On Virginia Water Radio for 7-10-17: Ash Trees’ Value and Vulnerability

Virginia Water Radio’s episode for the week of July 10, 2017, is “Ominous Times for Ash Trees.”  The 5 min./40 sec. episode, available online at http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/2017/07/episode-376-7-10-17-ominous-times-for.html, uses sounds, a guest voice, and music in focusing on the place and value of ash trees in native and planted environments, and on the expected demise of most ashes from the Emerald Ash Borer.

376 image 02 - Twin ashes Foxridge Pond bike path Jul8 2017 USED Radio 376
Side-by-side ash trees on the edge of the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, July 8, 2017.

Virginia Water Radio’s is a weekly broadcast/podcast produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.  The home page is http://www.virginiawaterradio.org.  Have a listen or two!

Quick Guide to Virginia Water-related Events – July 5, 2017, Edition; Updated July 18

Boats and crews 2 Batteau Fest Jun15 2013One of Virginia’s most distinctive water-related events: the annual James River Batteau Festival, launched every June in Lynchburg, Va.  Shown above is the launch on June 15, 2013.  The 32nd annual festival ran June 17-24, 2017.

This post lists conferences, meetings, and other events related to Virginia’s water resources and held in Virginia (in  most cases; nearby out-of-state events are occasionally included).  Except for online meetings or seminars, the events here typically are at least several hours long (for example, this site does not list the frequent one-hour water-related seminars held at Virginia colleges or universities).  This post is updated as information becomes available and is re-posted monthly.

This list does not include Virginia government meetings related to water (except for a listing of the dates of the Virginia General Assembly, which starts each January).  The News Grouper blog has a post on those meetings each week, at  https://vawatercentralnewsgrouper.wordpress.com/?s=Water-related+Government.

For water-related meetings outside of Virginia, please see the Grouper post, “A Water Conference Sampler from around the United States and Elsewhere,” re-posted quarterly.

Thanks to the Virginia Water Monitoring Council (VWMC) for providing some of the information in this post.  More information about the VWMC is available online at http://www.vwmc.vwrrc.vt.edu/

For links to events lists from several other organizations, please see the bottom of this post.

Continuing through September 2017 (began in March): Annual Landowner Weekend Retreats.  Organized by the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program (Virginia Cooperative Extension).  More information: http://www.forestupdate.frec.vt.edu/landownerprograms/retreats/index.html; Jennifer Gagnon at (540) 231-6391 or jgagnon@vt.edu.

Continuing through November 1, 2017 (began March 15), statewide: Virginia Household Water Quality Program drinking-water clinics.  People who rely on private wells, springs, or cisterns can get their water tested inexpensively for key constituents and receive a report interpreting the results.  The cost to participate in 2016 was $52.  A list of upcoming clinics in 2017 had not been announced as of 1/5/17; keep an eye on this Web site: http://www.wellwater.bse.vt.edu/events.php.  For more information, contact Erin James Ling, at (540) 231-9058 or wellwater@vt.edu.


Jul. 19-20, 2017, Charlottesville: Teaching Trees (a teacher-training workshop on forest ecology, management, and utilization).  Organized by the Skyline Chapter of Society of American Foresters, Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Department of Forestry, and other partners.  More information: http://register.ext.vt.edu/search/publicCourseSearchDetails.do?method=load&courseId=31615&selectedProgramAreaId=25575&selectedProgramStreamId; or contact Ellen Powell, (434) 220-9083 or ellen.powell@dof.virginia.gov.

Jul. 21, 2017, Glen Allen (Henrico County): Land Development Design Initiative Summer Meeting.  Organized by Virginia Tech’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.  More information: http://www.cee.vt.edu/lddi/; Randy Dymond, phone (540) 231-9023 (Blacksburg); e-mail: dymond@vt.edu.

Aug. 14-15, 2017, Richmond: Modeling Green Infrastructure with EPA-SWMM [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Storm Water Management Model].  Organized by Virginia Cooperative Extension.  More information: http://register.ext.vt.edu/search/publicCourseSearchDetails.do?method=load&courseId=35826&selectedProgramAreaId=25575&selectedProgramStreamId.

Aug. 17, 2017, Roanoke: Stormwater Management 2017.  Organized by HalfMoon Education, Inc.  The agenda includes stormwater permitting, science, pollution-prevention plans, best management plans, inspection, monitoring, maintenance, and record-keeping.    More information: https://www.halfmoonseminars.org/seminars/130681/stormwater-management-2017/roanoke-va; phone (715) 835-5900 (Altoona, Wisc.); e-mail: achapman@halfmoonseminars.org.

