April 2022 Vol. 77 No. 4



U.S. Interior Earmarks $1.7 Billion Tribal Water Settlements 

U.S. Department of Interior announced that it will use $1.7 billion from the recently enacted federal infrastructure bill to fund 16 tribal water rights settlements. The funds are to pay for infrastructure that provides access to water that the tribes have been promised, the agency said. 

“I am grateful that tribes, some of whom have been waiting for this funding for decades, are finally getting the resources they are owed,” Haaland said in a statement during a trip to Arizona, where she announced the funding. 

Access to reliable, clean water and basic sanitation facilities on tribal lands remains a challenge. The funding for settlements is part of about $11 billion from the infrastructure law headed to Indian Country to expand broadband coverage, fix roads and provide basic needs like running water. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1908 that tribes have rights to as much water as they need to establish a permanent homeland, and those rights stretch back at least as long as any given reservation has existed. As a result, tribal water rights often are more senior to others in the West, where competition over the scarce resource is fierce 

Litigation can be expensive and drawn-out, which is why many tribes have turned to settlements. Nearly 40 have been reached with tribes, some of which include more than one tribe. Altogether, the infrastructure bill included $2.5 billion for water rights settlements in the coming years. 

Michigan Counties Form Water Infrastructure Partnership 

County officials in the Detroit area have agreed to establish partnerships to address water and broadband infrastructure challenges facing the region. 

Commissioners in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties have adopted resolutions on the regional partnerships. The two groups will gather studies and create recommendations for action, which will culminate in a presentation to be made at a summit this year. 

“With these groups, we have the opportunity to ensure equity on a much larger scale than if we were working independently,” said Oakland County Commission Chair David T. Woodward. 

Michigan Legislature Approves $4.8 Billion Infrastructure Plan 

Michigan lawmakers have approved $4.8 billion in spending, mostly for infrastructure upgrades, with an influx of federal pandemic and other funds that will go toward water systems and other priorities. 

The supplemental budget plan, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will sign, has more than $2.1 billion for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure — including by replacing lead pipes — dam repairs and safety, and the remediation of “forever chemicals” known  
as PFAS. 

The House and Senate approved the main bill 95-7 and 34-3. The deal was announced late on March 23 by the governor and Republicans who lead the Legislature’s budget committees. 

The plan — which legislators called “momentous” and “historic” — includes $250 million to add high-speed internet to rural and other areas without access, an additional $383 million in emergency assistance for low-income renters, and $271 million for housing and related aid. 

Planned California Reservoir on Track for $2.2 Billion Federal Loan 

A long-delayed plan to build a giant reservoir in Northern California got a financial boost last month when the federal government signaled its intent to loan the project nearly $2.2 billion — about half of the cost to design, plan and build it. 

The idea has been around since the 1950s but never moved forward because there had never been enough money or political will. But a long-running drought has renewed interest in the project, which is also in line to get about $875 million from a voter-approved bond plus another $450 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The massive loan announced in mid-March by the Environmental Protection Agency effectively preapproved the project. Final approval will take up to two years as federal government and project officials to negotiate the terms and sign documents. 

The project still must clear some regulatory processes before construction, including an environmental review in which the project is facing fierce resistance. 

Georgia Awards $422 Million for Water and Sewer Projects 

Georgia Gov Brian Kemp awarded $422 million from federal COVID-19 relief funds to more than 100 water and sewer projects concentrated in rural Georgia. 

The biggest project is $49 million awarded to Albany State University and the state Environmental Protection Division to reduce reliance on the surface waters of the Flint River basin and the Floridian aquifer by using deeper underground water supplies during droughts. 

The Flint River feeds Apalachicola Bay in the Florida panhandle, where an important oyster fishery has mostly collapsed, in part because of unreliable water flows, especially during drought. Water usage in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system has been the subject of long-running legal disputes among Georgia, Florida and Alabama, with Georgia winning some key rulings in recent years. 

It’s the second major round of funds approved by Kemp. He earlier awarded $408 million in federal money to expand high-speed internet access, also mostly in rural Georgia. The governor also planned to announce a third round of funding to offset negative economic impacts from  
the pandemic. 

Sewage Spill Shuts Down California Beach 

A stretch of Southern California beach was temporarily closed to swimmers and surfers after up to 50,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into nearby waters, authorities said. 

The Orange County Health Care Agency said a blocked sewer line at a restaurant in Newport Bay caused the leak of untreated sewage, the Los Angeles Times reported. Waters on the west end of the bay were to remain closed until the water quality samples meet acceptable standards, the agency said. 

This spill came less than two months after a sewage main in Carson failed, spewing millions of gallons of waste into the Los Angeles Harbor and fouling beaches in Long Beach and elsewhere in LA and Orange counties. 

New Hampshire Reaches $25M Pollution Settlement with Monsanto 

New Hampshire’s attorney general’s office said it has reached a $25 million settlement with agrochemical giant Monsanto over what the state says has been widespread PCB pollution in waterways and other state-owned property. 

The state alleged that the contamination over nearly 50 years from Monsanto and two spinoff companies, Solutia and Pharmacia, polluted 104 waterways in the state that required numerous fish advisories. It also alleged that the PCB contamination is much more widespread than previously thought, and that the companies knew of the dangers but failed to warn the public. 

