EPA to Develop Natural Gas Wastewater Standards

On October 20, EPA announced its plans to develop a comprehensive set of national standards for wastewater discharges produced by natural gas extraction from underground coalbed and shale formations.  This announcement is part of the effluent guidelines program, which is required to publish a biennial outline of all industrial wastewater discharge rulemakings underway.  No national standards currently exist for the disposal of wastewater from natural gas extraction activities.

EPA will be looking at the potential for cost-effective steps for pretreatment of this wastewater based on practices and technologies that are already available and being deployed or tested by industry to reduce pollutants in these discharges.  EPA’s plan includes gathering data, consulting with stakeholders from industry and public health groups, and soliciting public comment on a proposed rule for coalbed methane in 2013 and a proposed rule for shale gas in 2014.  The schedule for coalbed methane is shorter because EPA has already gathered extensive data and information in this area.

For more information, visit EPA’s web site at: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/cwa/304m/.


 

Four News Items on Source Water and Sustainability

Following are four articles from today’s ASDWA Weekly Update newsletter that you should find interesting and useful for your work.

State Source Water and Land Use Project Updates

The project team of The Trust for Public Land, Smart Growth Leadership Institute, ASDWA, and River Network have new information to share about six of the eight source water and land use demonstration projects that have been completed to date.  To find out more about these demonstration projects that took place in Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Oregon, and Utah, visit the web site at: landuseandwater.org.  There, you can find a one page summary for each of the completed state demonstration projects with links to their final reports.  Information about the next two state projects in Missouri and New York will be added after they are completed, by summer 2012.

News from the USGS Cooperative Water Program

New this quarter is a revised web page for the Cooperative Water Program (http://water.usgs.gov/coop ).  You may learn about and directly access water data on streams, groundwater and water quality, as well as selected products released in 2011 on water availability, ecosystem health, water quality and drinking water, water hazards, energy, and climate. Featured, for example, are the following:

  • study and model, developed in cooperation with the City of Newport News Waterworks, on effects of possible future sea-level rise on increasing salinity in southeastern Virginia tributaries to Chesapeake Bay.

For questions on specific studies or USGS programs in individual States, please contact the USGS Water Science Director in the respective State by clicking on the “map” in the right hand corner or toggle box in the left sidebar.   Comments and feedback on the Cooperative Water Program and/or on the new web page are welcome (email: pahamilt@usgs.gov).

New Studies Improve Understanding of the Hydrogeology and Groundwater Quality of Southwest Basin-fill Aquifers

Recent studies by USGS’ National Water-Quality Assessment Program provide information about the hydrogeology and groundwater quality of unconsolidated basin-fill aquifers in the arid to semiarid Southwest, and of the natural and human factors that affect the water quality in these aquifers.  Results are available in two reports describing:  (1) hydrologic and groundwater-quality conditions in 15 Southwest basins (available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1781/); and (2) regional conceptual models of the natural and human factors affecting groundwater quality across these basins (available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5020/). Study basins are located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

Information presented in the reports can serve as a resource and foundation for those interested in the hydrogeology and groundwater quality of basin-fill aquifers in the southwestern United States. A related report describing statistical models of nitrate and arsenic occurrence is planned for release in 2012.  If you have any questions, please contact Susan Thiros (sthiros@usgs.gov; 801-908-5063).

WaterSense Partners of the Year Recognized for Dedication to Water Efficiency

EPA has recognized five organizations and one individual as the 2011 WaterSense Partners of the Year.  More than 2,200 partners make WaterSense labeled products and new homes more affordable and easy to find, including the six Partners of the Year who have shown outstanding contributions to water-efficiency.  WaterSense partners nationwide are manufacturing and selling a range of products, supporting green jobs, and promoting the protection of water resources.  WaterSense recognized partners in each of the following sectors — award winners shown in parenthesis:  Promotional Partner (Cobb County [GA] Water System); Manufacturer Partner (Delta Faucet Company); Retailer Partner (The Home Depot); Builder Partner (KB Home); Licensed Certification Provider for WaterSense Labeled New Homes (Energy Inspectors Corporation); and Irrigation Partner (Christopher Curry).

