What’s Up With Water – Only A Third Of The Planet’s Major Rivers Are Still Free-Flowing

In India, hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless in the state of Odisha after Cyclone Fani struck on May 3.  Fani is considered one of the worst storms to hit India in 20 years, and the relatively low death toll of 64 is attributed to improved preventive measures. More than a million people evacuated ahead of the cyclone, which destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Water supply, transportation, and other vital services have been disrupted by the disaster. 

In Brazil, engineers say severe flooding in Rio de Janeiro last month could have been prevented by proposed drainage improvements. Intense flooding is a frequent occurrence in the city, especially in the slum neighborhoods known as favelas. After severe floods struck Rio in 2010, city officials drew up plans to improve drainage and canals across the city. Most of the projects, however, were never started, a move that engineers say likely cost the lives of several people during the recent flooding. 

In the United Kingdom, rising global temperatures could lead to the deluge of coastal and riverside communities. Some 1.5 million properties in England will likely face significant flooding risk by 2080 as increased global temperatures lead to rising sea levels. The country’s Environment Agency warned that some coastal and riverside communities will need to be moved further inland as flood risks rise. 

In Zimbabwe, officials warned last week that power rationing may be necessary as drought slows output at the country’s largest hydropower facility. In the capital city Harare, some residents said they are already dealing with electrical outages. 

In Namibia, half a million people are facing food insecurity after several years of poor rains. Namibian president Hage Geingob recently declared the country’s second drought-related state of emergency in three years.

Zambia’s corn harvest has dropped to its lowest amount in a decade. The country’s agriculture minister said drought and pests led to the low yield, but that Zambians should have enough food until the next harvest. 

In Afghanistan, groundwater levels continue to fall across the country. An official from the Ministry of Water and Energy said that last year, Afghanistan suffered severe drought, including in the Kabul River basin, adding that the groundwater level dropped by more than 10 meters. Despite recent flash flooding, water access in many parts of Afghanistan is limited due to a combination of receding groundwater, damaged infrastructure, and diminishing annual rain and snow. 

In India, political leaders are slow to act as pollution engulfs the country. The World Bank estimates that pollution-related healthcare costs Indians $221 billion each year. Yet the government has done little to address climate issues or the blight of water, air and soil pollution. An employee of the Indian Centre for Science and Environment, a research group, said “The biggest challenge is gaining a political consensus on recognizing the problem and that is something that has eluded our country so far.”

In Libya, some 60,000 people have fled Tripoli, in the midst of a month-long battle for the city. The World Health Organization warns that water and sanitation are compromised in and around the besieged city, raising the likelihood of cholera and other waterborne diseases.

Pakistan’s Lake Manchar, one of Asia’s largest freshwater bodies, has been poisoned by industrial waste over the past few decades. The pollution is especially hard on fishermen who live full-time on Manchar. They say they used to catch more than 40 varieties of fish in water they could safely drink. Now, they only get small bait fish and must pay to get water somewhere else. 

In Australia, dam storage levels are tumbling in the country‘s drought-stricken capital cities. Water New South Wales reported on Sunday that the total storage and supply of all its dams stood at just under 55 percent. Officials warn that dam levels could dip below half if dry conditions persist, which would trigger water restrictions. Abnormal drought, sweltering heat, and extreme flooding have struck home in the past year. With the country’s general elections coming up on May 18, many traditionally conservative voters are considering the platforms of independent candidates as they prioritize issues related to climate change. 

A worldwide analysis found that only a third of the planet’s major rivers are still free-flowing. Most large rivers have been dammed, degraded, or diverted in developed areas of the world, a situation that poses danger for the health of humans and wildlife. Billions of people depend on rivers for water, food and irrigation, but it is rare to find one in a populated area that is still in its natural state. Those that have been seriously fragmented include the Danube, Nile, Euphrates, Missouri, Yangtze and the Darling. The Congo and the Amazon were found to be least compromised.

In the United States:

The Environmental Working Group and researchers at Northwestern University have created an interactive map of PFAS contamination in the United States. According to the data, more than 600 drinking water sources in 43 states may contain toxic levels of PFAS, affecting more than 19 million Americans. 

In the Midwest, communities without levees along the Mississippi River are grappling with ongoing floods.  Scientists say that a changing climate is bringing more rain, and many communities are building or improving their levees. Cities without a levee, however, feel that the construction may put them at a greater disadvantage during future floods. Jonathan Remo is an associate professor of geography at Southern Illinois University. He told the New York Times “There’s always going to be winners and losers when it comes to levees. When you create big levees, you’re pushing water onto somebody else.”

The Great Lakes are seeing rising water levels which threaten to cause flooding and erosion. The current water level in Lake Erie is two and a half feel above average for this time of year. All five of the U.S. Great Lakes are experiencing high water levels, with Lakes Erie and Superior expected to set records this summer. Experts say the unusually high water levels are likely tied to a warming climate. 

In Michigan, The U.S. Geological Survey is gathering data at two spring-fed creeks in Evart, near a controversial wellhead. It’s where water bottling company Nestlé hopes to extract more groundwater. Michigan officials issued a permit to Nestlé last year which would allow them to boost extraction from 250 gallons per minute to 400, although the company still needs to get approval for its plan to monitor water levels at the wellhead. Nestlé says the USGS will provide objective data on water flows at the well. 

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 #whatsupwithwater.


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