduction actions.  Graphical summaries are available for 106 river and stream sites monitored as part of the USGS’s National Water-Quality Network for Streams and Rivers.  Pesticide data will also be included in future updates.  To access the online tool, visit the USGS web site.

OIG Recommends EPA Action to Manage Potential Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts on Water Resources

On July 16, EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report that shares findings from a review evaluating how the EPA and states use existing authorities to regulate the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water.  The report findings are based on a performance audit that included a literature review and interviews with EPA, states, and stakeholders.  This included OIG interviews at EPA Headquarters, three EPA regional offices (3, 6, and 8), and three states (Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Colorado).  During the interviews, OIG asked EPA and states questions about their respective programs that regulate the different stages of unconventional oil and gas development, ongoing initiatives to address potential impacts to water resources, practices observed from industry or implemented by the agency, and their views regarding gaps in regulations.  Based on the review findings, the OIG report recommends that:

  • The EPA Assistant Administrator for Water identify whether primacy states and tribes are issuing permits for the use of diesel fuels as required.
  • The EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance address any compliance issues related to issuing permits for hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuels.
  • The EPA Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention establish and publish a plan with milestone dates that outlines all steps for determining whether to propose a rule to obtain information concerning chemical substances and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing.

EPA has adequately responded to the recommendations by either agreeing with them or proposing actions to address them.   For more information and for questions, please call the OIG public affairs office at 202-566-2391 or visit www.epa.gov/oig.  The full report is available at:  http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2015/20150716-15-P-0204.pdf.

WaterSense Launches When In Drought Campaign

WaterSense, an EPA partnership program that offers people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes and services, has launched its When In Drought campaign. This campaign will amplify drought messaging in western states, and will create awareness that summer time is the most critical time to save on watering.  For example, in California, utilities are concerned about meeting mandated cuts if summer water usage does not decrease.  When In Drought campaign materials include an animated video that describes actions (plant the right plants, take a sprinkler break, switch to WaterSense products, etc.) everyone can take to save water.  To coincide with this campaign WaterSense is hosting a #WaterSavingYard Photo Challenge on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to showcase how beautiful drought-tolerant landscapes can be.  For more information, visit the web site HERE.

White House Report on Federal Actions to Address Climate Change

The White House has released a progress report and highlighting some of the key actions taken by the Administration that support the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force recommendations on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.  The President established the Task Force in 2013 as part of his Climate Action Plan to help the Federal Government respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change. The Task Force recommendations emphasized the importance of supporting communities that are likely to be disproportionately affected, including those that already face economic- or health-related challenges.  In addition to the progress report, the White House is also announcing a series of new actions focused on enhancing resilience in the communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change that includes over $25 million in private and public investments.  Visit the web site to view the report HERE.

USGS Report on Water Use for Hydraulic Fracturing

On June 30th, the US Geological Survey released new information about water use related to hydraulic fracturing.  The study reports that the amount of water used in the fracking process varies depending on location and type of well.  Water volumes for hydraulic fracturing averaged within watersheds across the United States range from as little as 2,600 gallons to as much as 9.7 million gallons per well.

According to the USGS press release, “From 2000 to 2014, median annual water volume estimates for hydraulic fracturing in horizontal wells had increased from about 177,000 gallons per oil and gas well to more than 4 million gallons per oil well and 5.1 million gallons per gas well.  Meanwhile, median water use in vertical and directional wells remained below 671,000 gallons per well.  For comparison, an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds about 660,000 gallons.”  Watersheds where the greatest amount of water was used for fracking include those in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi as well as those found in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations covering parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York.

The USGS Report is entitled “Hydraulic fracturing water use variability in the United States and potential environmental implications,” and has been accepted for publication in Water Resources Research, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.  More information about this study and other USGS energy research can be found at the USGS Energy Resources Program.

Forest Service Withdraws Proposed Groundwater Directive

On May 7, 2014, the Forest Service published an action proposing to amend its internal Agency directives for the National Forest System (NFS) to establish direction for management of groundwater resources on NFS lands.  The proposed amendment was intended to provide internal Agency direction on the consideration of groundwater resources in Agency activities, approvals, and authorizations; encourage source water protection and water conservation; establish systematic procedures for reviewing new proposals for groundwater withdrawals on NFS lands; and require the evaluation of potential impacts from groundwater withdrawals on public resources on NFS lands.

