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.
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This is Eileen Wray-McCann for Circle of Blue. And this is What’s Up with Water, your “need-to-know news” of the world’s water, made possible by support from people like you.
In Australia, parts of New South Wales and Queensland are seeing some of the heaviest rains in two years. The storms are a welcome sight for the two eastern states, where severe drought has led to water shortages and catastrophic bushfires. Heavy rainfall throughout the weekend extinguished more than one-third of the bushfires in New South Wales. Experts warn, however, that it will take months of prolonged rainfall for the region to replenish water reserves that were lost during the three-year drought.
And the extreme rain has its drawbacks. Australia’s weather service issued flash flood warnings over the weekend, while water utilities kept close watch on ash and debris in rivers and reservoirs. Excessive ash could interfere with water treatment facilities and debris such as downed tree limbs can damage water delivery systems. Firefighters expect the storms to dampen, but not completely extinguish, the rampant bushfires. They told the BBC that the fire season will likely last through April.
In the Nile River basin, there is hope for an end to a long-running water feud. Ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan say they will sign an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam by the end of this month. Ethiopia built the $4 billion dam on the largest tributary of the Nile, hoping that the added hydropower would spur economic growth and help the country become an electricity exporter.
The dam has been a source of tension between Ethiopia and Egypt since it was announced in 2011. Egypt views the hydropower project on the Nile as a fundamental threat because it relies on the river for almost 90 percent of its water for drinking, agriculture and industry. Egypt and Sudan have been the main users of the Nile for irrigation and dams. With Ethiopia now emerging as a new player, tensions have risen, threatening political stability in the region.
Diplomats from the three nations met last week in Washington D.C. for several days of talks on the controversial project. According to Reuters news service, there appears to be progress on a key sticking point, which is the schedule for filling the dam’s reservoir. When a new reservoir is filled, downstream flow is curtailed. Because of Egypt’s dependence on the Nile, any reduction in flow is viewed as a national security issue. Owing to this concern, the agreement would also govern dam operations during dry periods so as to minimize downstream harm.
Canada’s federal court of appeal dismissed four legal challenges to a controversial oil pipeline. The challenges were brought by First Nations groups in British Columbia opposing the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The expansion would nearly triple the amount of oil flowing from Alberta to the Pacific coast. The groups are concerned about environmental damage to their lands, and they worry about oil spills from a massive increase in tanker traffic in the waters along the British Columbia coast.
The pipeline began as a private development and was bought by the Trudeau government in 2018. It transports oil and other petroleum liquids from Alberta’s tar sands to an export terminal outside of Vancouver. A government representative called the court’s decision an endorsement for the federal process of consulting with the First Nations before approving the project. Indigenous leaders have vowed to do their utmost to stop the additional 620 miles of new pipeline.
First Nations leaders have 60 days to appeal the dismissal of their complaints for a hearing by Canada’s Supreme Court. The chief of the Coldwater Indian Band, one of the groups that brought the challenge, said that option is being considered. In the meantime, expansion of the pipeline can proceed.
In the United States, municipal leaders in the Great Lake states are mindful of rising water levels as warmer and wetter winter conditions have continued high water trends. The Chicago Tribune reported that Lake Michigan reached a record high for the month of January. Water levels were four inches above the previous high mark, which was set in 1987. Scientists say the new record suggests a continuation of high water levels, shoreline erosion, and flooding this spring.
Lake Huron also set a new record high for January. Communities there have asked for state emergency aid to repair shoreline damage from last year and prepare for more erosion in the coming months, when lake levels will swell further with the seasonal influx of water.
And that’s What’s Up With Water from Circle of Blue, which depends on your support for independent water news and analysis. Please visit circleofblue.org and make a difference through your tax-deductible donation.