Aug. 17-18, 2017, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg: Virginia Loggers Association annual meeting.  More information: http://www.valoggers.org/2017-vla-annual-meeting-at-virginia-tech-august-17-20/; (804) 677-4290.

Aug. 18-20, 2017, Abingdon (Washington County); and Sep. 22-24, 2017, Providence Forge (New Kent County): Landowner Weekend Retreats.  Organized by the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program (Virginia Cooperative Extension).  An earlier retreat this year was held Mar. 17-19 in Appomattox.  More information: http://forestupdate.frec.vt.edu/landownerprograms/retreats.html; Jennifer Gagnon at (540) 231-6391 or jgagnon@vt.edu.

Sep. 1-Oct. 31, 2017, statewide: Virginia Waterways Cleanup.  Organized by Clean Virginia Waterways at Longwood University.  This is a series of local beach, bay, river, stream, lake, and pond cleanups across the state.  2016 is the 22nd year that the organization has coordinated the Virginia cleanup as part of the International Coastal Cleanup, organized by the Ocean Conservancy.  More information: http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/; (434) 395-2602 or cleanva@longwood.edu.

Sep. 11-12, 2017, Richmond: Training Course for Certified Municipal Stormwater Inspector (CSI-MS4).  Organized by the National Stormwater Center (headquartered in Bel-Air, Md.).  More information: https://www.npdes.com/event/csi-ms4-richmond-va/; phone (772) 288-6852; e-mail:  info@npdes.com.

Sep. 15-16, 2017, Blacksburg: Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment’s 25th anniversary celebration.  More information: https://cnre.vt.edu/events/25years/index.html; phone (540) 231-5482; e-mail: cnre@vt.edu.

Sep. 29-Oct. 1, 2017, Shepherdstown, West. Va.: Tri-State Native Plant Conference[Not in Virginia, but close and relevant.]  Organized by the Virginia Native Plant Society, the Maryland Native Plant Society, and the West Virginia Native Plant Society.  More information: http://vnps.org/tri-state-native-plant-conference-2017/; phone (540) 837-1600 (Boyce, Va.); e-mail: vnps.org@gmail.com.

Sep. 17, 2017, Virginia Beach: Elizabeth River RIVERFest. This year’s theme is “Discover the Lost Eastern Branch.”  Organized by the Elizabeth River Project. More information: www.elizabethriverfest.org; or contact Susan Smith at (757) 399-7487 or ssmith@elizabethriver.org.

Oct. 10-12, 2017, Northern Virginia 4-H Education Center, Front Royal: 2017 Virginia Environmental Education Conference.  Organized by the Virginia Association for Environmental Education.  More information: https://vaee.wildapricot.org/.

Oct. 10-15, 2017, on the Chesapeake Bay between Baltimore, Md., and Portsmouth Virginia: Annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.  More information: http://www.gcbsr.org/; phone (757) 393-2220; e-mail: mailto:mrace@gcbsr.org.

Oct. 19, 2017, 10:19 a.m., across the southeastern United States: Great SouthEast ShakeOut earthquake drill.  Organized by several partners, including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.  More information: http://www.shakeout.org/southeast/; or e-mail: shakeout@cusec.org.

Nov. 3-5, 2017, National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown, W. Va.: Chesapeake Watershed Forum[Not in Virginia, but close and relevant.]  Organized by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.  More information: https://www.allianceforthebay.org/our-work/key-program-focuses/networking-education/chesapeake-watershed-forum/; (804) 775-0951 (Virginia office) or contact@allianceforthebay.org.

Nov. 4, 2017, Blacksburg: Virginia Tech Science Festival.  More information: http://www.cpe.vt.edu/sciencefestival/.

Nov. 16-18, 2017, Roanoke: Virginia Association of Science Teachers Annual Professional Development Institute.  More information: https://vast.wildapricot.org/; phone: (757) 897-3104; e-mail: communications@vast.org.

Nov. 17-19, 2017, Wildlife Center of Virginia, Waynesboro: 21st Annual Call of the Wild Conference on wildlife rehabilitation.  Organized by the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  More information: http://wildlifecenter.org/call-wild-conference; phone: (540) 942-9453; e-mail: outreach@wildlifecenter.org.

