Coverage of the latest developments in water and drilling matters in the government.

Senate Revolving Fund
Bill To Be Reintroduced

Senator George Voinovich, Ohio, plans to reintroduce legislation to reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. The new legislation, known as S.170 reportedly will be the same as S.252, the Clean Water Infrastructure Financing Act that he introduced last year. S.252 amended the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to remove certain requirements for states with respect to construction of treatment works under capitalizing grant agreements. It directed the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assist states in establishing simplified procedures for small systems to obtain assistance under the Act and required revolving funds to be used only for providing assistance for activities that have as a principal benefit the improvement or protection of water quality of navigable waters. S.252 provided for an extended repayment period and additional subsidization with respect to loans made to financially distressed communities from revolving funds. Finally, the legislation reauthorized appropriations at $3 billion a year from fiscal year 2002 through 2006 for the revolving fund program.

EPA Finalizes Water
Quality Trading Policy

The EPA recently issued a final Water Quality Trading Policy in the Federal Register. “The Water Quality Trading Policy I am announcing today recognizes that within a watershed, the most effective and economical way to reduce pollution is to provide incentives to encourage action by those who can achieve reductions easily and cost-effectively,” said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman at a press conference. Whitman also emphasized the Bush administration’s commitment to using watershed-based approaches to meet the nation’s clean water goals. Bruce Knight, chief of the National Resources Conservation Service, expressed support for the policy because it enlists the voluntary support of farmers and ranchers to improve water quality and provides market-based incentives. The EPA also noted that it is providing $800,000 in fiscal year 2002 funding to support 11 trading projects across the country, including those in the Chesapeake Bay, the Long Island Sound, the Neuse River Basin in North Carolina and others. The EPA plans to produce technical guidance documents to assist in the implementation of the policy and may hold a conference for practitioners on how to establish a trading program.

U.S. May Open Oil Reserve

The Bush administration is proposing to open almost nine million acres of Alaska to new oil and natural gas leases.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently released a draft environmental impact statement analyzing four alternatives for the future management of the 8.8 million acre Northwest Planning Area of the National Petroleum Reserve—Alaska, also known as the Western arctic. One proposal would open the entire 8.8 million acres to oil and gas leasing. A second would make 96 percent of the land available, a third would make 47 percent of the land available with additional protections and the fourth would do nothing.

While the BLM did not identify a preferred alternative, conservationists are concerned that the final decision, issued after a 60-day public comment period, will call for oil and gas leasing in almost all of the Western arctic.

Public comments on the proposal are being accepted until March 18, and a decision is expected perhaps by the fall on which lands might be open to drilling and which might be protected.

The 23 million acres of the full reserve may contain 6 billion to 13 billion barrels of oil, while the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 100 miles to the east, is believed to contain 3.2 billion to 11.5 billion barrels.

New Mexico Receives Grants

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has been awarded $1.4 million to improve the quality, management efficiency and public information for regulating its public drinking water systems.

The grant, provided by the EPA, is the earliest award of these types of funds in recent years. It will help fund the NMED’s efforts to obtain additional analytical resources for its quality-testing program and to offer training for operators of drinking water systems.

The funds also will be used to investigate ways to protect supplies from drought and prepare the state for the tougher arsenic regulations that will be enacted in 2006.

The $1.4 million grant combines with the state match that will total $1.8 million. Total allocation for the grant is $3.5 million over two years.

U.S. and Mexico
Reach Water Agreement

The United States and Mexico recently reached an agreement aimed at settling a long running dispute over Mexico’s use of water from the Rio Grande River.

Under the agreement, Mexico will provide at least 400,000 acre-feet of water to the Rio Grande, including 200,000 acre-feet of new water. In exchange, the United States must give Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River. However, 50,000 acre-feet of the water Mexico has promised will be contingent on the weather and could be withheld in dry years.

The United States and Mexico will seek to ensure a reliable and predictable water supply during periods of both scarce and abundant rainfall. Both countries also will continue efforts toward resolving an outstanding water deficit of some 1.5 million acre-feet.

Governor Pledges $90M

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has pledged more than $90 million to improve drinking water supplies and sewage systems and another $23 million to reduce harmful nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Ehrlich administration also revealed it would name former delegate C. Ronald Franks as head of the Department of Natural Resources and Lewis R. Riley as secretary of agriculture. The senate must approve both appointments, which are key environmental posts.

Under Ehrlich’s budget plan, funding for the Maryland Department of the Environment was set at $169.4 million for fiscal year 2004, a 4.9 percent increase over 2003. However, state funding was cut 22 percent, from $136 million to $107.4 million.

The increase relies on more than $30 million in federal loans for the Maryland Water Quality and Drinking Water revolving loan fund programs.

Laws Proposed for Bottled Water

Environmentalists and the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Sacramento, Calif., want bottled water to follow the same disclosure rules as tap water.

Makers of bottled water say there already is plenty of disclosure about their water’s contents.

Advocates of two bills, AB83 and a companion bill, SB50, introduced in the Legislature, say water bottlers should have to create a consumer confidence report each year like water agencies do. The reports tell customers what’s in their water. It details levels of contaminants, if any, like lead, aluminum, arsenic and salt.

If passed bottling plants and water vending machines would be subject to annual inspections. Bottlers, vending machine owners and water haulers would pay an $86 fee to cover the costs of the inspections.

A spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, says there already are comprehensive, stringent regulations in place at the federal level for quality labeling. The spokesman cited a bill signed last year that requires bottlers to include an 800 number, web site or address on their labels so consumers can get more information.

A lobbyist for the Natural Resources Defense Council says knowing the nutritional facts about water is not enough. The NRDC found that the contents of one bottle, labeled “Spring Water,” actually came from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site.

The FDA now insists that bottled water come from a spring if the bottler claims it does.

EPA Plans to Discard Runoff Rule

The EPA recently announced that it is proposing to withdraw a July 2000 rule that revised the agency’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program under the Clean Water Act.

The 2000 final rule was determined to be unworkable based on reasons described by thousands of comments and was challenged in court by some two dozen parties. Congress also has passed a law prohibiting the EPA from implementing the rule.

In June 2001, The National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council (NRC) issued a report with numerous recommendations for improving the rule and program, which were not reflected in the July 2000 rule. One key finding of the NRC report was that many states lack sufficient data to develop TMDLs for all of their impaired waters.

EPA administrator Christie Whitman said the EPA has been working to identify options to improve the TMDL program, including addressing the problems reported by the National Academy of Sciences. The agency has conducted several public meetings and is reviewing its ongoing implementation of the existing program with a view toward improvement and regulatory changes.

The Bush administration is expected to recommend an approach that would give more authority to the states, and reduce federal oversight of efforts to clean up waterways. Environmental groups have criticized this approach, saying it would slow cleanup efforts and weaken enforcement of clean water rules.

Washington State
Updates Water Rules

The Washington Ecology Department is overhauling and strengthening the state’s water quality standards for the first time in a decade and wants state residents’ opinions. The standards limit pollution in Washington’s lakes, rivers and marine waters with the goal of protecting people, fish, animals and drinking water. They also form the basis for wastewater permits and water cleanup plans.

The federal Clean Water Act requires the state to review the standards every three years and make changes as needed. The Department of Ecology has been working on the update for 10 years.

“This proposal reflects the latest science and incorporates new state and federal requirements,” said Megan White, state water quality program manager. “We’ve done our best to protect the environment while balancing sometimes conflicting viewpoints. If anyone has a better proposal, we want to hear it.”

The new standards will affect cities, counties, industries and developers.