Washington News

May 31, 2002

NWS Sees Only Limited Drought Relief

The National Weather Service (NWS) expects only limited relief from the severe drought conditions that have affected much of the East Coast and the western United States.

While there has been some recent rainfall, the drought “has been so severe that months of normal-to-above normal precipitation are necessary to end it,” the agency reported.

The Weather Service, a division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, gave these specifics about drought areas.

Georgia to Maine—There has been some improvement in reservoir storage and well levels but “cumulative rainfall deficits since October range from 9–12 inches across large sections of the eastern seaboard, with some locations showing higher deficits.”

The Great Plains—The outlook is for improvement with normal to above-normal rainfall easing dry conditions that extend from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakotas.

Southern/Southwestern Texas—Improvement expected “although water supply problems are likely to linger.”

Southern California/Western New Mexico/Southern parts of Utah, Nevada and California—Cumulative precipitation since October has been less than half of normal, and significant improvement is not likely before August.

Montana, Wyoming, Utah, other parts of Colorado—Spring and summer stream flows are expected to be only 50–70 percent of normal in these areas, with lesser flows in some sections.

Southern/Eastern Idaho—Low stream flows with possible summer water supply shortages.

Court Upholds Discharge Limits at Pulp/Paper Mills

The discharge limitations that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set for pulp and paper mills have been unanimously affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Tom Sansonetti, assistant U.S. attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department, said: “Implementation of the standards...will assure that American paper mills take advantage of the latest pollution-control technology, resulting in significant water quality improvements nationwide.”

At EPA, Tracy Mehan, assistant administrator for water, said the pulp and paper rule “will reduce dioxin discharges, protecting the health of millions of American families who live near the mills. It will lead to the cleanup of over 70 rivers and streams across the nation.”

Among the changes made by the new rule, existing mills will no longer be able to use the most harmful types of chlorine for bleaching.

EPA Completes Review of Regulations

EPA has completed a six-year review of 69 existing regulations covering drinking water.

The agency is seeking comment on its preliminary proposals to revise the standard for total coliforms.  Presently, it does not plan to take up the remaining 68 rules for chemical contaminants.

The agency said its revisions to the coliform standard will be designed to provide better indications of risks to public health than the current rule provides.

While determining that the other 68 rules covered in the review should not be revised at this time, EPA pointed out that new health assessments are now underway for 36 of the contaminants involved and the results of those assessments could show a need for later revisions.

Additional information, including a list of the standards, is available at www.epa.gov/safewater/.

GAO Reports on “Disadvantaged” Aid

States have made only limited use of the disadvantaged communities provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the General Accounting Office has told Congress.

The 1996 amendments to the act authorized states to use up to 30 percent of  the capitalization grants for their Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to provide additional subsidies to communities that qualify as “disadvantaged.”

While states have flexibility in defining a disadvantaged communities, those that do offer the subsidies generally use a standard based on household water rates relative to the community’s household income.

In recent testimony to a House of Representatives subcommittee on environmental issues, David G. Wood, director of Natural Resources and Environment for the General Accounting Office said that as of the end of 2001, 25 states had provided assistance to disadvantaged communities through their DWSRFs and six more had adopted plans to do so. The assistance takes the form of loan subsidies or extended loan terms.

Of 14 states that provided loan subsidies,Wood said, the closest any state came to the law’s 30 percent potential assistance was Maine at 23 percent.

The 19 states that had neither offered nor planned to offer assistance to disadvantaged communities said reasons included concerns about maintaining their SRFs, the availability of such assistance from other federal or state programs and the fact that they already offered loans at below-market interest rates.         

More Washington News is available at our website:


New Policy To Benefit “Performance Track” Members

Reporting requirements will be simplified for publicly owned treatment works that participate in EPA’s National Environmental Performance Track program.

In addition, those members will be allowed to store waste on site for an additional 90 days beyond present requirements if they can provide secondary containment.

EPA defines members of the Performance Track program as “top environmental performers—companies and communities that voluntarily go beyond compliance with regulatory requirements  to attain levels of environmental performance that benefit the environment, people and communities.”

Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said the special rules for track members “advance the principle that high-performing utilities should be recognized...by allowing them to focus more on environmental progress, instead of process.”        

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