The Stream, November 5, 2020: Drinking Water In Rhode Island Is Being Contaminated By Saltwater


  • Scientists in Rhode Island are researching how to predict when a drinking water well will be contaminated with saltwater.
  • A sinkhole in New Mexico reveals how groundwater system disruptions are affecting communities across the United States.
  • Famine threatens South Sudan after flooding ravaged the country this year.
  • Chemicals that have been banned in North America for years and decades are showing up in the Great Lakes Region’s waterways.

A recent typhoon in the Philippines underscores the risk the island nation is under as climate change worsens.

“The situation we are in right now should send proof to our world leaders that climate change is real and institutions should be held accountable for what has just happened in our country.” – Jacques Fallaria, a 19-year-old climate activist from Bulacan, the Philippines. Typhoon Goni, a category 5 typhoon that hit the island nation on Sunday, has displaced around 370,000 people, the Independent reports. It has been categorized as the worst storm to hit the Philippines since Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Scientists predict the country will only become more vulnerable as the climate crisis worsens. This is especially true for people living on the coast, where storm surges can lead to extensive flooding. Although the Philippines only produce around 131 metric tons carbon emissions—less than half of what major countries like the U.K. produce—they are likely to suffer more at the hands of climate change in the future.


2020 Election Recap: Florida County Overwhelmingly Supports Granting Legal Rights to Rivers – Voters approved water-related measures in several states.

Residents of Orange County, Florida, voted overwhelmingly in favor of changing the county charter to give legal protection to rivers.

The result was one of a handful across the country in which voters endorsed new protections for waterways or property taxes that will fund water projects. Voters in Utah and Wyoming also approved constitutional amendments that fix technical matters related to municipal water supply and water infrastructure spending.

In Case You Missed It:

U.S., Mexico Sign Rio Grande Water Agreement – Officials from the two countries settled a water-sharing dispute.

Who in the U.S. Is in ‘Plumbing Poverty’? Mostly Urban Residents, Study Says – Not everyone in the country has piped water at home. Study authors argue that water access in the U.S. is inseparable from housing and social inequality.

As Groundwater Systems Are Disrupted, Sinkholes Become More Common

A sinkhole in New Mexico, which emerged at a brine well, is larger and more costly than previous thought. Undark reports the sinkhole, located on the edge of Carlsbad—a city home to 30,000—offers a glimpse into how dangerous sinkholes can be and how difficult they are to prevent and mitigate. One study found that about 35 percent of the United States sits on a landscape characterized by a network of sinkholes and caverns created when chemicals in groundwater dissolve subsurface geological layers, commonly known as karst. Florida is considered the most at risk in the United States, but sinkholes are popping up all over the country—and the world—as groundwater systems continue to be disrupted by practices like fracking. Experts say more attention needs to be paid to karst landscapes before sinkholes appear.



The worst of unprecedented rain in South Sudan, which the United Nations estimates displaced more than 600,000 people, has passed. Reuters reports that the town of Mundri was one of the worst affected areas, where around 22,000 have been affected by floods. The U.N.’s plan to distribute supplies has been complicated by inaccessible roads, U.N. humanitarian coordinator Safari Djumapili said. Aid agencies and the country’s government are hoping to distribute enough seeds to farmers for replanting to avoid a nationwide hunger crisis.


Scientists found concentrations of three chemicals that were banned years or even decades ago in the United States and Canada in the bodies of fish and migrating terns in the Great Lakes. A team of researchers from the University of Buffalo tested dead terns collected from the Niagra River for the presence of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), Great Lakes Now reports. The chemicals were found at high enough concentrations in the birds to potentially harm their health and affect ethe recovery of the threatened species. Daniel Macfarlane, an environmental historian at Western Michigan, said these types of “forever chemicals,” which are nearly impossible to break down organically, pose a threat throughout the Great Lakes region. Diana Aga, one of the chemists from the University of Buffalo, said her work highlights the need to develop new, greener chemicals and more effective ways of containing and cleaning up pollution.


Scientists at the University of Rhode Island are conducting a series of geophysical tests to understand how many drinking water wells have been contaminated by saltwater. The impacts of climate change, like rising sea level and storm surge, are likely contributors to the problem, and experts worry the issue will only worsen in time. Researchers have made plans to drill two wells later this month to verify the results of geophysical tests from the summer of 2019. One member of the team, a graduate student, is developing a model to simulate saltwater intrusion into drinking water wells that will hopefully be able to predict how far inland saltwater will intrude following certain types of storms.

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