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October to December, 2004 Environmental News


December, 2004

Water samples show petroleum contamination in aquifer that is sole drinking water source for 400,000 in eastern Washington and northern Idaho

The water lies about 150 feet below a 500,000-gallon Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. depot built near Hauser, about 25 miles northeast of Spokane, Wash. The results released Thursday were the first confirmation that contaminants reached the aquifer, nearly three weeks after authorities discovered a plastic wastewater pipe had ruptured and leaked an unknown amount of oily water. An official with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality cautioned that results are preliminary. The $42 million facility includes state-of-the-art engineering to contain spills under tanks and the fueling platform, but the wastewater system was not considered as great a risk. Spokesman-Review/AP/Portland Oregonian_ 12/31/04 (logon required)

Enviromental groups oppose changes to California water project
Wholesalers shouldn’t control resource, critics say

Environmental groups are rallying against a proposed restructuring of a California state water project that would allow local water wholesalers to run part of the massive state aqueduct and reservoir system. The groups allege that some water wholesalers, including the giant Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, are dominated by development or farming interests.  AP_12/27/04

Tewksbury, Massachusetts to lift perchlorate warning from drinking water after likely source of contamination identified and pollution apparently halted

The state Department of Environmental Protection authorized Tewksbury to immediately lift the public-health advisory that has been in place since August, when perchlorate was found above 1 part per billion (ppb) in town water. The state recommends drinking water supplies contain no more than 1 ppb of the chemical perchlorate. The decision comes after intense lobbying from businesses and town and state officials who argued the problem was solved when C.R. Bard, a medical-device maker in Billerica, was found to be the source of Tewksbury's pollution. The company stopped discharging waste into the sewer system on Nov. 20. Lowell Sun_ 12/22/04

EPA OKs removal of Montana dam and toxic sediments it holds back

The Environmental Protection Agency approved the plan to remove the Milltown Dam, upstream from Missoula, Montana's second largest city, and clean up mine tailings tainted with arsenic, copper, lead and zinc that have accumulated for decades behind the aging structure. The work, including channel stabilization and revegetation, is expected to take six or seven years and cost about $106 million. The plan will provide environmental protection, restore the Milltown drinking water supply, alleviate concern about a possible dam failure and use existing waste management systems for disposal of the sediment. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 12/20/04

Denver Post investigation: Water protection adrift - Colorado, cradle for many of the nation's rivers, has leaky regulatory system

Colorado has had a long slide toward leniency for polluters and lax oversight programs, according to an analysis of state records and interviews with several government scientists and regulators. Waivers of the most protective water standards for streams are routinely granted by the state. And penalties are rarely levied against repeat violators. Today, governmental scientists and other experts worry that Colorado is no longer doing enough to safeguard its 107,000 miles of rivers and streams that also serve the rest of the country downstream. Over the last two decades, as battles have been waged over water rights, another trend has escaped public scrutiny in Colorado: Corporations, utilities and their lobbyists, often working in unison, have increasingly shaped regulatory policy over water quality. Meanwhile, several water-protection programs have been left at "risk of failure" and at odds with federal regulations, according to Colorado health department documents and audits obtained by The Denver Post. Denver Post_ 12/19/04

Nevada agrees EPA should lead cleanup of abandoned copper mine where pollutants may have seeped into well drinking water

Citing growing concerns about health and safety, state regulators asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assume lead oversight over cleaning up radioactive and other toxic waste at a huge abandoned Anaconda copper mine in northern Nevada. Until now, the state had opposed changes in a 2002 agreement that gave state regulators, EPA and the Bureau of Land Management equal footing in the regulation of Atlantic Richfield Co.'s clean up of pollution at the site covering nearly six square miles in the irrigated high desert of Mason Valley, about 55 miles southeast of Reno. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 12/10/04