States and a number of other organizations raised concerns that the proposed directive would exceed the Agency’s authorities and infringe on state authorities to allocate water.  While maintaining that the proposed directives did not, and any future actions will not, infringe on state authority, the Forest Service has withdrawn the proposed directive and announced that next steps would be to establish a clearer and more consistent approach to evaluating and monitoring the effects of actions on groundwater resources of the National Forest System.  The Agency plans to have further discussions with key sectors and the public on this issue.  The Notice of Withdrawal appears in the June 19th Federal Register (80 FR 35299).

EPA Releases Draft Assessment of Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts to Drinking Water Sources

On June 4, EPA released its “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources.”  The assessment is based on EPA’s study and follows the water used for hydraulic fracturing from water acquisition, chemical mixing at the well pad site, well injection of fracking fluids, the collection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and wastewater treatment and disposal.  State regulators, tribes, local communities, and industry can use the information in the assessment to identify the best ways to protect public health and their drinking water resources from hydraulic fracturing practices.

EPA’s assessment found some specific instances where well integrity and waste water management related to hydraulic fracturing activities impacted drinking water resources, but these numbers were relatively small compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells across the country. The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, though some are not unique to hydraulic fracturing.

These vulnerabilities to drinking water resources include:

  • Water withdrawals in areas with low water availability;
  • Hydraulic fracturing conducted directly into formations containing drinking water resources;
  • Inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below ground migration of gases and liquids;
  • Inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources; and
  • Spills of hydraulic fluids and hydraulic fracturing wastewater, including flowback and produced water.

The Federal Register Notice with information on the SAB review and how to comment on the draft assessment will be published on Friday June 5, 2015.  For a copy of the study, visit www.epa.gov/hfstudy.  To submit comments on the report, go to:  http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/fedrgstr_activites/HF%20Drinking%20Water%20Assessment?OpenDocument

USDA Announces New Water Conservation Funding for Ogallala Aquifer Region

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has just announced that it is investing $6.5 million in FY ’15 funding through the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) to help farmers and ranchers conserve billions of gallons of water and improve water quality over the next four years. Funding will be targeted to seven focus areas in five states (Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas) to support their primary water source and strengthen rural economies.  The Ogallala supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the US. It has long been the main water supply for the High Plains’ region and is being depleted at an unsustainable rate.  This conservation investment builds on $66 million that NRCS has invested through OAI since 2011, which helped farmers and ranchers conserve water on more than 325,000 acres.   View the NRCS news release HERE.

USDA Now Accepting FY ’16 Proposals for Regional Conservation Partnership Program

USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is now accepting proposals for FY ’16 projects.  ASDWA encourages states to consider partnering with your water utilities and their local producers to submit a project proposal aimed at improving or protecting drinking water quality.  RCPP efforts are intended to increase the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and related natural resources on regional or watershed scales.  Eligible partners include:  state, local, and tribal governments; water utilities; private companies; universities; non-profit organizations; and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.  Last year, the RCPP funded 115 projects across all 50 states and Puerto Rico for a total of more than $370 million, and were estimated to leverage an additional $400 million in partner contributions.  This coming year, the RCPP will again provide $225 million for projects (at up to $10 million per project) through three funding pools:

Iowa serves as a great example for other states who are considering partnering on RCPP projects.  In Iowa, the state drinking water program partnered with the City of Cedar Rapids on the RCPP funded Middle Cedar Partnership Project to work with local conservation partners, farmers and landowners to install best management practices such as cover crops, nutrient management, wetlands and saturated buffers to help improve water quality, water quantity, and soil health in the Cedar River Watershed.

Pre-proposals for the RCPP are due July 8, 2015. For more information and to apply, read the announcement for program funding and visit the NRCS web page.

April 28th CWA-SDWA Toolkit Webinar Video Now Available

Thanks to everyone who was able to join us for the April 28th CWA-SDWA Toolkit Webinar on Using Water Quality Standards, Monitoring, Assessment, and Impaired Waters Listings to Protect and Preserve Drinking Water Quality.   Approximately 195 people participated from across the nation representing multiple state water programs, EPA Headquarters and Regions, and other agencies and organizations.  The audio/video recording of this webinar and the presentations highlighting more detailed information about Sections 1 – 2 of the toolkit, as well as three state examples from New York, Oregon, and Colorado are now available on ASDWA’s web site at www.asdwa.org/sourcewaterprotection.  You may also view the video HERE.