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Water Supply and Safety


Colorado River Allocation Reductions

The Department of the Interior announced (May 22) an agreement among Lower Colorado River Basin states to implement further water use reductions that totals 3 million acre-feet through the end of 2026. Half of the water savings will need to be achieved by 2024.

More than 76 percent of the reductions will be compensated through Federal funding approved for this purpose in the 2021 Inflation Reduction Act, an amount likely to be about $1.2 billion. Affected states could use that money, as specified under the law, “to mitigate the impact of drought” which could mean payments to farmers to cut back on water use (and therefore farm production) or payments to communities as an incentive to scale back water use. Uncompensated reductions, estimated to be about 700,000 acre-feet of water, would be divided among California, Arizona, and Nevada. 

For some perspective, the upper- and lower-level basins are each allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually under the current state water compact, which runs through 2026. Upper basin states receive water directly from the Colorado River; lower-basin state water comes from the Lake Mead reservoir. The target reduction will be equal to about a 13% reduction for each of the three lower basin states from now through 2026. 

And, after this agreement is finalized, states will have to begin work on another 20-year compact that would start in 2027. That future agreement could necessitate much more significant reductions if drought conditions persist.The specifics of how the additional near-term cuts will be achieved is not yet clear. In large part, the specifics will filter down from the central government of each state down to each locality and water consumer. 

The Federal Government will stand by to impose water reductions if the states fail to reach the desired targets. In April, the Federal Government began the process of imposing new restrictions on basin states, which would have been more impactful than the reductions under the current agreement. That process will be suspended, and the Federal Government via the Interior Department will now assess and make a final decision on the lower-basin state plan.

(posted: 5-23-23)


PFAS/Forever Chemicals in Drinking Water

The EPA announced (March 14) a proposed rule that proposes to put into place the first national drinking water standards on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). The EPA previously committed to proposing such standards, consistent with its PFAS strategy roadmap announced in 2021.

The proposed regulation will require public water systems to monitor six substances, and both notify the public and reduce PFAS contamination if levels exceed the proposed regulatory standards.

The EPA paved the way for this action in 2022, when it released (June 15) four “health advisories” on PFAS drinking water safety levels. The advisories provided technical information that federal, state, and local officials can use to inform the development of monitoring plans, investments in treatment solutions, and future policies to protect the public from PFAS exposure.

Proposed Federal standards, however, will move the EPA away from an advisory approach on this matter, to one of regulatory compliance.

(updated: 3-14-23)


Desalinated Water from Mexico

An Israel-based company–IDE Technologies–is proposing to build a $5.5 billion water desalination plant in Mexico with the majority of the water being piped to Arizona.

Seawater would be drawn from the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, desalinated, then shared with some local Mexican cities and Arizona. The majority of the water would be pipped 200 miles into Arizona. The company claims it could provide up to 1 million acre-feet annually of water for at least 100 years providing the annual water needs of an estimated 3 million households (2.6 million in Arizona). An initial phase, which could be completed within the next 4-5 years, would provide 300K acre-feet of water.

Arizona currently uses upwards of 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year. While this kind of project would not meet Arizona’s water needs, it could meet a significant portion of demand for the long term. 

For the company to move forward with the project, water buyers (primarily the State of Arizona) will need to put $750 million into escrow to prove a long-term commitment to the project.

This kind of project may still be a long shot, however. The project was supported by the prior Arizona governor, and the Arizona Water Infrastructure Finance Authority voted to move forward right before the governor’s term ended. 

It is not yet clear that the current governor’s administration also supports the project, though this could change quickly with another summer of drought and rapidly declining water resources via the Colorado River. There are also environmental permitting and foreign policy considerations on the American side that have only begun to be assessed.

From Mexico’s standpoint, there potentially could be nationalistic backlash against scarce water resources being pipped away from Mexico. And, local Sonora State support may depend on how much water stays in the local region. That said, Mexico President Manuel López Obrador recently expressed support for the plan as long as assessments show that the plans are not locally opposed and the facility poses no problem to the environment; that, his administration will be ready to authorize “everything.”

(posted: 2-21-23)


Coal Ash & Groundwater

The EPA provided an update (January 25) on deadline extension requests for unlined coal ash ponds to begin the closure process under a rule finalized by the agency in 2020. Under the rule, unlined ponds were required to stop receiving new shipments of coal ash by April 2021.

