The Stream, February 21, 2020: China Releases Water from Upper Mekong Dams to Aid Drought-Stricken Downstream Nations

The Global Rundown

China releases water from its Mekong River dams to increase flows to parched downstream neighbors. Scientists warn that more frequent wildfires in the western U.S. could fuel water shortages, creating a vicious cycle. California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack hovers around half of normal. A federal judge approves a $69.5 million settlement between the Michigan government and Wolverine World Wide over PFAS contamination in the state. U.S. President Donald Trump signs an order directing more of California’s water resources to agriculture and growing southern areas.

“A major obstacle to providing water for the region’s farmers has now been totally eliminated by the federal government.” –U.S. President Donald Trump, in reference to a new order that will reconfigure water plans in the state. The order, which Trump signed on Wednesday, will direct more water toward agriculture and the state’s growing southern population, despite potential environmental risks. California is expected to push back against the order. The Hill

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By The Numbers

11 Dams on the upper Mekong River in China, which many have implicated in low river levels in downstream Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. On Thursday, China announced plans to release more water from the dams to help increase flows in the drought-stricken downstream nations, and also said it would consider sharing hydrology data. Reuters

In context:
Dams, Sand Mining Threaten to Wreck Mekong Delta

One By One Big Hydropower Dams Disrupt Mekong River’s Free Flow

53 percent of normal Current amount of snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, compared to above-average snowpack at this time last year. The state is teetering on the edge of drought as dry winter conditions continue. The Sacramento Bee

Science, Studies, and Reports

Researchers at Oregon’s Portland State University warn that wildfires and water shortages in the western United States are both likely to intensify as the climate warns, and that the two issues could compound each other. Wildfires worsen in dry conditions, and in turn, a scorched forest can contaminate water resources and lessen snowpack, perpetuating parched conditions. Yale Climate Connections

On the Radar

U.S. Federal Judge Janet Neff officially approved a $69.5 million settlement between the state of Michigan and Wolverine World Wide, the footwear company responsible for PFAS contamination found in several wells in western Michigan. The funding will be used to provide clean water to residents affected by the contamination. MLive

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