March 2022 Vol. 77 No. 3



San Diego Accelerates Pace of Utility Undergrounding 

San Diego officials have approved a plan to accelerate the relocation and burial of every residential overhead utility line in the city underground. 

The new deal with San Diego Gas  
& Electric creates a citizens’ oversight panel for undergrounding projects, sets more specific timelines for projects and requires the utility to seek more ethnic and gender diversity in the contractors and suppliers it uses. 

While the plan aims to move along projects, city officials said residents shouldn’t expect undergrounding efforts to ramp up again until 2023 because it will take several months for SDG&E to incorporate the new policies. 

San Diego has the largest utility undergrounding program in the state, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

Neighborhoods generally embrace undergrounding projects because they boost aesthetics, increase property values, reduce fire risk and ease the maintenance of utility wires. 

Some neighborhoods, however, have rebelled against undergrounding because of construction hassles, the city’s inability to stick to schedules and unattractive utility boxes when projects are complete, the Union-Tribune reported. 


Trial to Test Contractors’ Liability for Flint Water Crisis 

A trial started in Ann Arbor, Mich., to determine if engineering contractors bear responsibility for lead-contaminated water in Flint. 

Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, known as LAN, were not part of the recent $626 million settlement between Flint residents and the state of Michigan, Flint and two other parties. 

Attorneys for four Flint children claim Veolia and LAN were negligent in not doing more to get the city to properly treat water that was being pulled from the Flint River in 2014–15. Corrosive water caused lead to leach from service lines serving homes, a disastrous result  
in the majority Black community. 

Veolia and LAN deny liability. Veolia said it had a brief contract with Flint, mostly to address other water issues at the city’s treatment plant. LAN, too, said water quality was not part of  
its assignment at the plant. 

“The problems in Flint were not caused by the alleged failures of outside engineers,” attorneys said in a court filing. “They were instead entirely caused by the epic failure of the local and state and federal government at every level.” 

Nonetheless, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy declined to dismiss the lawsuit. The trial could last weeks. 


Mariner East Pipeline Completed but Legal Battles Continue 

Energy Transfer announced in February that construction was completed on the multibillion-dollar Mariner East pipeline system, but the Dallas-based company continues to face criminal charges for alleged environmental violations of environmental laws during its construction. 

The Mariner East 1, Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X pipelines are designed to carry propane, ethane and butane from the vast Marcellus and Utica shale gas fields in western Pennsylvania to a refinery processing center and export terminal in Marcus Hook, near Philadelphia. With work on the final phase of construction now complete, total capacity is projected at 350,000 to 375,000 barrels per day. 

In October, Energy Transfer was charged criminally after a grand jury concluded that it broke Pennsylvania environmental laws and fouled waterways and residential water supplies as Mariner East was built. The company has yet to enter a plea in the case. 


Alabama Lawmakers Approve Plan for $700 Million Relief Funds 

The Alabama Legislature approved a plan to use more than $700 million in pandemic relief funds on a mix of infrastructure improvements and healthcare reimbursement. 

Gov. Kay Ivey called lawmakers into a special session to pass the bill and commended their 100-0 vote to approve it. 

“We are making smart investments to increase statewide broadband connectivity, improve our water and sewer infrastructure, as well as health care infrastructure,” Ivey said. 

Austin’s Water Director Resigns After Boil Order Notice 

Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros resigned after employee mistakes at a treatment plant put Texas’ capital city under a boil-order notice, claiming “full responsibility for any shortcomings at the utility” in his resignation letter. 

Austin has experienced three boil orders since 2018 and another separate incident in which water for some residents had a foul, fishy odor because of the presence of dead zebra mussels, the Austin American-Statesman reported. 

The most recent three-day boil order began on Feb. 5, when employees at a treatment plant did not respond quickly enough to signs of cloudiness in the water, officials said. 

Meszaros had served as Austin’s water director since 2007. 


South Carolina Senate Discusses Aid for Water, Fiber upgrades 

South Carolina senators are working on a plan to spend $1.7 billion in covid relief and an additional $525 million paid by the federal government in an unrelated legal settlement. 

The bulk of the COVID-19 relief money – $900 million – is proposed to go to helping rural water and sewer authorities upgrade  
their systems. 

Gov. Henry McMaster proposed similar aid, saying the money was a great one-time opportunity to repair systems that are reaching the end of their safety and usefulness after several decades. 

Senators will also consider spending $400 million to bring broadband internet to rural areas and $450 million to offset money the Department of Transportation lost after collecting less in gas tax and other revenue during the pandemic. 


Columbia River Port Appeals $1.3M Contamination Fine 

The Port of Morrow along the Columbia River has filed an appeal over a nearly $1.3 million fine from Oregon state regulators, which accused it of overapplying wastewater with nitrogen to agricultural fields and failing to monitor the resulting nitrate contamination. 

In its appeal, the port contends the violations were “unintentional” and the result of factors outside its control, according to an Oregon Public Broadcasting report. 

