Federal Update

codewatcher federal update

Department of Energy

According to research done by NRDC and Bloomberg News, the Department of Energy has not been living up to their legal obligation to spend money on research towards renewables and energy efficiency. The full article is here.

Environmental Protection Agency

One of the most contentious EPA regulations is getting an overhaul. The EPA is proposing to redefine U.S. waters under the Clean Water Act. What’s at stake? Protections on “ephemeral streams,” which only appear after rainfall, and wetlands not directly connected or adjacent to large bodies of water. The EPA conducted an economic analysis to support their stance, but (curiously) did not complete a scientific determination of which water features deserve protection.

The agriculture and home building industries have wanted these rules rescinded for years, and filed lawsuits to corroborate their disdain. The common lobbying refrain was that this placed puddles into federal jurisdiction. On the other side are environmentalists, who say the rollback “could result in contaminating millions of acres of waters with pesticides and other agricultural pollutants.” They also note that farming has not stopped in states that adopted the 2015 rule.

Reaction to the 2015 Clean Water Rule has been sharply split. 28 states in regions across the south and west have sued to block the 2015 definition from going into effect. Meanwhile, it has been implemented in the other 22 states. To be clear, the EPA’s proposed regulation would not change protections for large bodies of water and neighboring wetlands, and any state-imposed rules would also be unaffected. A 60-day comment period on the proposal will occur once it is published in the Federal Register, which is expected in early 2019. Legal challenges are also anticipated shortly thereafter.

Bureau of Reclamation

The agency has given the 7 states in the Colorado River basin a deadline of January 31 to finalize their drought contingency plans (DCPs). Those plans document how they will voluntarily reduce their use of the river. If they don’t meet that deadline, the Bureau will take over the decision-making process.

Specifically, the Bureau would give states 30 days (post-deadline) to recommend ways to reduce
demands on Lake Mead, and then the Bureau would decide which changes to implement for next year.

The Bureau’s parent agency, the Interior Department, controls water deliveries in the Lower Basin, so they are also intently watching this process play out.

Who’s holding up the process? Arizona and California. They have yet to reach an agreement about how
cuts will be handled within their respective states.

How urgent is the situation? Consider these blunt statements from a mid-December speech given by Brenda Burman, Commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation:

… the latest hydrology information is sobering. Anyone who was hoping that a wet year
would somehow bring us around needs to step back and think that that’s not something that’s
going to happen here.

After experiencing the fourth driest year on record last year, Lake Powell and Mead’s combined storage sits today at 46%. That is the lowest level since 1966 when Lake Powell was initially filling and cutting off water supplies down south. To put it in more personal terms, these are the lowest reservoir levels in my lifetime. We are teetering on the brink of a shortage today.

We see real risk of rapid declines in reservoir elevations, particularly at Lake Mead, in the very near future. With the current Powell inflow forecast at just 66% of average, Lake Mead is projected to decline to below elevation 1050 in 2020. It is time for us to pay attention. We are quickly running out of time. Folks that have followed Reclamation’s pronouncements this year have seen our descriptions use strong language to describe the risks we face. Today’s level of risk is unacceptable. The chance for a crisis is far too high.


Photo by tedeytan