Federal workers' group says EPA censored comments on drinking water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency censored warnings that a Bush administration plan to build roads in national forests could harm drinking water, says Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility known as PEER. An EPA staffer wrote that building roads through swaths of land previously untouched would deteriorate the qualify of water in streams and have an impact on public drinking water. Ruch said that EPA employees related that Steven Shimborg, a political appointee at the EPA, dismissed the staff draft as a "rant" and ordered the objections stricken from the EPA comments. "I think that PEER is off the mark on this one," Cynthia Bergman, press secretary at the EPA said.  Reuters_ 12/6/04

November, 2004
California's Napa River makes a comeback

Twenty or 30 years ago, the Napa River was a -- well, a stinking open sewer wouldn't be stretching it. Now, as sewage, trash and chemicals have been cleaned up, fall-run chinook salmon are returning. Mike Napolitano, a staffer on the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, said erosion from vineyards in the mountains surrounding the valley remains a significant problem, as does "channel incision," the increasingly gorgelike quality of the river in the upper valley. But locals are working to remedy the situation. San Francisco Chronicle_ 11/27/04

Weak El Nino to bring U.S. cooler, wetter South and Southeast this winter and increased drought in Northwest and Ohio Valley - NOAA

NOAA said in its final winter weather forecast that drought will worsen in the Northwest and Ohio Valley regions due to drier-than-normal weather. Drought will lessen in parts of the Southwest, however. Wetter-than-average weather will blanket the South from New Mexico to Texas and Louisiana, NOAA said. Reuters_ 11/18/04

E.P.A.'s annual report says enforcement actions remove one billion pounds of pollution from nation's water, air and land

Companies spent $4.8 billion to comply with cleanup orders, including $2 billion spent by the city of Los Angeles to clean up sewer systems. The enforcement results were challenged by environmental groups that said the agency was telling only part of the story. New York Times_ 11/16/04 (logon required)

New Mexico environmental group looks to buy farmland, water rights

The Southwest Environmental Center, which has butted heads with farmers in the past about how the Rio Grande's water and natural habitat should be managed, is looking to join those same farmers as a constituent of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. The Center is raising $200,000 to buy a 15-acre parcel and its 7 acre-feet of irrigation district water rights to demonstrate the compatibility of sustainable agriculture with nature preservation. AP/Albuquerque Journal_ 11/14/04 (logon required)

Maine considers development ban around bodies of water that supply public drinking water

Richard P. Baker, the Department of Environmental Protection's state shoreland zoning coordinator, said the agency has compiled a written draft, ready for public consumption. The new guidelines probably will be adopted in the spring, he said. Kennebec Journal_ 11/14/04

US, airlines agree on new water testing guidelines

Most big U.S. airlines will more frequently test and disinfect aircraft storage and delivery systems to ensure water used for drinking and washing meets federal standards, the government and industry said. An agreement announced by the Environmental Protection Agency and the chief trade group for U.S. carriers grew out of a preliminary government study this summer that raised startling findings on aircraft water contamination. New guidelines require closer monitoring, more frequent disinfection and deeper analysis to determine the scope of any problem. The agreement also lays the groundwork for new regulation, which is on the fast track. Reuters_ 11/9/04

Stripping radium from drinking water doesn't get rid of it

Dozens of northeastern Illinois communities are stripping their drinking water of cancer-causing radium, only to dump the radioactive element back into the environment in sludge spread on farm fields and wastewater pumped into rivers and streams. State officials say the disposal methods won't threaten human health, food crops or wildlife. But critics, including some federal regulators, fear that in the rush to make drinking water safer, towns might be trading one radium problem for another.  Chicago Tribune_ 11/09/04 (logon required)

Crustacean found in New York tap water has Orthodox Jews scratching heads: Is the water kosher?

