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

Kentucky Legislators
Approve Water Projects

The Kentucky General Assembly recently approved financing for 267 water and sewer projects that will provide treated water to 30,000 households for the first time. An additional 700,000 households will get improved water service under the plan.

More than 10 percent of Kentuckians get water from wells and other untreated sources, and many who have public water service have low pressure and other problems, according to the state’s water resource development plan.

The water projects, costing an estimated $377 million, will go to 104 counties. The state budget recently allocated $10 million, $5 million each from coal-severance taxes and tobacco settlement payments, to finance $114 million in bonds. Federal and local money also will be used.

Senate Rejects ANWR Drilling
In Close Vote

The U.S. Senate recently voted 52 to 48 to reject oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the 19 million-acre reserve in northeastern Alaska. Senate Republicans called for allowing oil companies to explore the refuge to help reduce American oil imports. Democrats, a few moderate Republicans and environmental groups argued that the area should be left untouched in favor of stricter oil conservation measures and drilling elsewhere.

Republicans tried a new strategy to open the refuge to drilling by attaching language to a pending federal budget for 2004. The measure would have included in the budget more than $2 billion in federal revenue collected from leasing fees that oil companies would pay to drill in ANWR.

Drilling in the ANWR, which may hold up to 16 billion barrels of crude oil, has been repeatedly endorsed by the Bush administration as the single best way to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. The Bush plan would open 1.5 million acres on the ANWR coast to drilling.

The Republican-led House has previously approved by a wide margin drilling in the refuge and is expected to again OK a drilling measure later this spring.

California Ends Water Dispute

California and four state water agencies presented a plan to the U.S. Department of Interior that would bring to an end the long dispute regarding California’s use of water from the Colorado River.

Governor Gray Davis pledged more than $350 million in state funds and loan guarantees that would revive a farm-to-city water sale, a major point of contention in the deal.

The Department of Interior told the state to negotiate a plan by December 31, 2002, using a decreased amount of water from the Colorado River. A deal fell through when one of the water agencies, the Imperial Irrigation District, rejected one aspect of the plan — an agreement to fallow land and sell water to San Diego County. Imperial is filled with giant agribusinesses that often raise three crops a year, and officials there feared a transfer of water to San Diego would put some of their farmers out of business.

If the Department of the Interior approves the plan, California would continue to receive surplus Colorado River water until 2015. Reports, however, said the plan still could receive challenges from neighboring states that receive Colorado River water, or even from the California Legislature, which may not want to approve the large cash sum needed to close the deal.

EPA Withdraws TMDL Rule

The EPA recently withdrew the 2,000 final total maximum daily load (TMDL) rule. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards, and an allocation of that amount to the pollutant’s sources. The 2,000 rule was determined to be unworkable based on reasons described by more than 34,000 comments. It also was challenged in court by more than 20 parties. The rule’s implementation was stopped in U.S. Congress, and the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council found numerous drawbacks to the rule.

The number of TMDLs approved or established under the current rule has increased each of the last four years, from 500 in 1999 to nearly 3000 in 2002. The EPA said it is working to improve the TMDL program, including addressing problems reported by the National Academy of Sciences.

Pesticide Legislation

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) is proposing legislation that would make it easier to find out what pesticides that might adversely affect groundwater are being sprayed in communities.

The group said the law contains a right-to-know clause regarding pesticides that is part of its Clean Groundwater Minnesota initiative.

Janette Brimmer, legal director of MCEA, said the new law would give researchers vital information for further study of the effects of pesticides application on people and the environment.

EPA Exempts Oil and Gas Industries

In a rule published in the Federal Register, the U.S. Environmental Pro-tection Agency (EPA) exempted the oil and gas industry from regulations governing water pollution from construction at drilling sites.

The exemption postpones the requirement, under EPA’s phase II storm water pollution rule, that companies obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System storm water permits for oil and gas construction activity that disturbs between one and five acres of land.

According to the exemption, the original rule greatly underestimated the number of oil and gas exploration, production, processing and treatment operations and transmission facilities that would be affected. EPA now estimates some 30,000 oil and gas sites per year would be affected.

The requirement was slated to go into effect in March of this year, but now will enter effect on March 10, 2005. EPA wrote that the two-year postponement would allow the agency more time to analyze and better evaluate the impact of the requirement on the oil and gas industry.

Senate Committee Considers Aquifer Control

The Michigan State Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee is debating a bill to limit the amount of water that can be pumped out of the ground. The bill would require the state to identify critical aquifers, limit water withdrawals from such water tables without first obtaining permission, authorize yet-to-be determined fees for such withdrawals and enable small well owners to seek remedies if their wells had been harmed by large pumping operations nearby.

The legislation was prompted by a Senate task force which last year called for a new aquifer protection law to protect Michigan’s ground water, prevent harm to the Great Lakes and prevent interruptions of water supply from less shallow wells.

Storage Tank Bill Approved

The U.S. Senate and Public Works Committee recently approved legislation designed to help prevent ground water contamination caused by leaking underground storage tanks.

The Underground Storage Tank Compliance Act requires inspection of all underground storage tanks every two years, while increasing federal emphasis on training of tank operators. It also provides $125 million per year for cleanup of sites contaminated by MTBE and increases funding to administer the federal Underground Storage Tank Program.

Senator Lincoln Chafee, author of the bill, said the chief reason to continue pursuing this legislation today is lack of compliance with the 1998 deadline for tank owners and operators to upgrade, replace or close tanks that didn’t meet minimum federal requirements.

Lower Arsenic Level Proposed

The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recently released a draft Public Health Goal for arsenic in drinking water. The draft proposes to identify four parts per trillion as a level of arsenic in drinking water that would not be expected to pose a human health risk.

The existing state and federal drinking water standards for arsenic have been set at 50 parts per billion. A new federal arsenic standard of 10 parts per billion will take effect in 2006. States may adopt a new standard that is equal to or more stringent than the federal standard.

The California Department of Health Services is required to set a standard by June 30, 2004 with compliance monitoring to start by January 2006. It currently is hosting a series of stakeholders meetings to get input from the public on the new proposed standard.

Water Projects Bill Passes

The New Mexico House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would dedicate severance tax bonds for water projects, reported the Ruidoso News.

House Bill 882 requires that 10 percent of the annual severance tax bonding capacity be used to fund statewide water projects recommended by the New Mexico Finance Authority to the Water Trust Board. The board will select from a list of water projects and will certify bonds to fund the projects that are deemed critical.

The bill specifically requires that severance tax bond proceeds will not be used to pay indirect project costs and that the proceeds from bonds issued for a water project will revert to the severance tax bond fund within six months of completion of the project. The bill requires the state finance authority to monitor and ensure proper reversions.