July 2007, Vol. 19, No.7


USDA Rural Development Awards Nearly $180 Million for Rural Water Systems

 The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in April that its Rural Development program will provide funding totaling nearly $180 million for 61 new rural water and wastewater community systems in 29 states.

“These projects will build and improve rural water and sewage systems, and rural communities will benefit through cleaner water, recreation, and wildlife resources,” said USDA Secretary Thomas C. Dorr. “USDA is working with communities across America to provide investment financing and an improved quality of life for local residents.”

The USDA funding will help communities upgrade wastewater systems to manage storm runoff more effectively, expand and upgrade water treatment plants, extend water service to new residents, and build a renewable energy generation facility, according to a USDA press release.

A complete list of the selected loan and grant recipients and projects is available at www.rurdev.usda.gov/rd/newsroom/news.htm.

U.S. EPA and Utilities To Promote Water Performance Measures for Utiliti

Benjamin H. Grumbles, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assistant administrator for Water, signed a statement of support with six national associations to promote recommended utility performance measures and encourage the use of these tools and 10 management attributes by utilities nationwide.

The “10 Attributes of Effectively Managed Water Sector Utilities” provides a reference point for utilities seeking to improve performance, according to an EPA news release. The attributes include

  • product quality,
  • customer satisfaction,
  • employee and leadership development,
  • operational optimization,
  • financial viability,
  • infrastructure stability,
  • operational resiliency,
  • community sustainability,
  • water resource adequacy, and
  • stakeholder understanding and support.

“This significant agreement advances the administration’s sustainable infrastructure initiative for America and charts a course, locally and globally, for wise management of water systems,” Grumbles said.

The statement of support represents an important milestone by enabling EPA and its industry partners to develop a list of measures to help utilities manage progress in daily operations, infrastructure, and overall performance, the news release notes. Through a common management framework, the approach will enhance the utilities’ environmental stewardship efforts, which encourage water efficiency, energy efficiency, and the use of construction materials and processes that minimize impacts on the environment, according to EPA.

The statement and supporting strategies formalize a comprehensive effort among EPA, the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.), the American Public Works Association (Kansas City, Mo.), the American Water Works Association (Denver), the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.), and the National Association of Water Companies (Washington, D.C.) to encourage effective utility management. These associations, EPA notes, represent some of the largest utilities in the country.

For more information, see www.epa.gov/waterinfrastructure/bettermanagement.html.

New, Improved Water Quality Modeling Tool

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a new version of its watershed management program, making it easier to use and more readily available, according to an EPA news release.

Better Assessment Science Integrating Point and Nonpoint Sources (BASINS) is a multipurpose system that integrates environmental data, analytical tools, and modeling programs. According to EPA, BASINS 4.0 gives users access to large amounts of point and nonpoint source data, which they can use to assess or predict flow and water quality for selected streams or entire watersheds.

EPA states that unlike earlier releases, BASINS 4.0 runs on nonproprietary, open source, free geographic information system (GIS) software, making the tool universally available to anyone interested in the system. For more information, see www.epa.gov/waterscience/basins.


National Water Quality Network Pilot Underway

A pilot phase of the National Water Quality Monitoring Network for U.S. Coastal Waters and Their Tributaries is moving forward, according to a news release from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The goal of the network is to provide information about the health of oceans, coastal ecosystems, and inland influences on coastal waters for improved resource management, USGS states.

The network will coordinate water monitoring nationwide to provide a comprehensive database and understanding of water resources and the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources. The network is unique, according to USGS, because it uses an integrated, multidisciplinary approach and addresses a broad range of water resources, from upland watersheds to offshore waters.

The pilot phase of the network will examine current monitoring and gaps in relation to the proposed network design specifications for three geographic areas, including the Delaware River Basin, Lake Michigan, and San Francisco Bay. This pilot phase will be completed by January 2008, according to USGS.

The pilot phase is the second step of implementing the network design, which is being coordinated with both the Integrated Ocean Observing System and the U.S. Group on Earth Observations. The next demonstration phase is anticipated to begin in 2008 and most likely will involve improvements to existing monitoring sites, as well as installation of new sites, sensors, and data systems needed to fill critical data gaps in selected regions, USGS notes. Further network efforts will facilitate the development of regional elements of a national coastal observing system and will be a key element in addressing coastal resource management issues.

For more information, seewww.acwi.gov/monitoring/network.

New Orleans Sediments Contained High Contaminant Levels

In the first study to evaluate urban sediments after a natural disaster, scientists have found that floodwaters in New Orleans from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005 contained high levels of fecal indicator bacteria and microbial pathogens.

The scientists collected water and sediment samples from the interior canal and shoreline of New Orleans and the offshore waters of Lake Pontchartrain, which showed higher-than-normal levels of bacteria and pathogens. Levels of the microbes fell within a few weeks after flooding had completely subsided, according to a news release from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“Our findings emphasize the importance of including environmental monitoring in disaster management plans,” said Helena Solo–Gabriele, an environmental engineer at the University of Miami. “A rapid assessment of conditions can protect emergency workers and residents from potential illnesses that could result from exposure.”

The scientists — funded by NSF and affiliated with the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and other institutions — report their results in a May issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper, co-authored by 19 scientists and titled “Impacts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Microbial Landscape of the New Orleans Area,” provides insights on public health and human exposure to both inhaled and ingested pathogens from wastewater-contaminated floodwaters induced by hurricanes, according to NSF.

“We know that hurricanes bring infectious disease, chemical contamination, and death in their wake,” said Don Rice, director of NSF’s chemical oceanography program, which funded the research. “Now we are making a concerted effort to study and understand the connections.”

The researchers point out that monitoring efforts should focus on evaluating the impacts of sediments within an area affected by hurricane floodwaters, as exposure to contaminated sediments, by inhaling or ingesting, could result in health risks, the press release states. Efforts should include monitoring pathogens in addition to indicator microbes — those that aren’t themselves harmful but are known to exist alongside pathogens.

Improvements should focus on reducing wastewater contamination from groundwater seepage and stormwater drainage in the region, the scientists said.

For more information on NSF’s research on preparing for and responding to such disasters, see www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/disasters/index.jsp.