The Stream, March 16: New Zealand River Wins Human Rights

The Global Rundown

A river in New Zealand is the first in the world to gain legal recognition as a living being. Australia’s government is mulling a $2 billion plan to boost generating capacity at the Snowy Hydro scheme. In India, officials are moving quickly to approve hydropower projects along the Chenab River, one of the waterways it shares with Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty. Experts warn that India faces the biggest water challenges in its history, and lacks the political will to address them. Scientists say the Great Barrier Reef can only be saved by curbing climate change, not improving water quality. U.S. President Donald Trump plans major cuts to water programs under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.” –Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi community in New Zealand, after a settlement decision gave the Whanganui River the same legal status as a person. It is the first such legal designation in the world. (Guardian)

By The Numbers

31 percent Proposed funding cut to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump’s budget plans. The draft budget also eliminates a rural water infrastructure loan program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Reuters

In context: Learn how President Trump aims to engage the private sector to revitalize America’s water infrastructure.

6 hydropower projects Number in India that gained regulatory approval over the past three months as officials look to speed development along the Chenab River. The projects could triple hydropower production in Jammu and Kashmir, but are likely to face opposition from Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty. Reuters

Science, Studies, And Reports

There is only a small chance that the northern portion of the Great Barrier Reef will ever recover from consecutive coral bleaching events caused by unusually warm water, according to a study published in the journal Nature. The study concluded that efforts to improve water quality by reducing nutrient and sediment runoff will not be enough to save the reef. Instead, its declining health can only be remedied by curbing climate change. Guardian

On The Radar

A $2 billion plan to expand the Snowy Hydro scheme in Australia could generate an additional 2,000 megawatts of electricity, a 50 percent increase, according to the federal government. Critics, however, say the plan would be vulnerable to droughts and may not be economically feasible. Guardian

Water experts warn that India is facing a “perfect storm” in regard to water management. A growing and more affluent population means waterways are more polluted than ever, competition between users is fiercer, groundwater use is unsustainable, and political actions to address these problems are “mostly cosmetic,” they write. Quartz

In context: Learn more about India’s multifaceted water challenges.