The EPA and USACE release the final #CleanWaterRules — some congressional heads explode

From the Associated Press (Mary Clare Jalonik) via ABC News:

The White House said the rules would provide much-needed clarity for landowners, but some Republicans and farm groups said they go much too far. House Speaker John Boehner declared they would send “landowners, small businesses, farmers, and manufacturers on the road to a regulatory and economic hell.”

The rules, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are designed to clarify which smaller waterways fall under federal protection after two Supreme Court rulings had left the reach of the Clean Water Act uncertain. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the waters affected would be those with a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected.

The Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 left 60 percent of nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands without clear federal protection, according to EPA. The new rules say a tributary must show evidence of flowing water to be protected — like a bank or a high water mark. The regulations would kick in and force a permitting process only if a business or landowner took steps to pollute or destroy those waters.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that the rules will provide needed clarity for business and industry and “will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable.”

The rules face deep opposition from the Republican-led Congress and farmers concerned that every stream, ditch and puddle on their private land could now be subject to federal oversight. The House voted to block the regulations earlier this month, and a similar effort is underway in the Senate.

Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said his panel will consider the Senate bill to force the EPA to withdraw and rewrite the rules this summer.

House Speaker Boehner called the rules “a raw and tyrannical power grab.”

Farm groups have said the rules could greatly expand the reach of the clean water law and create confusion among officials in the field as to which bodies of water must be protected…

These efforts were “to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way,” McCarthy said in a blog on the EPA website.

“Major economic sectors, from manufacturing and energy production to agriculture, food service, tourism and recreation, depend on clean water to function and flourish,” McCarthy said.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has led opposition to the rules, saying they could make business more difficult for farmers. The group said Wednesday that it would wait to review the final rules before responding.

The agriculture industry has been particularly concerned about the regulation of drainage ditches on farmland. The EPA and Army Corps said the only ditches that would be covered under the rule are those that look, act and function like a tributary and carry pollution downstream.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation May 1 thru May 24, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation May 1 thru May 24, 2015

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.


Snowpack/runoff news

Click on a thumbnail to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Katie de la Rosa):

May’s moisture did wonders for Larimer County’s snowpack, with the South Platte River Basin measuring 209 percent of normal for this time of year.

On April 1, the snowpack was 89 percent of average, said Treste Huse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder.

Despite the recent surge, it isn’t even the highest percentage the basin has seen in the last five years. This time last year, snowpack was at 230 percent of average. In 2013, it was at 364 percent, Huse said. In 2012, it was only 6 percent…

As for the Poudre River, it was flowing at 2,350 cubic feet per second and up to 7.15 feet on the gauge in Fort Collins on Monday. The average for this time of year is just above 1,500 cfs, and flood stage is 10.5 feet.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead reacts to EPA “Waters of the US” rule

Fen photo via the USFS
Fen photo via the USFS

Here’s the release via Governor Matt Mead’s office:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy called Governor Mead to announce that she is signing the controversial Waters of the United States rule. Wyoming, along with a number of other states, asked McCarthy to work on concerns with the rule. Consultation with governors is required under the Clean Water Act.

“I am disappointed at the lack of consideration for the law and procedure,” said Mead. “The Administrator ignored requests to consult with states and develop a rule that complies with the law and protects water.”

Once it is signed the rule will go into the federal register for review and comment.

“This rule has wide ranging impact,” said Mead. “I am frustrated the EPA has again stepped out of the bounds of its authority and has disregarded the role and concerns of the state.”

West Salt Creek slide lake leaks, officials report — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post
Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A new watercourse springing from the West Salt Creek landslide has Mesa County officials saying they’re paying close attention to the change.

Tim Hayashi and Frank Kochevar Jr., respectively the senior engineer and survey supervisor for Mesa County, found the new stream as they visited the slide on Sunday, Hayashi said.

The discovery gave new urgency to the landslide study, Hayashi said.

“We’re at a point where Frank and I have gone from checking (on the slide) from once or twice a day to just about every hour,” Hayashi said. “And that’s ‘round the clock.”

The new stream rises about 75 feet above the base of the slump block — the large mass of mud, rock and debris still clinging to the side of Grand Mesa, Hayashi said.

Its appearance marks a “significant change” in the landslide and prompted heightened scrutiny of the slide according to an emergency action plan drawn up by the county for dealing with the slide. The plan accounts for three levels of response, of which the additional awareness is the first level.

There is no immediate threat to residents or to the town of Collbran, six miles to the northwest, Hayashi said.

Experts expected the stream to appear at some point, “it was just a matter of when,” Hayashi said.

The source of the stream is the lake, or sag pond, that has collected in the V-shaped area between the mesa and the slump block, Hayashi said.

“There is no other reasonable source of water” at this time, he said.

Access to the slide area remains restricted at the top by the U.S. Forest Service. No one is permitted within 300 yards of the edge of the slide because of its instability.

The rest of the slide sits on private property.

Cameras, monitors and other devices are in place to alert officials of any movement, including a monitor about 100 feet above the new stream.

Residents of the area are to be notified should conditions become hazardous, according to the county’s emergency plan.

Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Geological Survey, and Department of Parks and Wildlife are monitoring the slide, as are the county and Forest Service.

From The Denver Post (Anthony Cotton):

A Level One, under the Emergency Action Plan, means something has changed that requires a heightened level of awareness, the county said on its Facebook page. It does not mean citizens near the area face an extra safety risk.

The highest alert level is Level Three.

The appearance of a stream of water on the West Salt Creek landslide area above Collbran prompted the decision.

“We expected to see water-related changes in the landslide during spring runoff,” said Tim Hayashi, Senior Engineer for Mesa County. “But one of the looming questions has been, ‘What would the pond do?'”[…]

Mesa County’s emergency plan calls for immediate notification of the public when conditions become hazardous to citizens. Collbran residents have previously been briefed on the possibility of water spilling over the sag pond or finding a route down the debris area.