Nov. 16-19, 2017, Wallops Island (Accomack County): 4th Annual Delmarva Nature and Wildlife Photography Summit.  Organized by the Chincoteague Bay Field Station (http://www.cbfieldstation.org/).  More information: http://www.cbfieldstation.org/photography-summit.html; or contact Mike Hillman, Chincoteague Bay Field Station, 34001 Mill Dam Road, Wallops Island, VA 23337; (757) 824-5636; e-mail: mike@cbfieldstation.org.

Dec. 3-5, 2017, Portsmouth: Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Annual Meeting.   More information: http://vaswcd.org/annual-meeting; phone (804) 559-0324.

Jan. 10-March 10, 2018 (subject to extension): Virginia General Assembly, Richmond.  The 2018 General Assembly convenes on January 10 and is scheduled for 60 days; this is a so-called “long session,” which is held in all even-numbered years.  General Assembly session information is available online at this link.  Live video streams of floor sessions are available at http://virginia-house.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3 for the House and http://virginia-senate.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3 for the Senate.  Committees are key parts of the General Assembly process. Legislation about water or about activities that can affect water may be assigned to any of several standing committees, most of which meet weekly during the General Assembly session. Information about all standing committees as of June 2016—including membership, meeting times, and legislation being considered—is available online at http://lis.virginia.gov/161/com/COM.HTM.  For more information on the General Assembly, visit http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/index.php or contact your local member of the House of Delegates or State Senate.

January 2018 – dates and location not yet available as of 6/8/17: Virginia Association of Forest Health Professionals 26th Annual Conference.  More information: http://vafhp.org/conference/.

Jan. 26-28, 2018, Virginia Beach: Winter Wildlife Festival.  Organized by the City of Virginia Beach and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  More information: https://www.vbgov.com/government/departments/parks-recreation/special-events/Pages/winter-wildlife-festival.aspx; or contact the City’s Outdoor and Environmental Programs Department, (757) 385-2990; e-mail: outdoors@vbgov.com.


Boating Safety Classes by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation/Nutrient Management Training

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation/State Parks Events

Virginia Department of Emergency Management Training Events (including for floods, hazardous materials, and other events involving water)

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Training for Stormwater Management and Erosion/Sediment Control

Virginia Department of Health Listing of Training Resources for Onsite Sewage Professionals

Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program Events

Virginia Green (Virginia Tourism Corporation site for “green” vacations and activities)

Virginia Household Water Quality Program List of Drinking Water Clinics and Master Well Owner Network Training

Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS)

Virginia Master Naturalists

Virginia Native Plant Society

Virginia Sea Grant’s Links to Marine-education Opportunities for K-12 Teachers (click on “Professional Development”)

Virginia Water Environment Association

American Water Resources Association-National Capital Region Section

U.S. EPA Watershed Academy Webcast Seminars

Wetlands Education and Training Opportunities from Environmental Concern (non-profit in St. Michaels, Md.; opportunities for professionals and educators).

National Hurricane Center’s Graphical Atlantic Tropical Weather Outlook for 2 Days and 5 Days, as of July 5, 2017

Here’s a look at the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) Atlantic tropical weather outlook for the next few days.  The Virginia Water Central News Grouper posts these outlooks approximately weekly (depending on the level of weather activity) during the Atlantic tropical storm season (June 1-November 30).

As of July 5, 2017,a disturbance in the Atlantic Ocean about mid-way between Africa and South America, was being given by the NHC a 70-percent chance of tropical cyclone formation within 48-hours.  This became Tropical Depression 4 later on July 5 and remained a tropical depression until July 7, but it never developed into a tropical storm.  Shown below are the NHC’s two-day and five-day graphical tropical weather outlooks, as of the morning of July 5, accessed at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.

tropical outlook 2 daytropical outlook 5 day


Chesapeake Bay Expertise Database Started in June 2017 by Chesapeake Research Consortium

In June 2017, the Chesapeake Research Consortium announced the start of the Chesapeake Bay Expertise Database (CBED).  The database is available online at online at http://chesapeake.org/expertise-1/, and experts from all areas of science (social, natural, and engineering) related to management of the Bay are encouraged to register.  According to that Web site, “The purpose of CBED is to help connect faculty and staff scientists working on Chesapeake related issues with each other, with other scientists in the region, and with managers and other experts and research funders throughout the partnership.”  The Chesapeake Research Consortium, online at http://chesapeake.org/, is a non-profit association of seven research and education institutions in the Bay region: Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.), Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Va.), Pennsylvania State University (State College, Penn.), Smithsonian Institute (Washington, D.C.), the University System of Maryland (headquartered in Baltimore), Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Gloucester Point, Va.), and Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Va.).