The discovery last spring changed the lives of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews across the city. Plumbers in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens have been summoned to install filters -- some costing more than $1,000 -- and dozens of restaurants have signs in their windows trumpeting that they filter. The issue has created a Talmudic tempest, allowing rabbis to render conflicting and paradoxical rulings on whether the water is drinkable if not filtered. The creature, a copepod, is found in water all over the world and is harmless. But it is a distant cousin of shrimp and lobster, shellfish whose consumption violates the biblical prohibition against eating water-borne creatures that lack fins and scales. New York Times/Oakland Tribune_ 11/7/04

New Jersey luxury co-op's water tests positive for Legionnaire's; water supply disconnected

Fort Lere officials said two residents have been diagnosed with ther disease, one in June and the other last week. It has not yet been determined whether the two victims had the same strain of the disease. Legionnaire's disease, which is characterized by pneumonia, is often contracted through inhaling water vapor, usually warm to hot. It is not spread from person to person. Bergen Record_ 11/1/04 (logon required)

October, 2004

Peoria, Arizona may buy out three private water companies; City and the firms are involved in a controversial contamination case

Peoria and the three water companies, Sunrise Water Co., Rose Valley Water Co. and New River Water Co., share interconnected water systems. They all are being sued by the families of two West Valley boys, Zach Stalls of Peoria and Davy Luna of Glendale, who died in 2002 after inhaling water contaminated by a deadly microorganism. Consulting firms Malcolm Pirnie Inc. and Brown and Caldwell will evaluate the three companies for the city. The consultants also will determine how much it would cost to integrate each system into the city's system.  Arizona Republic_ 10/30/04 (logon required)

Sulfate added to well water may be the answer to arsenic problems - Researchers

University of Illinois researchers  report in the journal Geology that sulfate salts are breathed in by harmless water bacteria and breathed out as sulfide, which reacts with arsenic, causing it to settle out and never reach the surface. Arsenic is a toxic metal found in many aquifers. Sulfate salts are inexpensive, readily soluble and easy to find.  Chicago Sun-Times 10/29/04

U.S. Department of Agriculture announces prototype plan to clean contaminants from groundwater and restore wetlands in Utica, Nebraska

In the 1940s and 1950s fumigants containing carbon tetrachloride were used to treat stored grain. The project, developed by the University of Nebraska with USDA and Environmental Protection Agency funding, will clean the contamination from the historic 364-acre wetlands in the North Lake Basin Wildlife Management Area. The project uses spray irrigation technology and wetland restoration.  USDA press release_ 10/27/04

Centers for Disease Control reports decrease in number of U.S. drinking water illness outbreaks

The number of drinking water-associated outbreaks decreased from 39 during 1999--2000 to 31 during 2001--2002. Outbreaks associated with private, unregulated wells remained relatively stable, although more outbreaks involving private, treated wells were reported during 2001--2002. Because the only groundwater systems that are required to disinfect their water supplies are public systems under the influence of surface water, these findings support EPA's development of a groundwater rule that specifies when corrective action (including disinfection) is required. CDC report_ 10/22/04

Industrial coating firm cited in the past for polluting groundwater asks to put chemical storage tanks near Plainville, Connecticut's drinking supply

Technical Coatings Laboratory LLC of Avon has asked permission from both the Farmington and Plainville zoning commissions to build three 12,000-gallon chemical storage tanks that would hold toluene, ethanol or other flammable and toxic chemicals. They would be about 500 feet from six water-supply wells that provide roughly half of Plainville’s drinking water, according to town officials. The state Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Water Management recommends the firm "locate to another site in a less environmentally sensitive are." If Plainville’s commissioners approve the site, the DEP recommends they require the company to meet stricter environment protection standards to be put into effect once the state’s Aquifer Protection Area Program is enacted.  Bristol, Connecticut, Press_ 10/27/04

EPA updates its guidelines for water reuse

The new manual expands coverage of water reuse issues and includes practices in other countries. It updates the 1992 guidelines and was developed by the EPA’s Office of Water and Office of Research and Development, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID). The 2004 manual is designed to help water and wastewater utilities and regulatory agencies, particularly in the U.S. Press Release_ 10/26/04