For more information on the Partners of the Year and Excellence Award winners, visit http://www.epa.gov/watersense/partners/watersense_awards.html

For more information on EPA’s WaterSense partnership program, visit http://www.epa.gov/watersense/

Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Nutrient Pollution

On October 4th, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife held a hearing entitled, “Nutrient Pollution: An Overview of Nutrient Reduction Approaches.”  During the hearing, Senators Cardin (D-MD) and Inhofe (R-OK) spoke about the U.S. nutrient pollution problems as well as the associated hypoxic zones and harmful algal blooms and two panels of witnesses provided testimony and answered questions.  The first panel focused on Federal agency efforts and initiatives, and the second panel focused on state and local activities.

 

Key discussion points from witness testimony and questions during the first Federal agency panel were as follows:

  • Bill Werkheiser of the USGS provided information from USGS scientific reports on nutrients.  He noted that tile drains accelerate nitrogen transport three times faster than normal runoff and that conservation practices affect groundwater and streams differently depending on geologic settings and soil permeability.  He also noted that nitrate concentrations in groundwater will increase over time from nitrate that is already in the ground, due to delayed times of travel to reach the aquifer.
  • Nancy Stoner, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, highlighted the health and economic impacts (including drinking water impacts) of nutrient pollution, harmful algal blooms, and the associated beach closures and fishing bans.   She noted that EPA has renewed its commitment to work with states to address nutrient pollution using a range of regulatory and non-regulatory tools and strategies.  The Agency will also work closely USDA and USGS to implement nutrient reduction efforts on the ground.  EPA will encourage states to use 319 and SRF programs to fund nutrient reduction projects, including implementing Chesapeake Bay TMDLs.
  • Dave White, Chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided information about the funding USDA is using to work with landowners to implement conservation and farm practices to protect water quality.   He noted that a lot more work still needs to be done, but indicated that the problem would be far worse, were it not for the various projects NRCS has sponsored.
  • Some discussion also centered on state flexibility to develop numeric or narrative nutrient standards as well as the associated costs and the complexity of site specific scientific analyses and criteria development.  This included questions about EPA taking over the development and implementation of Florida’s nutrient criteria.

Key discussion points from witness testimony and questions during the second state and local panel included:

  • George Hawkins, the General Manager for the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DCWASA) highlighted the costly efforts that his utility has undertaken to reduce nutrient loads to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that are being paid for by increased rate hikes to its customers.  Of particular note was the fact that DCWASA recently spent $900 million to decrease its nutrient load, which only accounts for two percent of the load to the entire Chesapeake Bay.  Hawkins offered that a nutrient trading program with farmers (who received a comparatively small amount ($20 million) of USDA funding for conservation practices) would work to greatly offset the burden to DC ratepayers and more effectively decrease nutrient loads to the Bay from agricultural runoff and other sources.
  • Shellie Chard-McClary, an ASDWA Member and Association of Clean Water Administrators (formerly ASIWPCA) Board Member, and Division Director for the Water Quality Division at the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, provided testimony on behalf of the ODEQ and ACWA.  She highlighted her state’s efforts to address and reduce nutrient pollution through the use of both narrative and numeric nutrient standards for different water bodies throughout the state.  She remarked that states need flexibility to use different approaches and strategies to address site-specific nutrient problems for different water bodies and segments of water bodies.  She noted that Oklahoma’s efforts to date are proving to be successful, but that much more work still needs to be done.
  • Other speakers included:  Andy Buchsbaum of the Great Lakes National Wildlife Federation who provided recommendations for EPA and USDA to improve their programs; Nick Maravell, an owner and operator of an organic farm in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed who is implementing environmentally friendly practices; and Richard Budell of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service who strongly objected to Federal setting of Florida’s nutrient criteria and felt that this was a state prerogative.

To view the live recording of the webcast, and to read the testimony of each witness, visit the Senate EPW web site at:  http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_id=ac6c2c31-802a-23ad-4a5a-9dce7b8eb51f.

