September 2006, Vol. 18, No.9

Briefs

Briefs - Proposed Legislation Seeks Cleanup of Abandoned Mines

Inactive or abandoned mines can pose serious public safety and environmental hazards, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) news release. Acid drainage from such mines, most of which are located in the western United States, damages watersheds and degrades water quality. In an effort to clean up abandoned mines, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (D–Colo.) introduced the Good Samaritan Cleanup of Inactive and Abandoned Mines Act last year.

Now known as the Good Samaritan Clean Watershed Act, the legislation aims to lower legal roadblocks to cleaning up more than half a million abandoned hardrock mines in America. The legislation, introduced on behalf of the Bush administration, would remove the potential liability for volunteer organizations willing to restore watersheds affected by acid drainage from the mines.

Last August, as part of the president’s Conference on Cooperative Conservation, EPA announced the Good Samaritan Initiative to encourage voluntary efforts to reduce pollution from abandoned hardrock mining sites. A good Samaritan is a person or organization that neither caused the contamination nor is legally responsible for the cleanup.

Many of the mines are on private land, and the parties responsible for the pollution and cleanup no longer exist. Although good Samaritans have been willing to adopt these orphaned mines, lingering legal obstacles have blocked efforts by citizen volunteers not responsible for the pollution to clean up abandoned mine sites, despite the environmental benefits. Under current law, anyone cleaning up an abandoned mine site could become liable for the entire cleanup and any runoff from the site.

The Good Samaritan Clean Watershed Act maintains environmental safeguards, the news release notes, by establishing a streamlined permit process that outlines who is eligible for a permit, the sites for which permits may be issued, and what must be included in the permit. The process also provides local citizens and communities with an opportunity to provide input on any Good Samaritan project.
The applicant is required to provide a plan to clean up the site that details a schedule, financial resources, and how to dispose of any waste. The plan must ensure that the project improves the environment.  

Tools Will Help Small Drinking Water Utilities Monitor Drinking Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a set of user-friendly multimedia products in May to help small drinking water utilities determine federal monitoring requirements and prepare water compliance samples under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The tool kit features an interactive Rule Wizard Web site that provides a list of all the federal monitoring requirements for a selected type and size of public drinking water system, according to an EPA press release. A companion tool, the Interactive Sampling Guide for Drinking Water Operators, features a CD with a video and a slide presentation that illustrates proper sampling procedures, which users can download to their local computers. Case studies are also presented to help public water system owners and operators work with state and local agencies when contaminants are detected.

A brochure, Interactive Sampling Guide for Drinking Water Operators, which provides an overview of the CD and the Rule Wizard, will be sent to EPA’s state and technical assistance partners for distribution to public water systems.

To receive the CD, call EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791. Launch the RuleWizard at www.RuleWizard.org, and see the Interactive Sampling Guide at www.epa.gov/safewater/smallsys/samplingcd.html.  

Report: Drinking Water Fund Tops $9 Billion for Infrastructure Improvements

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all 50 states, and Puerto Rico have invested almost $9.5 billion in drinking water improvements since 1996, according to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) 2005 annual report, released in May.

The report focuses on nearly 4400 projects ranging from treatment, transmission and distribution, and rehabilitation of wells to developing new sources of water, upgrading storage facilities, and consolidating water systems, according to an EPA news release.

The U.S. Congress established the Drinking Water SRF program in 1996 to help finance infrastructure improvements. EPA awards grants to states, which, in turn, provide low-cost loans and other assistance to eligible water systems.

Since 1997, the fund programs have improved public health protection for 100 million people, according to EPA. In recent years, the program has averaged more than $1.3 billion in annual assistance to drinking water systems. Financial institutions support the program, the news release notes, because no participants have defaulted on their loans.

Low interest rates — sometimes as low as zero percent — make state programs attractive to the participating drinking water systems. Since the program’s inception, nearly 73% of all SRF loans have been made to water systems serving fewer than 10,000 people. State SRF programs advance public health protection in two ways, EPA says: They provide an accessible and affordable source of financing for infrastructure improvements, and they improve a system’s ability to provide safe and reliable drinking water — now and into the future.