>Order the manual

>Download a pdf version of the manual

Vermont's first-in-the-nation stormwater runoff ruling leaves all sides searching for answers

The state Water Resources Board ruled that developers in five watersheds of polluted streams in Chittenden County had to obtain a federal rather than a state permit before being allowed to add to the pollution by discharging storm water, which is run off from roads, parking lots and commercial areas. The decision was hailed as a first-of-its kind ruling in the country. But it caught those who live and work in those polluted watersheds in the middle of the legal wrangling and the alphabet soup of state and federal permits. Those who could first feel the effects of the ruling include developers, builders, and anyone who needs a storm water permit to complete a real estate transaction in one of the impaired watersheds.  AP/Times Argus_ 10/25/04

BBC News Feature: Water scarcity, a looming crisis?

The amount of water in the world is finite. The number of us is growing fast and our water use is growing even faster. The UN recommends that people need a minimum of 50 litres of water a day for drinking, washing, cooking and sanitation. In 1990, over a billion people did not have even that. Providing universal access to that basic minimum worldwide by 2015 would take less than 1% of the amount of water we use today. But we're a long way from achieving that.  BBC News_ 10/19/04

Study: States too underfunded to prevent water pollution

More than 30 years after passage of the federal Clean Water Act, many states lack the money to provide enough regulation. For example, budget problems mean California enforces just 23 percent of federal wastewater standards and monitors just 60 percent of storm water regulations, according to Clifford Rechtschaffen, director of San Francisco's Golden Gate University's environmental law program and co-director of its Environmental Law and Justice Clinic. The majority of the other 16 states he surveyed also had too little money to fully enforce the key federal act, Rechtschaffen said in the study for the Center for Progressive Regulation. The nonprofit group is made up of university professors with experience in health, safety and environmental regulation. The report comes at a time when environmental groups nationwide are pushing for more enforcement. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 10/11/04

Viruses found in untreated La Crosse, Wisconsin water; Study shows Mississippi River water, sewer lines are possible sources

A study published in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology said viruses from human sources occured in the municipal drinking water supply prior to its chlorination. Although the city's treated water meets or exceeds state and federal standards for drinking water, researchers and public health officials agree that more study is needed to pinpoint sources of the viruses and to determine if some viruses are surviving chlorination and making people sick with diarrhea and vomiting. The objective of the study, by Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (MCRF) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), was to determine whether the amount of Mississippi River water moving through the riverbank and infiltrating city wells was related to the frequency of virus detection in the wells. Science Daily _ 10/7/04

Search continues for source of lead in Massachusetts school's drinking water

Officials at the Groton Dunstable Regional School District are frustrated that after a month of testing and pipe flushing, they have still not discovered the source of lead in the high school's water supply. Tests show only trace amounts of lead coming from 16 of the 20 tests sites, but it is enough to force administrators to turn off spigots and offer bottled water for drinking and cooking in the one-year-old school. Boston Globe_ 10/3/04

Toxic paint muddies a beloved Montana creek

Big Spring Creek flows through the center of life in the agricultural hamlet of Lewistown. The water is piped without treatment into the faucets of city residents, fishermen come from around the country to drop flies into its pools and children and adults float the stream in inner tubes. High levels of toxic PCB's found in the stream and their unlikely source--paint from the 1950s used on the walls of the fish hatchery up stream--have sent a ripple of shock through this central Montana town of 4,000. The results of blood tests from residents are due this month. New York Times_ 10/3/04 (logon required)

Mississippi to slowly reduce mercury pollution from wastewater

A draft ruling of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality intended to reduce the amount of mercury entering the Pascagoula River Basin. It requires facilities with wastewater discharge permits phase in freezes on toxic discharges. In the case of the Pascagoula Water Treatment Plant, the largest generator of wastewater discharges in the draft listing, that could mean mercury emissions won't change until the plant's permit expires in 2009. Air borne mercury pollution is outside the state's jurisdiction. Pascagoula, Mississippi Sun-Herald_ 10/2/04

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