Congress Considers Measure to Fund Rural Water Projects

The House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power has held a hearing on a Senate-passed bill that would grant rural communities...

The House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power has held a hearing on a Senate-passed bill that would grant rural communities and Indian tribes low-interest loans for water infrastructure projects.

The Senate passed the Rural Water Supply Act late last year. It would require the Bureau of Reclamation to promote municipal and industrial use water supply projects for small communities and rural areas in the West.

The bill would authorize $20 million per year for planning new water delivery infrastructure. It would establish a loan guarantee program within the Bureau to help communities finance new water projects and maintain existing systems. It also would expedite the Bureau’s processes to help communities identify the best ways to meet water supply needs.

Prospects for House passage were unclear. Congress was due to adjourn in October in preparation for the November congressional elections and relatively few legislative days remained on its calendar.

NRDC Threatens Suit Over Beach Pollution

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said in early August that it is suing EPA for failing to upgrade its beach water quality standard as required by Congress six years ago.

The 2000 Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act required EPA to revise the current health standards by October 2005. The agency has said it will not be able to update the rules until 2011.

NRDC said it counted more than 20,000 closing and health advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches in 2005 due to bacterial contamination. It was the third straight year of increases and the most since NRDC began tracking the problem 16 years ago.

The group said for the first time, it evaluated beach water quality nationwide and found 200 beaches in 24 states whose beach water samples violated health standards at least 25% of the time, mostly due to bacteria. Overall, 8% of the beach water samples taken nationwide violated health standards.

“The pollution that fouls our beaches comes from sewers, septic systems, and storm water runoff from roads and buildings. Poorly planned development on our coasts has paved over wetlands and other vegetation that soaked up and filtered polluted storm water,” said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC’s Clean Water Project. “These problems are preventable.

“It would be a lot safer to swim if municipalities used soil and vegetation to capture and filter storm water at its source, and upgraded their aging sewer systems.”

Senate Votes to Reauthorize Water Resources Development Act

The Senate has voted to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), loading it with an array of water-related projects such as flood, storm and shoreline protection, environmental restoration, and improvements to waterways and ports.

The House of Representatives had approved a similar bill last year. A House-Senate conference committee was due to reconcile the two measures.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said WRDA meets a number of critical water resource needs. For instance, he said it would increase hurricane and storm damage protection through wetlands preservation and restoration. And it would survey the nation’s levees to discover those at most risk of failure.

Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), the senior minority party member on the committee, said, “Hurricane Katrina reminded us about the importance of water resources development. This bill will support the Corps of Engineers and leave us better prepared to deal with disasters in the future.”

The National Waterways Conference noted that although WRDA is not a spending bill, it would enable the funding of $11 billion worth of projects if Congress appropriates the money.

Scientists Study Ion, Mineral Interaction

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, Chicago, say they have found new ways that ions interact with mineral surfaces in water, increasing understanding on how contaminants travel in the environment.

Argonne said ions (ranging from nutrients such as calcium, to contaminants such as lead) are present in natural waters, but their transport is often limited by adsorption to mineral surfaces.

It said contrary to generally held scientific assumptions, the simple textbook description of how ions adsorb to mineral-water interfaces has been shown to not be universally true.

Argonne physicist Paul Fenter said, “Ions are known to carry a hydration shell in water. Previously, it was thought that ions either adsorb to a mineral surface with this shell intact as an outer-sphere ion, or remove part of this shell to directly bind to the mineral as an inner-sphere ion. We now know that this is not just a black and white difference, but have discovered new shades of gray by showing that outer-sphere and inner-sphere species of the same ion can co-exist.”

Using the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne, which provides the Western Hemisphere’s most brilliant x-ray beams for research, the team was able to identify how specific ions interact at mineral-water interfaces and visualize the phenomena directly.

Argonne said the research may lead to a better understanding of various processes that take place at solid-liquid interfaces, including corrosion, erosion, catalysis, and even the biological behavior of cell membranes.

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