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

EPA Finalizes Metal Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a new clean water rule designed to reduce pollution from an estimated 2,400 metal products and machinery operations across the country.

The EPA said it is estimating that compliance with the regulation will prevent 500,000 pounds of pollution per year primarily oil, grease and total suspended solids from entering America’s waterways.

The majority of the facilities covered by the rule manufacture, rebuild or maintain metal products, parts or machines, and directly discharge treated effluent from activities generating oily wastewater. The facilities fall into various business sectors, including aerospace, household equipment, hardware, office machines and motor vehicles industries.

N.D. Senate Passes Bill

The North Dakota Senate recently passed a bill that would allow 13 counties to form the Lake Agassiz Water Authority for drinking water projects. Forming the Authority will lead to a potential $200 million project to buy water from the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District and deliver it to the Red River Valley.

A nine-member board will govern the authority. The political subdivision will have the authority to bond, enter contracts or accept federal grants, but not to tax.

Arkansas OKs New
Water Legislation

The Arkansas House of Representatives approved legislation that would give sanitation authorities the power to undertake public work projects, including collecting and disposing of wastewater and sludge, and the power of eminent domain to take over property to complete those projects.

The bill is intended to help the state resolve a dispute with Oklahoma over water quality standards. Negotiations between the states had reached an impasse over phosphorus levels in scenic rivers.

The bill passed the House 88-1 and goes to the Senate.

Agreement Reached on
Omnibus Spending Bill

U.S House and Senate negotiations recently reached an agreement on a $397 billion omnibus spending bill. Reportedly included in the bill is $8.1 billion for the EPA. The EPA’s budget emphasizes state grant funding, particularly for clean water and safe drinking water. However, details on the funding levels for many programs are not yet available. According to a summary of the bill by the House Appropriations committee, the conference report will fund the Department of the Interior at $19.1 billion, which is $400 million less than the request and $100 million less than the amount appropriated in fiscal year 2002. This will include $413 million for state and federal land acquisition under the Land and Water Conserva-tion Fund and $2.1 billion for wildland fire management.

Louisiana Proposes Water Agency

A new water management agency has been recommended by a statewide group trying to stop depletion of Louisiana’s underground aquifers.

Under the proposal, the new agency would be a division in the conservation office of the state Department of Natural Resources and would oversee five water management regions around Louisiana. It would oversee water well permits and registration, ground water data collection and water use.

The suggested commission and agency would develop an emergency water use and contingency plan. The plan calls for a series of advisory committees from each of the five water management regions to collect data and conduct studies on aquifer usage. Those advisory groups would include local officials and farmers and businesses affected by the statewide water regulations.

Bill Would Reauthorize
Expired Superfund Tax

Three U.S. senators have introduced legislation that would reauthorize the expired Superfund tax, a user fee levied against industries that generate pollution. The senators say the bill is designed to hold polluters, not taxpayers, accountable for the toxic waste sites they create.

The 1980 Superfund law is the federal program responsible for the clean up of hazardous waste sites. The program has made it possible to cleanup 840 of the worst toxic waste sites in the country and has forced companies and industries to better manage pollution and waste.

The reauthorization is committed to ensure that the polluters responsible for the contamination, and not the general public, pay for the cleanup. In the past, most of the money for Superfund site cleanups came from a tax on polluting industries, but that tax has not been collected since it expired in 1995.

Congress has refused to renew the tax, forcing general taxpayer funds to be used for ongoing cleanups.

Colorado Senate Committee
Reviews Water Project List

A senate committee in the Colorado legislature has cut $500,000 from a study of statewide projects for the so-called “Big Straw” plan to reuse water from the Colorado River after members questioned whether it would ever be built.

The “Big Straw” project, also called the Colorado Return Project, would pump at least 400,000-acre-feet, enough water for about 2 million people, from the Colorado River at the Utah border east to reservoirs that serve metropolitan Denver.

Colorado has never taken its full share of about 3.75 million acre-feet because it lacks adequate storage facilities, only using about 3 million acre-feet of that total.

At the same time, the committee approved Senate Bill 73, which would allow well owners to pump water this year as long as they file a plan within three years to offset their water use by returning some water to the South Platte River.

Most of the wells in question are owned by members of Groundwater Appropriators of the South Platte, which had resisted a requirement that they file operation plans in water cost.

Group members thought their well operation plans were legitimate because the state engineer approved similar plans in other areas of the state.

Work on the agreement began after a water judge ruled in December that the state engineer did not have the authority to approve the well owner’s operation plans.

W.Va. Lawmakers
Propose Water Plan

Twenty-two senators from West Virginia signed on to a proposed resolution that requests a yearlong study to come up with a plan to protect the state’s water resources.

The resolution declares, “Water is a vital economic resource of equal or greater importance than any other mineral or natural resource.”

The resolution notes that a recent series of reports by the International Center for Investigative Journalism has documented a national and international trend of increasing management and control over water supplies and their systems by private companies over publicly accountable local authorities.

Many residents are worried about the purchase of the state’s largest water utility, West Virginia-American Water, by a German conglomerate.

West Virginia is one of only four eastern states that do not have some sort of water-use law on the books, according to a 1995 study by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The federal Clean Water Act requires that existing uses of water, whether for drinking supplies or businesses, be protected. Without an actual water-use law, the state is at a disadvantage in protecting its supplies, whether from private companies or other states.

Bill To Limit Water Taken
From Aquifer Introduced

The Oklahoma House Environ-ment and Natural Resources Committee recently sent a bill for full House consideration that would limit how much water could be taken from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer for use elsewhere, reported The Oklahoman.

The bill is expected to slow down a proposal being developed that would pump as much as 20 million gallons of water a day out of the south-central aquifer.

The proposal will take the water northwest to a coalition of west-central Oklahoma communities looking for a better deal on water than they are getting from Oklahoma City.

Under the law, when the Oklahoma Water Resources Board issues a ground water use permit, the usage must not harm the annual yield of a water basin for at least 20 years. Hilliard’s bill would extend that time to at least 100 years.

The bill also would prohibit ground water from being transported outside its basin of origin unless an applicant presented “clear and convincing evidence that such allocations will not interfere with any existing use and will not deplete the basin in less than 100 years,” the newspaper reported.

The committee substitute included changes to grandfather in already approved uses of water from the aquifer.

Arizona Officials Devise
Statewide Water Plan

Governor Janet Napolitano has pledged to promote water conservation on a statewide level by urging the state’s top water officials to create a statewide conservation plan.

Department of Water Resources director-designate Herb Guenther said Napolitano is activating a task force on drought that will address water shortages in rural Arizona.

The task force will survey towns on their water needs and find out whether towns expect to face shortages over the summer. Guenther said delivering water-saving messages to rural areas would be one of the main objectives of the conservation plan.

He also said the plan would develop a threshold for when the state should declare drought emergencies.