The port said it believed it had enough land available to absorb the excess nitrate, but “an unexpected combination of less acreage available and unusually high winter precipitation” forced the port to exceed its nitrate limits. 


Officials Declare Water in One Hawaii Neighborhood Safe After Leak 

Hawaii’s state health department has declared tap water in one Pearl Harbor neighborhood safe to drink more than two months after petroleum leaked from a Navy fuel storage facility, contaminating the drinking water supply and sickening thousands. 

Recent tests verified that contaminated water was no longer entering the Navy’s water system, said Kathleen Ho, the department’s deputy director of environmental health. Officials have also flushed water pipes and tested water to make sure no contamination remains, she said. 

Petroleum from the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility leaked into a Navy drinking water well and entered the Navy’s water system in late November. Nearly 6,000 people were treated for complaints like nausea, headaches and rashes in the weeks after. About 4,000 military families have been living in hotels since early December. 

The department has ordered the Navy to drain fuel from the tanks. The military has appealed that order. 


New Mexico Governor Names Water Advisor as State Engineer 

New Mexico’s governor has appointed her recently named water adviser Mike Hamman as the state engineer. As the state’s top water official, he will oversee water rights and serve as secretary of the Interstate Stream Commission, which manages interstate water compacts and long-term water planning. 

Hamman replaces John D’Antonio, who stepped down in December after citing a persistent lack of financial support to protect the state’s water resources. 

Hamman told lawmakers during a legislative hearing that one priority will be completing the governor’s 50-year water plan as the state aims to be better prepared for a more arid future. 


Idaho Plan Seeks $300 Million for Water Treatment Systems 

Idaho officials want to spend $300 million over the next five years to upgrade drinking water and wastewater treatment systems across the state, the state’s top environmental official said. 

The money is coming from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act approved last year. Of that, $350 billion is going into the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. Idaho is getting $1.1 billion of that money. 

The “Leading Idaho” plan calls for using a big chunk of its share to shore up the state’s water infrastructure, with money distributed in grants prioritizing small systems that can’t afford necessary upgrades. 


Former Clerk Pleads Guilty to Skimming Water Payment Money 

A former employee of a small town in south Mississippi has been sentenced to one year of house arrest after she pleaded guilty to embezzlement. 

The state auditor’s office said Kimberly Nicole Davis, as a deputy municipal clerk in Monticello, skimmed money as people paid their water bills. She was accused of taking about $19,000 from the water department of the town, which has a population of about 1,350 

The auditor’s office said it collected $42,000 from Davis after sending her a demand letter for the money taken, interest and investigative costs. 


Mississippi Investing Nearly $25 Million in Site Development 

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said is investing nearly $25 million in site development projects to help attract companies seeking a new location with shovel-ready sites, thereby boosting the state’s economy and employment. 

Some sites are eligible for up to $50,000, with funding aimed at drainage improvements, broadband installation and road construction. 

Premier sites, which are eligible for up to $250,000 in funding, include infrastructure improvements at the Smith County Industrial Site, while select sites are eligible to receive from $346,000 to $3.4 million in funding. 

Select sites include locations in Adams and Warren counties for levee construction, stream mitigation and water and sewer system improvements. 


High Levels of Lead Detected in Maine School’s Water Supply 

A first round of testing of water in Lewiston, Maine, schools yielded high levels of lead in about a third of water sources, leading school officials to restrict some water sources, according to the Sun Journal newspaper. 

Five schools and a regional technical center were included in the first round of testing, which found that about 30 percent of the nearly 3,000 water sources tested from Maine schools were too high in lead levels. That’s similar to schools in other states, said Amy Lachance, director of the Maine Drinking Water Program. 

When lead is present in drinking water, it usually is a result of it leaching from pipes and plumbing fixtures, according to the program. Lead exposure can cause brain damage, impaired development and learning disabilities in children. 


New Jersey Notifies Properties of Coming Lead Pipe Service Line Replacements 

Thousands of New Jersey households will soon be getting notified that their residences have lead service lines and will be replaced over the next decade under a 2021 state law, environmental regulators said. 

The 186,000 lead lines are located all over the state, a Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner spokesperson  
said. They carry water to a mix of homes, businesses and other properties, though the exact number of people affected is unclear. 

The cost of replacement is likely to be distributed to utility ratepayers or homeowners. Under the 2021 law, publicly owned water utilities can pass the costs onto individual homeowners or through the base of ratepayers overall. 


New Jersey’s law requires the replacements to be completed by 2031. 

Mississippi City Replaces Faulty Water Meters after Lawsuit 

Mississippi’s capital city of Jackson is installing new meters to correct one problem with its water system, replacing meters installed under a contract with Siemens Industry Inc. 

Jackson hired Siemens under a $90 million contract in 2012 for installation of new water meters, a new billing system and infrastructure work. But some customers were billed too little or too much, and some did not receive bills for long periods of time. Some water meters failed. 

The city sued Siemens in 2019, and officials announced in 2020 that the company had agreed to a $90 million settlement. 

Lumumba said officials are hoping that installing new water meters will help solve financial problems caused by unpaid water bills.

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