Top 10 Water News Stories of 2011

Understanding the interplay between water, food, and energy is crucial for business, policy, data, science, environment, and human welfare. In 2011, the Circle of Blue team brought you exclusive, top-of-the-line reporting from the coal mines of northern China to the deepest intrigue of the Wikileaks documents, from the Texas drought to East Africa’s famine, from the desks of the data gurus to the design mavens.

Here you’ll find our Top 10 stories from 2011, as well as updates from our Top 10 of 2010 and what to expect in 2012. We have an unprecedented year planned ahead, with much more of the groundbreaking reporting you’ve come to expect.

Looking to 2012

News headlines are often dominated by the big, unexpected events — BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, for example, or Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear catastrophes in 2011 — but some events come with advance warning. Here’s a look ahead at what the New Year will bring.

Updates from 2010

In January 2011, it seemed as if there were in-house problems with a plan to export bulk water from a small Alaskan town, as True Alaska Bottling wanted to dissolve the joint venture with its partner, S2C Global Systems. In May 2011, we updated our U.S. water pricing survey and found that, on average, your water bill has risen 9 percent since 2010. In June 2011, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit was filed, accusing the U.S. Department of Energy of withholding the National Water-Energy Roadmap, which Circle of Blue first reported in September 2010.

As always, we want to hear what you think. What are the big stories, the untold trends? Who are the new heroes? Contact us via Twitter, Facebook, or email us at

Top 10 Water News Stories of 2011


  Choke Point: China  
  As our U.S. investigation drew to a close, we probed further, asking how other parts of the world were dealing with their own water-energy choke points, as the two are inextricably linked from energy source to electric socket. In February, we began a five-month series in which we explored the choke point in China. Read More…


  U.S. Water Law  
  While awareness has grown among policymakers, businesses, and NGOs, the capacity to apply legal remedies to water-related conflicts is neither well understood nor closely covered in the mainstream and online media. Circle of Blue — convinced that a strong market exists for reliable information and compelling analysis — launched its Water Law reporting project in 2011 to fill this void. Read More…

Dry Navajo Nation Draws Closer to Securing More Water


  U.S. Water Pollution  
  An estimated 10 to 40 percent of prescription and over-the-counter medicines are not used, but there is currently no continuous national take-back program. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 public water systems — serving 1.1 million people — have arsenic levels above the national standard. Read More…


  Plumbing WikiLeaks  
  When diving into the 250,000 memos that were made available by WikiLeaks, it becomes clear through the water-related notes — of which there are quite a few — that U.S. leadership is actively involved in mitigating global water issues by pushing scientific partnerships, training technocrats in law and policy, and assisting with water negotiations. Read More…


  The Stream & Federal Water Tap  
  Looking for bite-sized, on-the-go news? In March, Circle of Blue began The Stream, a daily blog that breaks down how the latest headlines from around the world are related to water. We then launched the Federal Water Tap, a weekly blog on U.S. governmental water policy. Our reporters do the heavy lifting for you in these two newsletters. Read More…

Related: The Stream

  Sanitation Infrastructure  
  Singapore, a Southeast Asian city-state of 5 million, has been recycling treated municipal wastewater to increase its freshwater supply for seven years but just began branding the same water in bottles within the last year. Also eschewing old notions of what a sewage plant is, the $1.8 billion Brightwater facility, 10 miles northeast of Seattle, is North America’s largest membrane-filtration plant and among the first to include art in its design. Read More…


  Weather Extremes  
  Extreme weather events in 2011 were numerous and diverse — from Europe’s drought last spring to the Texas drought this summer to Thailand’s flooding this fall — prompting some analysts to link the natural disasters to climate change Read More…


  Food & Famine  
  Because of the weather extremes of 2011, it was a difficult year for food production around the world. For instance, in the upper Great Lakes region — which has boasted harvests of wild rice for generations — disease, dams, and climate change have endangered the uncultivated bounty. Meanwhile, a drought in the Horn of Africa pushed millions of people into a food crisis. Read More…


  Technology & Business  
  Can mobile phones and the Internet keep water flowing in rural regions? Can real-time data software prevent costly pipeline ruptures? Circle of Blue found a new generation of innovators that are creating technology tools and an information economy to save water, energy, and money for people and utilities around the globe. Read More…


  Unconventional Fossil Fuel Boom  
  With modern advances in extraction techniques, natural gas can now be harvested from deep shale or from coal, while oil is essentially mined from Canadian tar sands. Energy officials tout the benefits — job creation, domestic solutions, cleaner burning fuels — but the jury is still out on the safety of harvesting unconventional fuels around the world. Read More…

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