Virginia Water Status Report as of the End of June 2017, Plus a Look at Drought Nationally

Here is the Virginia Water Central News Grouper’s monthly water-status report on precipitation, stream flow, and drought, as of the end of June 2017.  The Virginia Water Resources Research Center thanks the agencies mentioned below for providing the data and maps used in this post.  Icons for precipitation, stream flow, and drought are by George Wills of Blacksburg, Va. (https://www.etsy.com/people/BlacksburgArt).  For previous monthly water status reports, please see this link: https://vawatercentralnewsgrouper.wordpress.com/?s=Water+Status.

01 Icon Precip

Here are National Weather Service (NWS) preliminary (still needing verification) precipitation totals for June 2017 at 11 Virginia or near-Virginia locations, along with the “normal” (three-decade average) for this month of the year at each location.  Also shown are the precipitation totals at each location for the previous 12 months and the annual precipitation normals for each location.  The values are in inches.

Location June 2017 Observed


Monthly Normal July 2016-

June 2017 Observed

Annual Normal
Blacksburg 2.91 4.00 46.79 40.89




4.16 4.14 41.63 39.63


2.06 3.90 42.10 41.01


2.77 3.73 33.64 42.71


4.42 3.85 45.00 44.41


2.09 3.62 37.76 41.57


3.27 4.26 66.66 46.53


2.33 3.93 45.17 43.60


4.50 3.83 48.03 41.25
Wallops Island4


1.43 3.29 50.07 40.84
Washington-Dulles Airport5 1.28 3.98 31.68 41.54


Location notes
1 – The Bluefield location is the Mercer County, W. Va., airport, near the Va.-W.Va. state line.
2- The Bristol location Tri-Cities Airport in Tenn., about 20 miles from Bristol, Va./Tenn.
3 – The Charlottesville location is the (Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport.
4 – Wallops Island is in Accomack County.
5 – Washington-Dulles Airport is in Loudoun County.

Precipitation sources:  Climate pages of the following National Weather Service Forecast Offices:
Blacksburg, Va. (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/climate/index.php?wfo=rnk);
Morristown, Tenn. (http://www.weather.gov/climate/index.php?wfo=mrx;
Baltimore-Washington (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/climate/index.php?wfo=lwx); and
Wakefield, Va. (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/climate/index.php?wfo=akq).

The normal values used by the National Weather Service (NWS) in these provisional reports are based on the period from 1981 to 2010.  The National Climatic Data Center released these normal values in July 2011.  For information on the normal values, see the National Climatic Data Center Web page at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/land-based-station-data/land-based-datasets/climate-normals.

For graphs of precipitation, visit the Southeast Regional Climate Center (Chapel Hill, N.C) at http://www.sercc.com/climateinfo/precip_maps, where you can find maps of total precipitation and percent of normal precipitation for the past 7, 30, 60, or 90 days; or the NWS’ Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service at http://water.weather.gov/precip/ for a map of precipitation nationwide or by state, with capability to show county boundaries, and archives available for specific days, months, or years.  Shown below are the Southeast Regional Climate Center’s preliminary maps of the percent-of-normal precipitation for the previous 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days, through June 30, 2017.


02 Icon Streamflow

According to the U.S. Geological Survey WaterWatch for Virginia, average stream flows for the 28-day period through July 2, 2017,  at 153 stream gages in Virginia and just beyond the state border were in the normal historical range at about 67% of gages, below normal at about 9%, above normal at about 22%, and much above normal at about 2%.  Shown below is the color-coded, flow-percentile map for this period, accessed online at https://waterwatch.usgs.gov/index.php?m=pa28d&r=va&w=map on 7/3/17.  The color codes/percentile classes used by USGS to compared flows to historical records for the month are shown in the chart below the map.

Streams 28 day July 2 stream codes

An overall look at Virginia streamflow conditions is provided in the USGS WaterWatch summary plot of daily average streamflow conditions, compared to historical records for any given date.  Below is the summary plot for 88 Virginia sites during the 45-day period ending June 30, 2017, accessed on July 3 at https://waterwatch.usgs.gov/index.php?id=pa01d&sid=w__plot&r=va.

Streams plot Jun30

03 Icon Groundwater

Information on current groundwater levels in Virginia monitoring wells is available from the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Information System, online at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/va/nwis/current/?type=gw; and from the USGS Climate Response Network, online at http://groundwaterwatch.usgs.gov/net/ogwnetwork.asp?ncd=crn (at that page, you can find a national map showing the status of groundwater monitoring wells compared to historical values).