In the latest update, the EPA issued six proposed delay request denials: Belle River Power and Monroe Power Plants (Michigan), Coal Creek Station (North Dakota), Conemaugh Generating Station (Pennsylvania), Coronado Generating Station (Arizona), and Martin Lake Steam Electric Station (Texas). A seventh power facility–Apache Generating Station (Arizona)–withdrew its request.

If the denials are finalized, the facilities will have to either stop sending waste to the unlined impoundments or submit applications to EPA for extensions to the deadline for unlined coal ash surface impoundments to stop receiving waste.

The EPA has been reviewing deadline extension requests for 52 unlined ponds serving power plant facilities. With the additional proposed denials, the EPA has so far issued proposed determinations for 13 facilities. In November (2022), the EPA made a final determination to deny an extension request for the James Gavin Power Plant (Ohio). These cases take time to fully adjudicate through administrative processes; the EPA proposed to deny the Gavin Power Plant extension request in January of 2022.

The EPA says that there are about 500 unlined coal ash ponds in the United States, most of which should now be in the process of closing. Earthjustice publishes data and map information on current coal ash ponds around the United States, including specifics on those ponds known to have already contaminated some groundwater.

(updated: 1-27-23)


Forever Chemicals and Self-Caught Fish

A study published in Environmental Research (January 2023) concludes that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” in freshwater fish is likely a significant source of exposure at least to PFOS (a PFAS chemical).

PFOS accounted for 74% of PFAS levels discovered in the study’s data from fish filet samples taken between 2013 and 2015. The chemical is especially problematic for high frequency freshwater fish consumers, in particular persons who eat self-caught fish. Freshwater fish sold in stores is known to have significantly lower PFOS levels based on FDA testing data.

The study found that given the discovered levels of PFAS, eating just one serving of freshwater fish each year potentially could have the same effect as drinking water heavily polluted with “forever chemicals” for an entire month. The study also noted that PFAS contamination may be of greater concern for areas like the Great Lakes ecosystem, and persons who “depend on fishing on the Great Lakes for sustenance and cultural practices.”

PFAS pollution in the Great Lakes and other lakes and ponds is more significant because water is not cycled as much as through rivers and streams.

(posted: 1-18-23)


Major Manufacturer Commits to Dropping Forever Chemicals

The 3M Corporation committed (December 20) to phase out production of so-called “forever chemicals,” also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Production will cease by the end of 2025. 3M's statement suggests that the decision is based on efforts by both business and government aimed at reducing or eliminating PFAS in the environment.

3M says that it will discontinue manufacturing all fluoropolymers, fluorinated fluids, and PFAS-based additive products by the end of 2025, but will help facilitate an “orderly transition for customers.” The company will also discontinue use of PFAS in its own products by this deadline. 3M says that it has already reduced its PFAS use through ongoing R&D.

PFAS-related products for 3M constitute less than an estimated 4% of the company’s revenue.

(posted: 1-4-23)


PFAS Hazardous Substances Designation

The EPA announced (August 26) that it is designating through rulemaking certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances under Superfund. Such a designation improves accountability by polluting entities, including for the financing of the eventual cleanup of contaminated locations.

The two substances are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), including their salts and structural isomers. EPA concludes that “PFOA and PFOS can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time and evidence from laboratory animal and human epidemiology studies indicates that exposure to PFOA and/or PFOS may lead to cancer, reproductive, developmental, cardiovascular, liver, and immunological effects.”

The American Chemistry Council is calling the proposed rule "an expensive, ineffective and unworkable means to achieve remediation for these chemicals." The Council argues that the science regarding these chemicals "is under development" and that it will divert resources from "focusing on more pressing and higher priority issues, including existing delays in many state and federal cleanup programs."

The proposed rule is subject to a public comment period. It is not clear when this proposed rule will be finalized, though this will likely not occur until next year at the earliest.

(updated: 8-30-22)


International Water Security Plan

The White House announced (June 1, 2022) an “action plan” to address water security across the globe. While the plan includes illustrative actions that are being taken right now, or can be taken going forward, the plan serves more as an overall framework to guide Federal agency priorities and actions going forward.

Perhaps most importantly, the plan will serve as a policy touchstone to elevate the topic of water security in advancing not only broader world-wide humanitarian needs, but also U.S. national security, health, and environmental interests affected by worldwide conditions.

Here are the key things the United States will do under the plan:

  • Work with governments, regional partners, the private sector, public interest organizations, and others “to drive progress toward achieving universal access to sustainable and safely managed” Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) services with a focus on making them affordable and sustainable, in particular by attracting finance.

