Clarity Blog

Clarity Blog

Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Water Weekly 3: Eco-hawks, Oldtimers and Stinkers

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every week, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

“Virtual River” Runs Dry

The eco-hawks often talk of a “virtual river” that could supply Californians all the water they need, if only they’d conserve more.  It seems the virtual river flows through real farm land, given all the talk about how farmers waste water. Well, in San Diego County, the virtual river theory is getting pretty parched as farmers who are doing all the right things – installing drip irrigation, planting high-value crops – are facing economic ruin because even with the best practices, water’s still going up to $1,400 per acre foot next year.

Let the California Farm Bureau Federation tell you more.

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Stinky Messaging Out of Chicago

Over a century ago, the good people of Chicago undertook an understandable bit of subjugating nature: They reversed the flow of local sewage-choked waterways, including the Chicago River, so they no longer flowed into Lake Michigan, the source of their drinking water.  And that was pretty much it for sewage treatment in Chicago.

It took a while, but EPA finally told Chicago to clean up its act and make the city’s polluted rivers and canals clean enough to swim in.  That’s definitely not the case now, as bacteria counts of water dumped into the Chicago River at the Reclamation District’s North Side Treatment Plant are, on average, 521 times higher than those in nearby waterways. According to EPA, some stretches of the Chicago River are made up of 70% treatment plant effluent.

EPA  says the cost per household of building suitable treatment plants will be about the same as a latte a month – just $40 a year in new taxes for an owner of a median-priced home ($267,000).  Given the Feds’ poor track record at cost-estimating, let’s triple that to $120 a year.

So, confronted with a rate increase of $10 a month for his average customer, here’s how Terrence O’Brien, president of Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, responded:

In these difficult economic times when public agencies are facing budgetary shortfalls, people are losing their jobs and homes … it is important … that public funds are spent wisely.

We generally like messages that tie into the economic hardship that’s all around us, but really?  What was the Reclamation District doing with its money during previous fat times?  Why didn’t O’Brien and his board belly up to their responsibilities then?

And couldn’t some of the money lost to racketeering and other scandals over the years (like this) been used instead to pay the cost of behaving responsibly? Or, since times are so tight, couldn’t the Reclamation District have considered not increasing salaries by more than 30 percent over the last five years?

And why is it that every other major city in America (according to the Chicago Tribune) manages to disinfect its sewage, but Chicago is still behaving like it’s the 1800s?

Finally, after reviewing O’Brien’s campaign ad we have to ask where his campaign promises are now.  What about when he said, “It’s my job to clean up our water,” or when he said, “I’ve spent my life cleaning up messes?” Surely statements like that, documented on YouTube for all to see, need to be taken into account when developing the Reclamation District’s response to EPA – or are you just saying it’s politics, promises are just for getting elected?

To put it bluntly, O’Brien’s message stinks.  Chicago residents familiar with the ongoing negative news coverage the Reclamation District gets very likely won’t accept that O’Brien is really standing up for them. And since the city’s spent $100 million improving public access to these very waterways, citizens are probably pretty fed up with the Reclamation District’s stubbornness on water quality.

Even if the agency is going to fight EPA tooth-and-nail, a better message would have been one of the need for further study and taking the time to do things right.  And as any competent public affairs messaging guru will tell you, it’s not nice to exploit people who have been hurt by the recession.

Water Weekly 3: The color of trouble

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every Thursday, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

Brown Out

During the campaign, Jerry Brown shed about as much light on his water policy as a … moonbeam.  We thought he’d be OK, but would he be great OK or so-so OK? It’s the latter. Resources Secretary Jerry Meral said yesterday MWD’s hoped-for big tunnel will no longer be the primary focus of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. EPA praised the move. MWD’s been quiet. Enviros have dug in with, “Tunnels, chunnels or any movement of water from or around the Delta are [sic] wrong! They will destroy the Delta …” Where’s the wiggle room in that?

Here’s the SacBee on Meral’s comments.

And from the far left, a response (more…)

Excuse Me, Is Your Mission Creeping?

Federal wetland regulators suffered a bad decade in the 2000s with the Rapanos and SWANCC decisions temporarily halting EPA and Corps of Engineers mission creep into the regulation of land no one but a regulator could consider to be “Waters of the US” or wetlands.

But like those nasty spirits in Poltergeist, they’re baaa-aack.

EPA released today a draft guidance it hopes will clarify which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act in light of these decisions and which are not.  To our reading, it seems the agency is a bit forgetful of the power the Judicial Branch has over the Executive Branch. For example, borrowing from a summary provided by the Association of California Water Agencies, the guidance would deem the following as protected waters:

  • Traditional navigable waters [check]
  • Interstate waters [check]
  • Wetlands adjacent to either traditional navigable waters or interstate waters [watch out!]
  • Non-navigable tributaries to traditional navigable waters that are relatively permanent, meaning they contain water at least seasonally [watch out!]
  • Wetlands that directly abut relatively permanent waters [watch out!]

How long is a season? When do waters become relatively impermanent? How adjacent is adjacent? For an administration that doesn’t like loopholes when they apply to corporations, these seem like loopholes of a drive-a-truck-through-it scale.

There’s another bunch of possibilities too, like if a “significant nexus” [how significant?] is found, then “wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional tributaries to traditional navigable waters” would be under federal jurisdiction, as well as that good ol’ regulatory Pandora’s box, “other waters.”

We were glad to see swimming pools specifically excluded.  More significantly, “erosional features (rills and gullies) … that are not tributaries or wetlands” are excluded. This is significant in the arid West, where these features, no matter how ephemeral, have been subject to regulation as if they were little Mississippi Rivers and Okefenokee Swamps.

On the plus side, the Obama administration has just ensured unemployment insurance claims from attorneys with Clean Water Act expertise will dry up like a Utah rill in August.

The guidance is now undergoing a 60-day comment period.

Possible Pick of RFK, Jr. for EPA Head Signals a New Age of Regulation

Tougher water quality regulations and higher energy costs may be on the horizon for the water industry.

The ballot-counting hasn’t even stopped and we are seeing signs of increased regulation ahead for the water industry under the administration of Barack Obama.Politico reports:

President-elect Barack Obama is strongly considering Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head the Environmental Protection Agency, a Cabinet post, Democratic officials told Politico.

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