May 2024 Vol. 79 No. 5



Federal court denies bid to halt $10 billion transmission line  

A federal judge rejected a request by Native American tribes and environmentalists to stop work on a $10 billion transmission line being built through a remote southeastern Arizona valley that will carry wind-generated electricity from New Mexico to customers as far away as California. 

The project – approved in 2015 following a lengthy review – has been touted as the biggest U.S. electricity infrastructure undertaking since the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s. 

Two tribes joined with archaeologists and environmentalists in filing a lawsuit in January, accusing the U.S. Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management of refusing for nearly 15 years to recognize “overwhelming evidence of the cultural significance” of the remote San Pedro Valley to Native American tribes including the Tohono O’odham, Hopi, Zuni and San Carlos Apache Tribe. 

The suit was filed after Pattern Energy received approval to transmit electricity generated by its SunZia wind farm in central New Mexico through the San Pedro Valley, east of Tucson. 

The lawsuit called the valley “one of the most intact, prehistoric and historical ... landscapes in southern Arizona,” and asked the court to issue restraining orders or permanent injunctions to halt construction. 

In denying the motions, Judge Jennifer Zipps said the plaintiffs were years too late in bringing their claims and that the Bureau of Land Management had fulfilled its obligations to identify historic sites and prepare an inventory of cultural resources. 

Tohono O’odham Attorney General Howard Shanker argued during a hearing in March that claims by federal land managers that they could not find any evidence of the valley’s significance to area tribes was disingenuous at best.  

Government representatives told the judge that the SunZia project is a key renewable energy initiative and that the tribes waited too long to bring their claims. They also argued that tribal representatives accompanied government officials in surveying the area in 2018 to identify and inventory any potential cultural resources. 

Chinese hackers infiltrating U.S. infrastructure for a decade 

In February 2024, U.S. establishments let by the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, warned that a Chinese-linked cyber threat group known as Volt Typhoon had been hiding in critical infrastructure networks for at least five years. 

On Thursday, April 18, FBI Director Christopher Wray revealed that China-sponsored hackers had been infiltrating critical U.S. infrastructure, including water, sewer systems, and oil and gas operations, since at least 2011, according to 

Wray's statements highlight a long-standing strategy by China to exploit vulnerabilities in U.S. systems and weaken civilian infrastructure. Despite Chinese officials denying involvement with hacker groups like Volt Typhoon, Wray and other U.S. cyber officials maintain that China poses a significant cybersecurity threat, especially regarding critical infrastructure. 

General Timothy Haugh criticized China's actions, emphasizing the potential risks to national infrastructure. A recent U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report echoed these concerns, warning that China uses its cyberspace capabilities "to lay the groundwork for malicious cyber activities and cyberattacks." 

Additionally, the report warns that China "has called for using space, cyber operations and electronic warfare as weapons to paralyze adversary information systems during a conflict." 

80% of New Jersey residents support natural gas pipelines 

An analysis of New Jersey energy demand and requirements shows that three out of four New Jersey households currently rely on natural gas for heating and 80 percent of New Jersey residents support the construction of natural gas pipelines that would significantly reduce overall emissions. 

The analysis completed for Affordable Energy for New Jersey (AENJ) by Dr. Ellen Wald, co-founder of Washington Ivy Advisors, reviewed New Jersey's energy needs, sources, public opinion and future consequences. 

"It is clear from the information obtained that without more natural gas, the demands due to population and economic growth, and increased electrification will strain New Jersey's electrical grid to the breaking point," Dr. Wald concluded. "Natural gas pipelines represent the safest, most dependable, and most environmentally friendly method of transporting natural gas to prevent that scenario.  All demographics of New Jersey residents also support the construction of natural gas pipelines when faced with cost savings." 

The analysis shows that nuclear, coal, oil and renewable energy cannot meet New Jersey's future energy demand in the same reliable, flexible, inexpensive and clean ways that natural gas can. 

Failure to build adequate pipeline infrastructure will result in higher energy costs for residents and more pollution. 

Charleston Water System settles lawsuit over non-flushable wipes 

In March 2024, Charleston Water System (CWS), S.C., announced it settled its class action lawsuit against defendant wipe manufacturers and retailers, ensuring that nearly all flushable wipes available to consumers across the country will truly be flushable and that packaging for all non-flushable wipes will clearly indicate they should not be flushed. 

CWS brought suit in January 2021 against major U.S. companies seeking injunctive relief to remedy costly and ongoing damage to sewer systems and treatment facilities due in significant part to the inability of allegedly “flushable” wipes to break down, often clogging wastewater infrastructure and causing sewer overflows that damage the environment. 

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina approved four settlements on March 8, 2024, with the final six defendants in the CWS suit including Costco, CVS, Target, Walmart, Walgreens and Procter & Gamble. 

The settlements require the defendants to meet an international flushability standard supported by the wastewater industry, with two years of confirmatory performance testing, and significant non-flushable wipes labeling enhancements. 

These settlements cover products representing an outsized share of the flushable wipes market and will help reduce the accumulation of wipes in sewage systems, the expenses incurred to address wipes-related clogs, and the time-consuming and costly preventive measures necessary to mitigate future clogging. 

FERC approves TC Energy's Northwest Xpress gas pipeline expansion  

TC Energy's plan to expand the capacity of its Gas Transmission Northwest Express pipeline system by 150 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d) received the green light from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on April 16. 