04 Icon Drought


The weekly National Drought Monitor map from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/) for June 27, 2017, categorized 0.9% of Virginia as “abnormally dry” (in Arlington and Fairfax counties).

Drought Monitor categories are as follows:
D0 = abnormally dry;
D1 = moderate drought;
D2 = severe drought;
D3 = extreme drought;
D4 = exceptional drought.

The Drought Monitor notes that it “focuses on broad-scale conditions [and] local conditions may vary.”

For comparison, here are Virginia ratings from previous Drought Monitors from about one month, two months, three months, and one year ago:
5/30/17 – drought-free;
4/25/17 – 46.4% abnormally dry or worse, 16.0% moderate drought;
3/28/17 – 61.0% abnormally dry or worse, 41.0% moderate drought or worse, 2.2% in severe drought;
6/28/16 – 3% abnormally dry.

The Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force, a collaboration of state and federal agencies, issued its most recent (as of 7/1/17) Drought Status Report on June 21, 2017.  A link to the report, along with other current drought-status information, is available online at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterSupplyWaterQuantity/Drought.aspx.  The Task Force’s reports typically include information from some or all of the following agencies: University of Virginia Climatology Office, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Virginia departments of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Health, and Environmental Quality.  The Task Force is next scheduled to meet on July 13, 2017.  Following is an excerpt from the June 21 report:

“Above normal precipitation during May and the first half of June eliminated dry surface conditions across Virginia.  Stream flow gaging stations across the Commonwealth are reporting normal to above-normal flows.  Most of the wells in the Virginia Climate Response network of groundwater level observation wells are also reporting normal to above-normal levels.  However, levels in the network well representing the Northern Piedmont drought-evaluation region continue to be well below normal.  The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had issued a drought Watch for this region and for the Northern Virginia drought-evaluation region on March 22, 2017.  The Task Force recommended the removal of the Drought Watch within the Northern Virginia region based on the improvement in all drought indicators in that area.  The DMTF also agreed to recommend continuing the Drought Watch in the Northern Piedmont region, based upon continued low groundwater levels and consequent low base flows between storm events.”

The Drought Monitoring Task Force also produces a map rating drought-status indicators.  Shown below is the map for June 27, 2017.  The status-indicator abbreviations on that map are as follows: GW = groundwater levels, Prcp = precipitation deficits, Res – reservoir storage, and Flow = stream flow conditions.  For each region of Virginia, the indicators are color coded for “normal,” “watch,” “warning,” or “emergency conditions.”  Any given day’s current map and more information on drought status in Virginia are available the Task Force Web site listed above.
Drought VA Jun27


The June 27, 2017, U.S. Drought Monitor categorized 23.2% of the United States (including all or parts of 34 states) as being abnormally dry or worse.  The Drought Monitor categorized 2.7% of the country (including parts of 7 states), as being in severe drought or worse (categories D2, D3, and D4).  (The highest percentage in the severe-or-worse categories reported by the Drought Monitor since it began in 2000 was 38.5% of the country for the week of August 7, 2012.)

The nationwide percentages for abnormally dry or worse (categories D0-D4) and severe or worse (categories D2-D4) in the previous three months and one year ago were as follows:
5/30/17 – 20.7% abnormally dry or worse, 0.9% severe drought or worse;
4/25/17 – 23.6% abnormally dry or worse, 0.9% severe drought or worse;
3/28/17 – 34.9% abnormally dry or worse, 2.4% severe drought or worse;
6/28/16 – 40.8% abnormally dry or worse; 4.6% severe drought or worse.

Following are some more comments from the June 27 Drought Monitor on conditions in several parts of the country (bolding added).

Nationwide Summary
“All substantial precipitation over the past week fell over the eastern half and southern portion of the United States.  Tropical Storm Cindy played a large role. The storm made landfall near the Louisiana-Texas border on June 22, bringing heavy rains and subsequent flooding to parts of the South and the Ohio Valley.”

“The western areas of this region saw precipitations totals of 1 to 3 inches with less in the eastern areas, the exception being along the track of the remnants of Cindy.  …The remnants of Cindy brought substantial rainfall to southeast Ohio…and northern West Virginia, enough to support the removal of all D0 in this area.  No drought indicators show dryness at any of the shorter timescales here.  …Abnormal dryness also extended south through Washington D.C. into Arlington and part of Fairfax Counties in Virginia.  Generally, many mid-Atlantic pastures turned brown during the recent heat wave and remain brown in areas where Cindy didn’t provide much rain.”