Gov. Chris Sununu said the settlement ensured the state would have the financial resources necessary “to remedy the harm that PCBs have caused to our environment.” 

PCBs are toxic industrial chemicals, now banned, that were used in many industrial and commercial applications, including in paint, coolants, sealants and hydraulic fluids. Monsanto produced them from 1935 until 1977, two years before they were banned by Congress. 

Former Alabama Water Manager Arrested on Theft Charges 

A former manager at a Mobile-area water system was arrested on theft charges after allegations that workers had used money from the utility on items including designer goods and trips. 

Nia Bradley, who worked as a manager at the Prichard Water Works & Sewer Board, was charged with first-degree theft and theft by deception, news outlets reported. Her attorney, Jason Darley, told WALA-TV that he had negotiated her surrender. 

An attorney for the board, Jay Ross, has said that as much as $1.5 million in personal items might have been inappropriately charged by employees to credit cards belonging to the utility. Prosecutors said thousands of financial records dating back five years were under review. 

Maine Receives $28M for Rural Broadband Expansion 

Maine is slated to receive $28 million to expand broadband services in the state. 

The state’s four-member Congressional delegation said the funding is from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Infrastructure Program. The delegation said in a statement that funding is especially important for Maine because it is one of the most rural states in the country. 

The funding will grow broadband access to almost 15,000 residents of the state, the delegation said. The members said in a statement that lack of broadband hurts Mainers because it “restricts their ability to compete in a 21st century economy and to utilize educational, health, and other important public services.” 

The money is part of the COVID-19 relief bill that became law in December 2020. The delegation said it will provide high-speed internet service in 24 unserved rural communities in Maine. 

Former Sewer District Bookkeeper Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement 

A former bookkeeper for a North Carolina sewer district has pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly half a million dollars over a seven-year period from her  
employer, prosecutors said. 

District Attorney Scott Thomas said Debra Conway, 57, of New Bern, N.C., pleaded guilty to six felony counts of embezzlement, news outlets reported. She was sentenced to between five and seven years in prison, followed by five years of probation, and was ordered to pay $543,000 in restitution. 

An auditor discovered money was being withdrawn from certain accounts of the Bay River Metropolitan Sewer District in excess of what the books showed, according to a news release. Between 2013 and 2020, records from the payroll company showed unauthorized deposits made from the company into a bank account in Conway’s name for more than $289,000. 

In addition, authorities said, Conway made more than $12,000 in unauthorized purchases on a gas card made unauthorized payments totaling almost $70,000 into her retirement account. She also altered her payroll to stop withholding taxes from being removed from her paycheck, and she got  
the district to provide health insurance for her family despite not having a contribution withheld. 

Wichita Man Killed on Water Plant Construction Site 

A 55-year-old superintendent for UCI Industrial Construction Services died in Wichita, Kan., last month at the site where a new water plant is under construction. 

The accident happened on March 10 at the construction site of the Wichita Northwest Water Facility. The Wichita Eagle reported that the victim was identified as Manuel Esparza of Wichita. 

UCI is a subcontractor on the Wichita Water Partners team hired by the city for a $500 million project to replace aging infrastructure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the accident. 

Maryland Officials Order Stop on Unpermitted Discharges 

Maryland environment officials ordered the state’s largest wastewater treatment plant to stop unpermitted discharges of water pollution. 

Under an order, the Baltimore City-run Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dundalk was given 48 hours to come into compliance after an inspection “revealed the precipitous decline” in the functions of “several critical processes at the plant” since prior inspections. 

“The decline in the proper maintenance and operation of the Plant risks catastrophic failures at the Plant that may result in environmental harm as well as adverse public health and comfort effects,” Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles wrote in his order. 

Baltimore’s Department of Public Works said it was disappointing “given the collaborative efforts to improve performance” but it would comply with the order. 

Oregon Reservation Water Treatment Plant Offline After Fire 

Officials with the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in north central Oregon issued an emergency water conservation notice in late March after an underground electrical fire shut the tribes’ water treatment plant. 

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs asked residents to limit water use to essential needs only. In a Facebook post, officials said the notice affects users in the Agency Area, Upper Dry Creek, Sunnyside, Wolfe Point and Kah-Nee-Ta Hamlets 

Tribal Emergency Manager Dan Martinez said the fire “caused a complete shutdown of the water plant.” He said the water treatment plant could be shuttered from a week to two months and that the reservation is seeking water donations. 

Ohio District Wins Best Municipal Water in Tasting Contest 

Montpelier, Ohio, took home first place for Best Municipal Water at the 32nd annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting in West Virginia, beating out last year’s winner, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which placed second. Another California entry, the Mission Springs Water District, was third. 

All three have won the gold medal previously. 

“The consistency in winners from year to year with different panels of judges validates the choices,” water expert Arthur von Wiesenberger said in a statement. “It also speaks to the impressively high caliber of the waters entered.” 

The top bottled water award went to Vortex Energy of Meriden, Connecticut. Halstead Springs of Speedwell, Tennessee, finished second and there was a tie for third between Asagiri no Shizuoku of Shizuoka, Japan, and Smeraldina Still Water of Sardinia, Italy.

Related Articles

From Archive


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}