I’m Eileen Wray-McCann, for Circle of Blue, and here’s What’s Up with Water, your “need-to-know news” of the world’s water.
In Iran, forecasters predict more heavy rains in coming days and officials warn that the country’s west and southwest are expected to bear the brunt of the storms. Authorities have been evacuating villages threatened by flash flooding, which killed at least 45 people last week.
In Venezuela, power returned to most areas of the capital Caracas, after the country’s third major blackout in March. The first blackout lasted more than a week and caused extreme food and water shortages and the breakdown of social services. The situation is worse in the barrios and the less affluent areas, where residents are still suffering from unreliable service since the first loss of power. The cause of the most recent blackout is not known, but the previous two are linked to failures at the Guri hydroelectric plant, which serves 70 percent of Venezuela.
In sub-Saharan Africa, some 53 million urban-dwellers still live in slum conditions – that’s roughly half the urban population, according to a study in the journal Nature. Despite an ever-growing slum population, researchers found that overall living conditions in the region are becoming better, citing improvements in water access, sanitation, and living space per person.
Mozambique is mobilizing to contain a growing cholera outbreak in areas hit by Cyclone Idai. The powerful storm struck the city of Beira on March 14 and has killed more than 800 people in southeast Africa. The government is being supported by international organizations and aid agencies, and the World Health Organization says a vaccination campaign is set for this week. Doctors Without Borders is reporting some 200 likely cholera cases per day in Beira, where relief workers are rushing to restore safe water supplies and offer medical assistance.
A new report by UNICEF says that when conflict threatens children, the most direct danger to them comes from disease. The report analyzed data from 16 countries embroiled in long-term conflict. It found that children under age five are 20 times more likely to die from waterborne diseases than from direct violence. Children under 15 are three times more likely to die as a result of unsafe water and sanitation. The report notes an increase in targeting of civilian infrastructure such as water plants and hospitals. UNICEF’s executive director called these deliberate attacks on water and health infrastructure “attacks on vulnerable children.”
Sri Lanka is beginning to cut power supplies for four hours each weekday as drought constricts hydropower output. Experts say the shortfall is due to the government’s failure to construct new power plants, and the cuts are designed to save water for drinking and irrigation.
The power cuts follow tests for artificial rainmaking in the mountains, to bolster water supplies where the hydropower reservoirs are located. About 45 minutes of induced rain fell last week, and Sri Lanka’s Power and Energy Ministry said it will continue the rainmaking experiment in the coming weeks.
In Afghanistan, sufficient precipitation over the winter has raised hopes for a good summer harvest. Last year, drought crippled crop production, and recent attempts to plant have been disrupted in some areas by flooding. The outcome of this season is unsure, but the government and aid organizations say it will be crucial to the country’s future food security.
In Australia, government use of toxic firefighting foam has tainted groundwater with PFAS contaminants in several Queensland communities. Last week, a landowner with polluted groundwater became Australia’s first resident to receive government compensation related to PFAS contamination.
In Germany, the country’s meteorological department is setting up a drought early warning system. The system will forecast soil moisture up to six weeks in advance, which could help signal the onset of droughts such as the brutally dry summer of 2018. Developers say that the tool can do little to alleviate future drought, but can at least help farmers be better prepared.
In Sidmuth, England, the battle to banish a fatberg is over, after nearly eight weeks of work to clear it from the city’s sewer system. The 210-foot-long mass of congealed grease, wipes, and sanitary products was found in late December, and a team of workers has been chipping away at it with pick axes and high-pressure jets since February. South West Water said the fatberg was the largest discovered in their service history, filling 36 tanker loads, which were taken to a plant that converts waste into electricity. The fatberg has made headlines around the world as an emerging infrastructure issue, and officials urged residents to rethink what they flush down the loo.
In Mumbai, India, the flamingo population is booming. The city counted 120,000 flamingos in January, the highest number in decades. Researchers believe the birds are drawn by the city’s waterways, which are blooming with blue-green algae due to nitrate and phosphate pollution.
In the United States, the Air Force has requested nearly $5 billion to reconstruct air bases hit by recent natural disasters. The supplemental funding would go toward repairs at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which was recently inundated by flooding, and at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which was destroyed by Hurricane Michael last October.
In Kansas City, water officials lifted the alert on tap water following recent floods affecting the Missouri River. High levels of turbidity, or murkiness due to sediments and other particulates, had raised concerns for potential health issues. River conditions have improved so that the water treatment has recovered to near normal. Officials have pledged vigilance in monitoring tap water.
In New York, the Hudson River is showing signs of recovery after years of heavy industrial pollution. In years past, the Hudson was heavily contaminated by oil, heavy metals, and other factory pollution. In the 1970s, it is said, fishermen downstream could tell what color General Motors was painting cars by looking at their nets. Recovery efforts are beginning to prove successful, however, as dumping and industrial pollution have minimized. Last summer, researchers detected a 14-foot Atlantic sturgeon in the river, which they say is a sure sign of recovery.
In the Great Lakes region, Michigan officials moved to reverse policy decisions made by their predecessors.
Two rulings came from Attorney General Dana Nessel. In a legal opinion, Nessel argued that a last-minute deal to build a tunnel for the embattled Line 5 oil pipeline across the Straits of Mackinac was unconstitutional. Former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the agreement with the pipeline operator Enbridge in December, during the last days of his administration.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who took office in January, asked Nessel to weigh in. Following the attorney general’s opinion, Whitmer issued an executive order preventing any state agency from work on the tunnel.
In a second decision, Nessel filed notice that Michigan will withdraw from a lawsuit against a federal rule that defined the scope of the Clean Water Act. The rule was issued during the Obama administration and Michigan’s previous attorney general had joined a lawsuit with dozens of other states to block its implementation.
A third significant Michigan water decision came from Whitmer, who ordered state agencies to develop new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals. Whitmer directed the Department of Environmental Quality to move quickly and have a draft proposal ready by October 1.
Because the federal government has been slow to act, several states including Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Vermont have taken on the task of writing their own standards. Critics say that a state-by-state approach duplicates efforts and results in a hodgepodge of standards that may be confusing to the public.
And lastly, President Trump visited Michigan last week for a campaign rally where he voiced support for Great Lakes environmental cleanups, reversing an earlier position. The president’s 2020 budget proposal recommended cutting funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by 90 percent. But during remarks in Grand Rapids, Trump said he supports funding the program at its authorized level of $300 million. At circleofblue.org this week you’ll find a photo essay from National Geographic photographer Peter Essick on ecosystems that the program has aided.
And that’s What’s Up With Water…we’d like to know what’s up where you are – Tweet us with your water news @circleofblue hashtag whatsupwithwater.
Eileen Wray-McCann is a writer, director and narrator who co-founded Circle of Blue. During her 13 years at Interlochen Public Radio, a National Public Radio affiliate in Northern Michigan, Eileen produced and hosted regional and national programming. She’s won Telly Awards for her scriptwriting and documentary work, and her work with Circle of Blue follows many years of independent multimedia journalistic projects and a life-long love of the Great Lakes. She holds a BA and MA radio and television from the University of Detroit. Eileen is currently moonlighting as an audio archivist and enjoys traveling through time via sound.