“Moisture from Tropical Storm Cindy brought widespread heavy rains to alleviate lingering drought and dryness in several locations.   The rain was enough to wash away all D1 and substantially shrink the remaining abnormally dry region in northwestern Alabama into northeastern Mississippi.  …In Florida, the wet season, which is typically from June to November, began on time and with a lot of moisture.  …Although there are some areas of lingering dryness in northern, central, and southern Georgia, only a small pocket of D1 remains, in southern White County in the northeast.”

“The 3-6 inches of rain in northwestern Louisiana effectively wiped out the dry region from Bienville to Caddo Parishes.  Unfortunately, this past week’s rain was inadequate to ameliorate large deficits loom since the beginning of May in Oklahoma, with the prime rainy season (May through mid-June) disappointing for much of the state, especially central Oklahoma.  …On-the-ground observations indicate that stock ponds are rapidly shrinking and grass is turning yellow.  Local fire weather experts report that much of central Oklahoma began transitioning from live to dead fire fuel weeks ago….”

High Plains
“…North Platte, Nebraska,…tied a June record on the 21st, reaching 107°F.  …The most deterioration…occurred in the Dakotas, especially northwestern South Dakota and North Dakota, where the rapidly worsening conditions warranted expansion of moderate, severe, and extreme drought to many regions.”

“…States along the Pacific Coast are still seeing surpluses given the heavy rains and large snowpacks earlier this year.  Thus no changes were made to most of the area, the exception being eastern Montana.  Conditions [there]…have deteriorated quickly over the past few weeks and this flash drought will continue to be monitored closely in the midst of the growing season.”

“…[S]table conditions continue to keep things dry overall across the Islands.  With less rainfall over the past 4 to 6 weeks, the Big Island is seeing the most impacts related to the dryness. Reports from the FSA indicate worsening conditions with ranchers having to destock pastures and haul water for their herds. Even on the normally wetter east side of the Big Island, field reports indicate drying vegetation and lowering stream levels.”


For a look ahead, the National Weather Service/Climate Prediction Center’s “U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook” is available at http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/sdo_summary.php.  Shown below is the outlook map available on June 30, 2017.
Drought US Outlook Jun


On Virginia Water Radio for 7-3-17: For Independence Day, a Bald Eagle Exploration

Virginia Water Radio’s episode for the week of July 3, 2017, is “Bald Eagle.”  The 3 min./47 sec. episode, available online at http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/2017/06/episode-375-7-3-17-bald-eagle.html, celebrates Independence Day with an exploration our national bird in sound, words, and music.  The episode features “Bald Eagle of Virginia,” composed on June 29, 2017, by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg (http://timothyseaman.com/en/).

375 Photo Bald Eagle USFWSBald Eagle in flight.  Photo by Todd Harless, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Digital Library, online at http://digitalmedia.fws.gov, accessed 6-29-17.

Virginia Water Radio’s is a weekly broadcast/podcast produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.  The home page is http://www.virginiawaterradio.org.  Have a listen or two!

Clean Water Act Jurisdiction and the “Waters of the United States” is Focus of “Clean Water Rule” Announced May 27, 2015, by U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, and Proposed for Repeal by Trump Administration in June 2017

Originally posted April 2014 following release of proposed rule in March 2014.

Updated and reposted 6/30/17 following announcement on June 27, 2017, by Trump Administration to repeal and replace the rule.

For an audio take on the Clean Water Rule, have a listen to Virginia Water Radio Episode 269 (6-8-15), available at http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/2015/06/episode-269-6-8-15-what-are-waters-of.html.

This post summarizes developments regarding the “Clean Water Rule” published by the Obama Administration in May 2015, including subsequent litigation and the proposal announced in June 2017 by the Trump Administration to repeal and replace the rule.

Overview of Legal Developments

On May 27, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a final “Clean Water Rule,” by which the agencies seek to clarify what water bodies are considered “waters of the United States” and therefore fall under the jurisdiction of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).  The proposed rule had been published in the Federal Register on April 21, 2014 (link here).   The agencies received over one million comments on the proposed rule.