DOI Report Cites Need for Improved Water-Monitoring and Modeling Systems

On October 3, the Department of the Interior (DOI) published a report to Congress entitled, “Strengthening the Scientific Understanding of Climate Change Impacts on Freshwater Resources of the United States.”  The report assesses the status of scientific information available to help understand the impacts of climate change and other stressors on the nation’s water resources and calls for modernization of systems to help monitor and sustain water supplies.  A Federal interagency panel led by the USGS developed the report in concert with the Council on Environmental Quality, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The report underscores the importance of maintaining, enhancing or developing adequate water measuring and monitoring systems to track water availability and quality so that water managers can make decisions about allocations of water and the infrastructure that helps it flow with the best information available.  The report also provides suggestions about ways to modernize data systems, management, modeling and water measurement tools and highlights the need to coordinate data among agencies.  Programs highlighted for modernization include: the National Streamflow Information Program, the National Groundwater Monitoring Network, and implementation of the National Water-Quality Monitoring Network.

This report also builds upon the April 2011 Bureau of Reclamation’s SECURE Water Act Report that highlights climate challenges and impacts in the eight western river basins available online at: www.usbr.gov/climate.

This is also part of the DOI’s efforts to implement the SECURE Water Act and to help meet the water challenges of the future.  DOI established the WaterSMART program in February 2010 that includes the USGS National Water Census.  The SMART in WaterSMART stands for “Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow.”  More information about WaterSMART is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART/.

EPA Releases its Healthy Watersheds Framework and Action Plan

On September 26, EPA released its Healthy Watersheds Initiative National Framework and Action Plan 2011.  This is a collaborative product of EPA Headquarters and Regions, plus other state, Federal, and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners including the Association of Clean Water Administrators (formerly known as ASIWPCA) and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  The Action Plan is a living document that will guide EPA and state partner efforts to meet EPA’s Strategic Plan Goal 2 Objective to protect the nation‘s high quality watersheds, prevent impairments, and accelerate the restoration of watersheds and aquatic ecosystems.  The Agency hopes to advance this non-regulatory initiative by integrating this goal into existing EPA and state water programs.

This Framework and Action Plan identifies the separate actions of EPA Headquarters, Regions, and states according to the goals and concepts of the Healthy Watersheds Initiative (HWI).  When reviewing the document you should note that while reduced treatment costs for drinking water utilities are mentioned as a benefit of the HWI, and that source water protection is mentioned in the EPA Headquarters goals and actions, source water protection is not mentioned in the state actions, and state drinking water programs are not specifically listed as partners.  However, following are the state clean water program actions outlined in this national plan, all of which will include opportunities (even though they are not specifically stated) for state drinking water program engagement:

  • Inventory healthy watersheds using integrated assessments developed through collaboration across state agencies and with other partners.
  • Develop and implement coordinated healthy watershed protection programs both at the state level and collaboratively at the local level.
  • Develop partnerships with other states, Federal agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders to inventory and protect healthy watersheds.

Relevant to these actions, ASDWA’s Source Water Committee and Nutrients Workgroup members provided comments to EPA on the draft guidance document for implementing the HWI entitled, “Identifying and Prioritizing Healthy Watersheds: Concepts, Assessments, and Management Approaches” in June of this year.  The recommendations in ASDWA’s comments that are applicable to the actions outlined here for states are as follows:

  • Include drinking water as a designated beneficial use when conducting the watershed assessments, which can also help drive an increased selection of water quality monitoring parameters. The locations of public drinking water intakes and wells also provide a good screening tool for identifying an important beneficial use that may not be otherwise designated in state rules or policies.
  • Use the source water assessment data and maps to ensure that water supply intake areas and wellhead protection areas (where interacting with surface waters) are considered in each state’s healthy watershed assessment, planning, and implementation process.  This can ultimately help protect drinking water supplies from contamination and possibly prevent the need for increased treatment costs in the future.
  • Ensure that drinking water utilities are included as partners where applicable, particularly for implementing protection programs at the local level.

In addition to finalizing the draft implementation guidance that ASDWA commented on, this Action Plan indicates that EPA Headquarters also plans to begin:  identifying funding resources; formally signing MOUs with its Federal partners; and developing Strategic Plan reporting measures as well as a research action plan.  The Agency also expects to conduct outreach efforts that increase awareness and understanding about the importance of the HWI.

ASDWA will continue to provide updates to states on the Healthy Watersheds Initiative as any new information becomes available.  For more information and to view the Framework and Action Plan, visit EPA’s web site at:  http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/watershed/hwi_action.cfm.