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 Oregon, the Statesman Journal reports that it could be months before the town of Detroit can provide clean drinking water once more. The town’s water filtration plant was destroyed in the Lionshead fire in September.  Some 225 people lived in the mountain community before the fire, which burned most of its buildings. Restoring water service is a top priority as residents return.  In a temporary remedy for the water outage, the Oregon town has leased a membrane filtration unit. But the unit will only provide non-potable water and it won’t be ready until December. There are further impediments to restoring drinking water in the town. It needs to check its distribution system for the presence of sediments and chemical contaminants that could have entered during the fire. There are financial hurdles as well. Because the water system has not been operating for the last two months, the Oregon town hasn’t been able to collect revenue for water service, so it has to figure out how to pay for the temporary filtration device. The town has applied for a federal grant and it could use insurance money to cover the cost.
In New Hampshire, state officials say that over a thousand residential wells have gone dry or are slowing because of severe drought that began this summer. Demand for new wells has soared, with well drilling companies reporting wait lists that extend for weeks. State agencies are providing some assistance. Last month, a state commission approved $1.5 million in emergency funding for low-income households whose wells have gone dry. The funds can be used for bottled water or to drill a new well. The drought is a result of below-average rainfall and high temperatures. The last ten months in New Hampshire mark one of the warmest such periods on record.
In Wisconsin, state health officials are recommending groundwater quality standards for 22 new contaminants, including pesticides and PFAS compounds. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that another state agency, the Department of Natural Resources, will now write the rules for enforcing the standards. That process could take more than two years. The state already regulates 138 contaminants in groundwater.
This week Circle of Blue reports on the outcome of water-related ballot initiatives in the November election.
Residents of Orange County, Florida, voted overwhelmingly to change the county charter and give legal protection to rivers. It was one of a handful of results across the country in which voters endorsed new protections for waterways or supported 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.
Florida’s Orange County “river bill of rights” amendment passed with 89 percent of the vote. It applies to the Wekiva and Econlockhatchee rivers and other county waterways. It grants the waterways the right to be free from pollution and the right to exist. It allows citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the waterways to enforce those rights.
The amendment was proposed by the nonprofit environmental group Speak Up Wekiva, but the final language was approved by a county charter review commission. Chuck O’Neal, president of Speak Up Wekiva, told Circle of Blue before the election that the amendment was necessary because of a legal imbalance between industrial pollution and waterways. After seeing the election results, O’Neal said that he was elated that Orange County had joined an international movement to recognize the legal rights of nature. Courts in India and Colombia and governments in Ecuador and New Zealand are among those that have recognized such rights.
However, a similar U.S. ballot measure passed earlier has not fared well in court. Last year in Ohio, Toledo voters approved a bill of rights for Lake Erie, but it was thrown out by a federal judge for being “unconstitutionally vague.” The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which helped to draft the Lake Erie amendment, also assisted in drafting the Orange County amendment.
The Orange County amendment will also face challenges. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in July that prohibits local governments from recognizing the legal rights of the environment. That provision is being appealed by environmental groups.
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