For more information on the SRF annual report, see www.epa.gov/safewater/dwsrf

USGS Report Compares Past, Present, and Future Water Quality

The good old days of clean water may not have been so good after all, according to a news release issued by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

A USGS research report, prepared in cooperation with the City of Boulder, Colo., includes an overview of the current water quality in the Boulder Creek Watershed and how it has changed in the past 160 years. The 30-page report, “State of the Watershed: Water Quality of Boulder Creek, Colorado,” uses historical data from gold-mining records, typhoid cases, and newspapers, such as a 1905 news item claiming that drinking Boulder Creek water “gave the sensation of swallowing rope.”

The report includes photographs and maps, and addresses the impacts of land use change, water diversions, urban runoff, and wastewater effluent on water quality throughout the watershed. It also addresses potential water quality issues of the future.

The report is accessible at http://pubs.water.usgs.gov/circ1284. Print copies may be obtained for $4 by calling (888) 275-8747.  

Address World Water Scarcity, Water Quality Issues Now, Report Says

Sandia National Laboratories (SNL; Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif.), and the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.) have declared that there is no time to waste in addressing increasing water scarcity and declining water quality worldwide, according to an SNL news release.

A recently released white paper, “Addressing Our Global Water Future,” written jointly by the two groups, is the result of two conferences last year in Washington, D.C., where representatives of major multinational companies, government officials, and technical experts discussed U.S. policy and the role of emerging water technologies in regions of the world where the United States has strategic interests. Discussions centered on countries with dwindling freshwater supplies and the range of technology innovation needed to help resolve water problems, the news release notes. Sandia, a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory, provided information on emerging water technologies with the potential to affect water scarcity and quality issues.

Ray Finley, manager of Sandia’s Geohydrology Department, explained that regions of the world that are of strategic importance to the United States can affect U.S. national security when water is an issue.
“The lack of clean water can create conditions that lead to destabilization in regions of the world that are already poor and having problems,” Finley said. “Lack of potable water can result in famine, conflict over resources, and poor governance. Failed and failing states threaten U.S. security because of their potential to harbor terrorist groups.”

The white paper expands this theme, saying that “global trends of increasing population, increasing resource consumption, and decreasing natural resource availability — including fresh water — have pushed many human social, economic, and political systems to an important tipping point. We face large-scale future dislocations and crises unless significant action is taken now by leaders in both developed and developing countries.”

The white paper also addresses how water is a foundation for human prosperity, how water problems are geopolitically destabilizing, issues of poor governance and poor economies, the need for innovative and self-sustaining solutions, effective water planning and management at local and regional levels, and related topics.

More information, including an electronic version of the white paper, is available at http://water.csis.org/

Proposed U.S. EPA Guidelines, Grants Seek To Strengthen Indian Tribes’ Water Programs

The recently proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Guidance on Awards of Grants to Indian Tribes Under Section 106 of the Clean Water Act is designed to help Indian tribes implement effective and successful water quality programs. The Clean Water Act, according to an EPA news release, provides a framework for evaluating program results and clearly defining expectations and requirements for tribal grant recipients.

EPA during the last 10 years has increased funding available for Sec. 106 grants to Indian tribes from $3 million to $25 million per year. Many tribes have implemented successful water quality programs using Sec. 106 grants, and the proposed guidelines will help strengthen uniformity in program management nationally and improve the quality of and access to data on the results of tribal water quality grant investments, EPA states.

Reporting requirements and data management expectations for all tribal programs are key components of the proposed guidance. Data collected as a result of these reporting requirements will help EPA measure environmental results and comply with the Government Performance and Results Act and other federal mandates.

Additional information is available at www.epa.gov/owm/cwfinance/106tgg07.htm.  

Stormwater Regulation Provision Eases Construction-Site Management

New regulations in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stormwater program may give a break to some construction management programs, according to an EPA news release.