The May 27 final rule went through a 60-day public-comment period following its publication in the Federal Register, and it went into effect on August 28, 2015. On that day, however, the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota (Southeastern Division) stayed the regulation, pending the outcome of a lawsuit by challenging the regulation that was filed on June 29, 2015, by the states of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, along with the New Mexico Environment Department and the New Mexico State Engineer.  Then, on October 9, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (located in Cincinnati, Ohio; Web site: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/internet/default.html) extended the stay nationwide, as part of a lawsuit against the regulation filed by 18 other states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  The Appeals Court majority wrote that they granted the stay because the petitioners (those filing lawsuit) had “demonstrated a substantial possibility of success on their claims.”  The petitioners claim that the new regulation’s distance limitations applied to tributary waters are at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2006 Rapanos decision, and that the Corps of Engineers and U.S. EPA did not include those distance limitations in its proposed rule, so that the public was not given an adequate opportunity to comment on that aspect of the regulation prior to publication of the final rule in May 2015.  The Circuit Court majority also found that “the sheer breadth of the ripple effects caused by the [new regulation’s] definitional changes” called for maintaining the status quo while litigation runs its course.

Altogether, as of October 2015 nine cases filed against the Clean Water Rule were pending in seven federal districts.

In January 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense.  This case doesn’t involve the merits of the Clean Water Rule but rather questions the proper federal court venue for challenging the rule.

On June 27, 2017, the Trump Administration announced a proposed repeal of the rule, with a potential revised rule to follow at a future date.  The proposal, which will have a 30-day public comment period following its publication in the Federal Register, would reinstate the jurisdictional rule in place in 1986 and a guidance issued in 2008, following the Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision (see below).

Overview of the Content of the Rule

The approximately 300-page rule follows U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 (in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County [Illinois] v. United States Army Corps of Engineers et al.; click here for PDF of decision) that eliminated migratory-bird use as a sufficient stand-alone factor for isolated waters to fall under CWA jurisdiction; and in 2006 (Rapanos v. U.S. and Carabell v. U.S.; click here for PDF of decision), in which the High Court issued three different interpretations of how to determine CWA jurisdiction.  The March 2014 proposed rule (p. 2) had stated that those decisions “resulted in the agencies evaluating the jurisdiction of waters on a case-specific basis are more frequently than is best for clear and efficient implementation of the CWA.”

The main goal of the CWA, first passed in 1972, is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” It established programs to regulate discharge of pollutants, filling of wetlands, oil spills, and other activities.  The Act states that it applies to “navigable waters,” defined as “waters of the United States, including the territorial seas”; Section 404 of the Act includes wetlands in the waters where dredging and filling activities are to be regulated.  In 1986, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. EPA published regulations that applied the Act to several kinds of waters that may affect traditional navigable waters, including tributaries and adjacent wetlands, and that concept has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.  But many questions and legal challenges have been raised over implementation of that 1986 definition, and the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 generated even more questions and inconsistency of implementation.

Here are some major elements of the rule, from the Executive Summary, pp. 7-27, of the document as published online on May 27, 2015, at http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/preamble_rule_web_version.pdf.

The rule identifies categories of jurisdictional waters, grouped within “waters that are jurisdictional in all instances, waters that are excluded from jurisdiction, and a narrow category of waters subject to case-specific analysis to determine whether they are jurisdictional.” [p. 16, “Major Rule Provisions]

Jurisdictional waters in all instances (“jurisdictional by rule”)
1. Traditional navigable waters
2. Interstate waters
3. Territorial seas
4. Impoundments of jurisdictional waters
5. Tributaries
6. Adjacent waters.
The rule defines “tributaries” and “adjacent waters” [see pp. 18-19], categories which have been subject of much debate and litigation in the past.  The rule identifies certain waters that are excluded from the definition of “tributaries,” including ditches or gullies that flow only after precipitation and “ephemeral features that do not have a bed and banks and ordinary high water mark” [pp. 19-20].  The rule defines “adjacent waters” “based on their hydrological and ecological connections to, and interactions with,” traditional navigable waters [p. 20]. The rule aims to establish a “bright line” for where waters cease to be “adjacent,” although states may still include such waters in state protections.

Case-specific jurisdictional waters (subject to a specific analysis to determine if a “specific nexus” to a by-rule jurisdictional water exists):
7. Five specific categories of waters in specific regions (prairie potholes, pocosins, California vernal pools, Carolina and Delmarva bays, and Texas coastal prairie wetlands) [p. 22];
8. Waters within the 100-year floodplain of a traditional navigable water, interstate water, or territorial sea; c) waters within 4000 feet of the high-tide line or the ordinary high-water mark of a traditional navigable water, interstate water, seas, impoundments, or covered tributary [p. 23].

