Bush Threatens Veto of Massive Water Projects Bill

President George W. Bush has threatened to veto a massive water projects bill inflated with pork barrel projects.

President George W. Bush has threatened to veto a massive water projects bill inflated with pork barrel projects. The $20 billion Water Resources Development Act authorizes major waterway projects, most of which fall under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers. Funding, if available, would be appropriated later.

White House officials said a House-Senate conference committee merged a $14 billion Senate bill and a $15 billion House bill, and the end-result was a $20 billion measure expanded by drinking water, wastewater, and other projects that legislators wanted for their districts.

The House passed the conference committee bill. The Senate planned a vote before its August recess.

Major measures in the bill included $3.5 billion for Hurricane Katrina restoration in Louisiana, $2 billion each for Florida Everglades work, California projects, and Upper Mississippi/Illinois rivers navigation improvements.

A usual administration supporter, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he would work to override a presidential veto.

“The fact is that WRDA, a bill that should be enacted every two years, is now five years overdue, accounting for much of the size of the bill.”

Private Activity Bonds

The National Association of Regularity Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has urged Congress to remove federal caps on the states’ use of qualified water project Private Activity Bonds (PABs).

Peter Cook, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), said “The legislation will make PABs more readily available to finance water projects and help to control costs paid by water customers.”

NAWC said PABs allow the bond issuer to pay a lower interest rate, thus lowering the cost of projects, which are passed on to water utility rate payers.

It said under current law, the total dollar amount of PABs that can be approved by a state is annualized, which works against PABs being used in expensive, multiyear water and wastewater projects.

EPA Allows NYC Unfiltered Water Use

The Environmental Protection Agency will allow New York City to continue using unfiltered drinking water from the Catskill/Delaware system for another 10 years.

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires drinking water taken from surface water sources to be filtered to remove microbial contaminants. EPA can grant a waiver if water suppliers have an effective watershed control program and if their water meets strict quality standards.

The agency first granted New York City a waiver (a filtration avoidance determination) in 1993 for the Catskill/Delaware water supply.

New York City will improve its watershed protection plan during the next decade. It has committed $300 million for land acquisition and will use agricultural/forestry easements and land trusts to protect reservoirs and streams.

The protection plan will provide continuing support for residential septic system rehabilitation and maintenance programs, a new program for commercial septic systems, upgrades to existing wastewater plants, completion of ongoing projects for new wastewater treatment plants, three new community wastewater treatment projects, and two new sewer extension projects. The city also committed to fund five additional community wastewater treatment projects.

The city will build an ultraviolet light disinfection plant to treat Catskill/Delaware water beginning in August 2012. That plant will supplement the existing chlorine disinfection system.

New York City still is required to filter water from another system, called the Croton, by constructing a filtration system in the Bronx by 2011.

DC WASA Rebuts EWG Water Report

An environmental group’s critique of District of Columbia’s drinking water has been soundly rebutted.

The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested water from the Washington Aqueduct in May. It reported that levels of toxic by-products from chemicals used to purify Potomac River water exceeded annual federal health limits.

“These toxic byproducts will continue to persist until the Potomac River is adequately cleaned up. Until that happens residents of Washington and Northern Virginia should use carbon filters that can reduce these contaminants dramatically at one tenth the cost of bottled water,” said EWG Executive Director Richard Wiles.

The group tested tap water for two disinfection byproducts, total trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids. EWG said more than 40% of the samples contained chemical byproducts above annual federal limits.

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) insisted that its water is safe and meets EPA standards. It said EWG tested the water at the end of a one-month “chlorine burn” (April 7 to May 7). A “burn” is a common water utility practice used periodically to prevent excessive bacteria buildup in the water distribution system.

“EWG has interpreted individual test results as a breach of the federal health limits,” said Jerry Johnson, WASA general manager. “This is incorrect. The federal health limits are based on running averages for four consecutive quarters, not single readings, and drinking water provided by WASA is well within these limits and was at the time of the chlorine burn in 2007.”

Diane VanDe Hei, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, said testing D.C. tap water at the height of the city’s annual flushing using chlorine “is like measuring rainfall in a desert on the one day it rains and marveling at how wet the desert is.”

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