In May, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin H. Grumbles sent a letter to EPA regional administrators encouraging permitting authorities to make use of the “Qualifying Local Programs” provisions in the stormwater regulations. The provisions, according to the news release, offer an opportunity to streamline administrative requirements in the stormwater program by formally recognizing local construction management programs that meet or exceed the provisions in EPA’s construction general permit.

By recognizing such qualifying local programs, construction-site operators would have only one set of requirements to follow. A strong municipal program for construction-site stormwater runoff that meets the same basic provisions as the state program can be recognized in the state’s Construction General Permit, EPA states. These municipal programs become the primary regulatory authority for construction-site operators in that area.

The Phase 2 stormwater regulations require approximately 5000 municipalities to develop and implement comprehensive stormwater programs, including programs to manage stormwater runoff from construction sites.

For additional information, call the EPA Water Permits Division at (202) 564-0692. 

Guidance Helps Small Drinking Water Systems Identify Affordable Treatment Options

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new guidance document to help small drinking water systems provide safe and affordable drinking water to their customers. According to an EPA news release, cost can be an impediment for very small systems planning to install centralized contaminant-removal equipment.

The guidance document, Point-of-Use or Point-of-Entry Treatment Options for Small Drinking Water Systems, provides operators and water officials with information about treatment devices that can be installed.

The guidance describes the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and current federal regulations. It also contains a summary of individual state requirements and a collection of case studies that illustrate how small systems have implemented these treatment options in the past.

Point-of-use devices, such as reverse osmosis filters, are usually installed under a kitchen sink and can comply with drinking water standards for such contaminants as arsenic, lead, and radium, the news release states. Point-of-entry devices are installed outside the home or business and can treat an even wider variety of contaminants. Depending on local conditions, the devices may reduce costs by more than 50%, EPA states.

Read the guidance at www.epa.gov/safewater/smallsys/ssinfo.htm#two.  

U.S. EPA Proposes Rule: Permits Not Needed for Water Transfers

A rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June would clarify that permits are not required for transfers of water from one waterbody to another. Such transfers include routing water through tunnels, channels, or natural stream courses for public water supplies, irrigation, power generation, flood control, and environmental restoration.

Thousands of water transfers currently in place across the United States are vital to the water infrastructure, according to an EPA press release. Whether a permit is needed under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) has been an issue in numerous court cases in recent years, EPA states. The proposed rule would define such transfers as the movement of water between waterbodies with no intermediate use, such as manufacturing or agriculture.

In 2004, the question of whether NPDES permits were necessary for water transfers went before the U.S. Supreme Court in South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians. The court did not rule directly on the issue, generating uncertainty about the need for a permit. EPA concluded in 2005 that the U.S. Congress intended water resource-management agencies and other state authorities, rather than the NPDES permitting program, to oversee water transfers. This rulemaking codifies this conclusion.

For more information, see www.epa.gov/npdes/agriculture#water_transfer.  

Liquid Macrofiltration Market To Reach $5 Billion by 2009

An online report by the McIlvaine Co. (Northfield, Ill.), a market research firm, forecasts major growth in the liquid macrofiltration market. According to the Liquid Filtration World Markets report, the market for filters used for macrofiltration — the separation of larger particles from liquids — will grow from $4.4 billion in 2006 to $5.1 billion in 2009.

According to a McIlvaine Co. news release, the macrofiltration market contains several areas of high growth. The use of belt filters for gypsum dewatering at power plants employing scrubbers is growing at double-digit rates, with both the United States and China investing heavily in these scrubbing systems and the associated belt filters.

The automatic backwashing filter segment is also experiencing rapid growth, the news release notes. Originally, these filters were only capable of removing particles larger than 50 μm, but the development of sintered metal media has opened up a market in the 1- to 50-μm range. These filters are used for a variety of purposes, including purifying irrigation water in the Israeli desert.

The growth in belt filter press sales is primarily in Asia, with China being the largest purchaser of belt filter presses for biosolids dewatering. As much of Asia develops its secondary waste treatment capability, the market for belt presses will be strong, the news release states.