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 Mexico, an independent audit is alleging that former water agency employees of the Mexican state of Baja California colluded with large international companies such as Walmart and FedEx so that the companies could avoid paying their water bills.
The San Diego-Union Tribune reports that FisaMex, a Mexico-based accounting firm, is investigating nearly 450 companies and their links to the state water agency. The ongoing audit claims to have found nearly $50 million in unpaid water charges. The Baja California governor says that the companies’ actions have caused the state water agency to be underfunded and unable to make needed repairs. The audit also alleges that some companies illegally discharged wastewater to cover up the fact that they were getting water for which they had not paid.
Coca-Cola is one of the companies under investigation in the Mexican audit. In a statement to the Union-Tribune, the company said that it obtains water in compliance with the law and that it treats most of its own wastewater. The audit, however, claims that the company is paying the Mexican state for only for a small fraction of its water use. It says the amount of water that Coca-Cola pays for each month is equivalent to what a single household would use. For other companies, such as the South Korean carmaker Hyundai, the audit could not find evidence of any water payments at all since 2012.
More than 80 employees of the Mexican state’s water agency have been fired so far. The governor of Baja California says that the state will seek to recover the money it is owed so that it has the funds to reduce sewage spills into the Tijuana River. Those spills have become a diplomatic concern between Mexico and the United States, where the sewage crosses the border and causes beach closures. The U.S. Congress recently provided $300 million to repair canals and sewage treatment plants along the border.
In China, the country’s central and eastern provinces are battling massive floods, especially along the Yangtze, China’s largest river. The Yangtze flows through the city of Wuhan, which recorded more than 16 inches of rain in a day last week. The South China Morning Post reports that more than 300,000 people were evacuated in Anhui and Jiangxi provinces and up to 30 million people in the country have been affected by floods in the last month. The estimated cost of the damage is roughly $9 billion. In response, China’s state council said on Thursday that it would boost investment in flood prevention projects.
In the United States, water temperatures in the Great Lakes continue to rise. MLive reports that in Lake Michigan, the average surface temperature is 74 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 11 degrees above historical averages. Certain spots in Lake Erie and Lake Michigan exceed 80 degrees. Lake temperatures have been on an upward trend in recent decades, not just in the Great Lakes but worldwide as the planet heats up.
Warming lake waters are most damaging when combined with other factors. In warm water, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus result in algal blooms that kill fish, poison drinking water, and prohibit water recreation. Warming can also be lethal to fish because warmer waters hold less oxygen. A study published this month in the journal Science found that more than 400 freshwater and saltwater species would not be able to reproduce in their current ranges if the climate warms by 7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. But if the temperature rise is kept to 3 degrees, then only six dozen or so species would be pushed out of their range.
Also in the United States, Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, said she will extend an executive order protecting state residents from water shutoffs through the end of the year. Whitmer also signed a bill in early July to send $25 million to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The money is for reimbursing water utilities that forgive customer water debts incurred during the Covid-19 emergency.
The governor’s initial order, which was signed into effect in late March, required utilities to reconnect water service to homes that had been disconnected because they were late in paying their bills.
Along with the initial order, the state established a $2 million grant program to assist utilities with the cost of restoring water. Nearly 25 hundred residents had their water restored.
At the same time, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit last week against the State of Michigan and City of Detroit in opposition to the city’s water shutoff policies. The lawsuit alleges that by shutting off water to residents, Detroit is violating Constitutional rights of equal protection. The lawsuit claims that shutoffs disproportionately affect minorities and are a health hazard.
And that’s What’s Up With Water from Circle of Blue, which relies on your support for independent water news and analysis. Please visit circleofblue.org and make a difference through your tax-deductible donation.