In its decision, FERC addressed arguments raised during rehearing and dismissed a stay request concerning Gas Transmission Northwest's (GTN) proposed natural gas compression facilities project. 

The project involves modifications to existing compression facilities at various locations along GTN's pipeline system. These modifications aim to increase the capacity of the system to provide additional firm transportation service from the Kingsgate Meter Station in Idaho to the Malin Meter Station in Oregon. The cost of the expansion project is approximately $75 million. 

The expansion plans involve boosting the capacity of three existing GTN compressor stations. 

Water utility cyberattack in Texas linked to Russian group 

A hack that caused a small Texas town’s water system to overflow in January has been linked to a shadowy Russian hacktivist group, the latest case of a U.S. public utility becoming a target of foreign cyberattacks. 

The attack was one of three on small towns in the rural Texas Panhandle. Local officials said the public was not put in any danger and the attempts were reported to federal authorities. 

“There were 37,000 attempts in four days to log into our firewall,” said Mike Cypert, city manager of Hale Center, which is home to about 2,000 residents. The attempted hack failed as the city “unplugged” the system and operated it manually, he added. 

In Muleshoe, about 60 miles to the west and with a population of about 5,000, hackers caused the water system to overflow before it was shut down and taken over manually by officials, city manager Ramon Sanchez told CNN.  

At least one of the attacks was linked this week by Mandiant, a U.S. cybersecurity firm, to a shadowy Russian hacktivist group that it said could be working with or part of a Russian military hacking unit. 

The group, calling itself CyberArmyofRussia_Reborn, claimed responsibility for January attacks on water facilities in the United States and Poland that got little attention at the time. 

Cybersecurity researchers say CyberArmyofRussia_Reborn was among groups suspected of Russian government ties that engaged last year in low-complexity attacks against Ukraine and its allies, including denial-of-service data barrages that temporarily knock websites offline. 

Sometimes such groups claim responsibility for attacks that were actually carried out by Kremlin military intelligence hackers, Microsoft reported in December. 

In Lockney, about 25 miles east of Hale Center and home to around 1,500 people, cyberattackers were thwarted before they could access that town’s water system, city manager Buster Poling said. 

“It didn’t cause any problems except being a nuisance,” Poling said. 

Second Global Buried Asset Management Congress to be held in Indianapolis 

Building on the achievements of the inaugural The Global Buried Asset Management Congress (GBAMC), BAMI-I, in partnership with Purdue Construction Engineering and Management (CEM) and Southwest Environmental Financial Center (SWEFC), announced the second GBAMC, scheduled for Nov.14-16, 2024, in Indianapolis. This upcoming event aims to foster collaboration and advancement within the global asset management community. 

At the 2023 GBAMC, a plethora of insights emerged from expert presentations, panel discussions, and think-tank interactions. Figures like Heather Himmelberger and George Hawkins underscored the need for hands-on, data-oriented strategies in managing water assets. Ross Waugh, John Norton, and others delved into community engagement, technological innovation, and sustainable practices across various sectors. The topics covered by other speakers encompass various aspects of water asset management, with an emphasis on buried asset management. 

Feedback from the inaugural congress has shaped a three-day agenda brimming with keynotes, panel discussions, exhibitions, and various learning and networking opportunities in the 2nd GBAMC. This year, GBAMC continues to delve into the expansive field of buried asset management, specifically honing in on asset management within the water and wastewater industry under the theme "New Horizon in Buried Asset Management." The congress will introduce significant initiatives like the Braindrip & IQ4H2 Scholarship Program for selected submissions and awards to honor major contributions in the buried asset management industry. 

GBAMC's thought leaders will offer detailed insights into the development and implementation of a comprehensive water and wastewater asset management program. They will emphasize the legislative trends across the United States, reflecting the impact of the evolving legal environment on the water asset management industry. 

Early bird registration incentives and group discounts are available to facilitate broader participation. Additionally, the congress offers unique sponsorship opportunities, ranging from general to special event sponsorships, providing a platform for sponsors to enhance their visibility and engagement with industry professionals. 

Fire in Mexico City's storm drain highlights water shortage 

Amid a severe drought in central Mexico, water authorities grapple with mounting challenges, including a recent fire in one of Mexico City's storm drains, highlighting the strain on underground infrastructure. Struggling to address the water scarcity, authorities have decided to halt water extraction from the Valle de Bravo reservoir, home to an upscale lakeside community. 

The water shortage has caused fires to break out in some strange places. One of Mexico City’s two massive storm drains actually caught fire. Officials said that waste gases had accumulated inside the underground conduit and ignited, causing flames to shoot out of ventilation shafts dozens of yards (meters) into the air. 

Apparently, so little water has been moving through the drainage system that sewage has stagnated, allowing gases to accumulate. 

In March, one of the capital’s rainwater catchment basins caught fire, scorching 75 acres of dried up vegetation. 

EPA finalizes PFAS contamination rule  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking another step to protect people from the health risks posed by exposure to “forever chemicals” in communities across the country. Exposure to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has been linked to cancers, impacts to the liver and heart, and immune and developmental damage to infants and children. 

This final rule will designate two widely used PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, and will help ensure that polluters pay to clean up their contamination. 

This final action will address PFOA and PFOS contamination by enabling investigation and cleanup of these harmful chemicals and ensuring that leaks, spills, and other releases are reported. This action builds on the recently finalized standards to protect people and communities from PFAS contamination in drinking water. 

PFOA and PFOS can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time, and evidence from scientific studies demonstrate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS is linked to adverse health effects. 

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