The Stream, April 24, 2020: California’s Imperial District Quarrels as Shrinking Salton Sea Spews Toxic Dust

The Global Rundown

Tensions rise in California’s Imperial Irrigation District as toxic dust taints the air around the shrinking Salton Sea. Stagnant water in the plumbing of buildings that have been temporarily shuttered by the coronavirus could pose health risks later on, experts warn. Ethiopia is set to begin filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam later this year. The U.S. Supreme Court rules on the responsibility of industrial companies regarding indirect pollution of waterways under the Clean Water Act. Maryland faces a suspension of water quality testing amid Covid-19 regulations. 

“In 35 years of this monitoring program this is the longest we have gone without collecting some of these samples.” –Bruce Michael, Resource Assessment Director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, in reference to a shutdown of water quality monitoring in Maryland waterways. Monitoring was halted in mid-March when the state governor imposed restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Baltimore Sun

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By The Numbers

16 years Length of time since the Imperial Irrigation District of California decided to divert large amounts of Colorado River water from Imperial Valley farms to sprawling urban areas. The water transfer has since caused a variety of issues, including hastening the drying up of the Salton Sea, a shallow saline lake in the Imperial District. The drying of the lake is causing toxic dust to spread through the air, one of many problems causing tensions to rise among residents and water officials within the district. Los Angeles Times

74 billion cubic meters Size of the reservoir for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which Ethiopia plans to begin filling later this year. The dam, which has been the subject of endless negotiations with downstream nations Egypt and Sudan, continues to face resistance from Egyptian officials, who fear the GERD will heavily deplete Egypt’s Nile water supply. The Guardian

Science, Studies, and Reports

Offices, schools, and other buildings are currently abandoned due to coronavirus regulations–a situation that experts warn could lead to harmful bacteria forming in plumbing due to stagnant water. Experts say they are unsure what the impact could be due to a lack of previous studies on the phenomenon, but note that there is a high potential for organism and chemical buildup in unused piping. PBS Newshour

In context: Water Contamination Risks Lurk in Plumbing of Idled Buildings.

On the Radar

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week on a case related to indirect pollution of waterways by industrial companies. The decision was tied to a case that originated in Hawaii, where Maui County was found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act after treated sewage that was injected into groundwater ultimately flowed into the Pacific Ocean. The Court ruled that polluters must be held responsible for contamination that originates in groundwater before reaching other waterbodies if the pollution is the “functional equivalent of a direct discharge.” USA Today

In context:
Maui Mayor Rejects Clean Water Act Settlement, Aims for Supreme Court Hearing

Clean Water Act Showdown at Supreme Court Might Be Avoided. For Now.

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