Identified exclusions [pp. 24-25; “existing” means the exclusion was already in existing regulations; “new” means the exclusion has been added in the new Clean Water Rule as “by rule” exclusions]
1. Prior-converted cropland (existing);
2. Waste-treatment systems (existing);
3. Waters and features previously identified as generally exempt, such as certain ditches not in or draining wetlands, and ditches with ephemeral flow that are not a relocated tributary, excavated in a tributary, or drain wetlands (new); 4. Groundwater (new);
5. Erosional features (new);
6. Waters that the agencies state  they did not intend to cover but which public comments about the proposed rule said might end up being included unless explicitly identified, including stormwater-control features (specifically constructed for stormwater conveyance), cooling ponds created in dry land [p. 25].

The rule notes that states and tribes may establish protections for waters not covered by the CWA, such as groundwater and certain wetlands [p. 26]. “Nothing in this rule limits or impedes any existing or future state or tribal efforts to further protect their waters.”


News Items (listed in chronological order, with most recent listed first)

Trump admin moves to repeal WOTUS, E&E News PM, 6/27/17.  (E&E News PM is a product of E&E Publishing, http://www.eenews.net/; a subscription is required for online access to E&E products; trial subscriptions may be available.)

Supreme Court to hear case concerning Obama water rule, The Hill, 1/13/17.  [“The Supreme Court agreed Friday [1/13/17] to hear a case over a specific issue arising from President Obama’s Clean Water Rule — the fight over the proper federal court venue for challenging the rule.  The case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, does not concern the merits of the 2015 regulation, under which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers asserted jurisdiction over small waterways like ponds and streams. It is also known as the Waters of the United States rule.  The dispute may soon become moot, since President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office in a week, has pledged to repeal the regulation at issue.”]

Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc. (Gainesville, Va.), Waters of the U.S.: Back to Basics (for now), Field Notes, 10/14/15.

Greenwire, Panel rules against consolidating challenges to WOTUS, 10/13/15. (Greenwire is a product of E&E Publishing, http://www.eenews.net/; a subscription is required for online access to E&E products; trial subscriptions may be available.)

Jonathan Adler, Sixth Circuit puts controversial ‘waters of the United States’ (WOTUS) rule on hold, Washington Post, 10/9/15.

Greenwire, Appeals court halts WOTUS rule nationwide, 10/9/15.

Jonathan Adler, North Dakota district court blocks controversial ‘Waters of the United States’ rule (UPDATED), Washington Post, 8/28/15.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, Water rule’s impact on Virginia may be minimal, 8/28/15

Capital Press [Salem, Ore.], Army Corps memos disparage EPA over WOTUS, 8/3/15.

Greenwire, Obama admin OK’d controversial rule over experts’ objections, 7/27/15.

Greenwire, Industry, enviros alike wary of WOTUS’s mining provisions, 6/2/15.

Wetland Studies and Solutions (Gainesville, Va.,) “EPA & COE Redefine Which Wetlands and Streams are Federally Regulated,” Field Notes, 6/2/15.

PBS NewsHour, “Why farmers are concerned about EPA’s new rules on protected water,” 5/29/15, 7 min./4 sec. video, online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/farmers-concerned-epas-new-rules-protected-water/.

New York Times, Obama Announces New Rule Limiting Water Pollution, 5/27/15.

U.S. EPA, Clean Water Rule Protects Streams and Wetlands Critical to Public Health, Communities, and Economy, News Release, 5/27/15.  (Direct link no longer functoinal as of 6/30/17.)

U.S. EPA, EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Clarify Protection for Nation’s Streams and Wetlands: Agriculture’s Exemptions and Exclusions from Clean Water Act Expanded by Proposal, News Release, 3/25/14.  (Direct link no longer functional as of 6/30/17.)

Agency Web Sites
U.S. EPA, “Clean Water Rule” Web site, https://www.epa.gov/wotus-rule.
U.S. EPA, “Summary of the Clean Water Act,” online at http://www2.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act.

Other Sources
Zygmunt J. B. Platter et al., Environmental Law and Policy: Nature, Law, and Society, 2nd ed., West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minn., 1998.

Wills cartoon Rapanos

Cartoon by George Wills of Blacksburg, Va. (https://www.etsy.com/people/BlacksburgArt), that accompanied an article in the January 2007 issue of Virginia Water Central Newsletter (the newsletter of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center) on the 2006 Rapanos decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Virginia Water Central Newsletter is available online at http://www.vwrrc.vt.edu/water-central-news/.