  • Focus on supporting partners with data and training on available tools to support data collection, as well as use and application of best practices in water resource planning.

  • Elevate diplomacy on water cooperation through regional and multilateral fora (e.g., G7, G20, the UN, etc.), and use U.S. “vast diplomatic resources” to ensure that action at multilateral fora and through international organizations advances water security.

(updated: 6-2-22)


Perchlorate and Drinking Water Regulation

The EPA announced (March 31, 2022) that after completing a review of a 2020 decision not to regulate Perchlorate in drinking water, that it has decided that it will continue to not regulate given “the best available peer reviewed science.”

While rejecting regulation at this time, the EPA summarized the actions it is taking related to this matter including supporting research to better understand perchlorate tied to firework displays; establishing a web-based toolkit to provide updated technical information to assist drinking water systems and communities with concerns about perchlorate contamination; and, more generally, improving water quality through nearly $16 billion in projects funded through the 2021 Infrastructure Act, and also through increased investments in Superfund cleanups.

(updated: 4-3-22)


Shower Head Flow Rule

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) implemented a Final Rule reverting to a shower head flow standard that existed prior changes implemented in the final weeks of the Trump Administration. The Trump Administration changed the definition of a "showerhead" to permit attachments outside of the actual showerhead to meet the established standard of 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM) in addition to the actual showerhead itself. The new Final Rule reverts to the more stringent water use standards requiring that all elements of the shower system meet the 2.5 GPM standard at the same time

(updated: 2-2-22)


Lead Water Pipe Replacement

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $15 billion for nationwide lead water service line replacement. The funding is an key part of the Biden Administration's Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan (December 2021).  Examples of the 15 actions listed in the plan: 

  • Release of $2.9 billion of the $15 billion Infrastructure Act funding to States/Localities/Tribes lead water service line replacement.

  • Clarify that an eligible use of the American Rescue Plan $350 billion appropriation intended for States/Localities/Tribes, are purposes related to addressing lead in water.

(updated: 2-2-22)



The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions related to the DOD testing and remediation of PFAS contamination. Among the Act's provisions:

  • Establishes a 2-year deadline for completion of PFAS testing at Department of Defense and National Guard installations. 

  • Requires the Department of Defense to publish and make publicly available results of drinking and ground water testing for PFAS conducted on or near military installations, formerly used defense sites, and national guard sites.

  • Creates a Department of Defense PFAS task force to unify the response to PFAS contamination across military departments. 

(updated: 2-2-22)


Infrastructure Act - Western Water Projects

Looking at the longer term, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (enacted in November 2021) included significant investment in western water infrastructure that should help improve both the availability and conservation of water resources in the western United States.

Among the investments in the Act over five years: $3.2 billion to repair/replace aging infrastructure; $1.1 billion for water storage infrastructure; $1 billion for water recycling projects; $250 million for desalination projects; $200 million for watershed projects; $400 million for water conservation projects; and, $200 million for ecosystem restoration. The Bureau of Reclamation released a spend plan for 2022 resources in January.

(updated: 5-5-22)


Connected Policies


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Federal Laws Affecting Mining
Federal Laws Affecting Mining

This is a document of the National Mining Association providing a summary of Federal laws that affect mining in the United States.

Status: while no significant legislation is under consideration to revise mining laws, some regulatory updates are under consideration with respect to water and mining cleanup.

Shower Water Flow Standard - Final Rule
Shower Water Flow Standard - Final Rule

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a Final Rule on definition of a showerhead and flow standards. This Final Rule ensures that showerheads that all elements of a shower system meets a standard of 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM) flow.

Status: this Final Rule was issued on December 20, 2021.

Dishwasher/Clothes Washer/Dryer Standards - Final Rule
Dishwasher/Clothes Washer/Dryer Standards - Final Rule

This Final Rule of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reverse two Final Rules implemented during the the fall of 2020 creating new classes of dishwashers, clothwashers and dryers, which were deemed not subject to water- and energy-conserving standards.

Status: this Final Rule was published on January 19, 2022.

Water Restrictions - Colorado River Storage System
Water Restrictions - Colorado River Storage System

The Bureau of Reclamation of the U.S. Department of the Interior announced its policy for 2022 that water derived from water taken from Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be reduced. The Colorado Storage System is currently at 40% of capacity, down from 49% 2020.

Status: Reclamation made this announcement on August 16, 2021.


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