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. 

Australia needs to change the way it manages its water. That’s according to an independent agency that advises the Australian government on infrastructure.  A new report finds that the country needs to develop a national water strategy. The advice comes amid a historically severe three-year drought that caused many rural towns to run short of water and it follows a season of calamitous bushfires that put drinking water infrastructure at risk of contamination from ash and debris. The report notes that small towns need to diversify their water supplies because relying on a single source raises vulnerability to disruption. The report suggests that the national water strategy should be completed quickly, and it should project water demands 30 years into the future.
Lawmakers in India’s Madhya Pradesh state have drafted the country’s first law for the human right to water. The Hindustan Times reports that the bill promises a daily minimum of 55 liters of water per person. That is equal to 15 gallons a day for the state’s 73 million people. The wide-ranging bill touches a number of key water issues. It includes penalties for water pollution, regulations for mining sand from river beds, groundwater protection zones, and ensuring adequate river flows for environmental purposes. The language in the bill follows international precedent. The United Nations declared in 2010 that adequate drinking water and sanitation were human rights. The bill also supports national goals. Last year, India’s central government announced a plan to provide piped drinking water to all households in the country by 2024. Analysts say that meeting the goals of the national plan will be a substantial undertaking. When the initiative was announced, fewer than one in five rural households had piped water.
In the United States, an Oklahoma district judge ruled that temporary water well permits which state regulators allowed to a large-scale poultry operation were illegal. The Tulsa World reported that Judge Barry Denny revoked water extraction licenses that the Oklahoma Water Resources Board had approved for a chicken farm in Delaware County, in the northeast corner of the state. The judge criticized the water board’s practice of using a series of 90-day temporary permits to allow the wells to be drilled without a public hearing. He said the practice of using temporary permits was “an open invitation to abuse.” The farm at the center of the lawsuit has the capacity to raise 300,000 birds each year. County residents who live near the farm feared that the expansion of poultry operations in the area put their household wells at risk of depletion and pollution. They filed the lawsuit after feeling that the water board was unresponsive to their concerns. The attorney for the county residents said that even though the well permit has been revoked, water is still flowing to the farm until the chickens can be delivered to market.
A federal court in Ohio struck down a landmark city ordinance that granted legal rights to Lake Erie. The court called the ordinance “unconstitutionally vague” and said it exceeds the authority of a municipal government in Ohio. Sixty percent of voters in Toledo approved the charter amendment in a special election held in February 2019. Its supporters were frustrated by annual outbreaks of toxic cyanobacteria in the lake. The outbreaks are linked to excessive nutrients in the water because of agricultural runoff. One such outbreak in August 2014 hit the city’s drinking water treatment plant, leading to several days of a Do Not Drink advisory for 400 thousand residents. The “legal rights for Lake Erie” ordinance was challenged by a farming group and by the state of Ohio.
Several years ago, Chicago began an initiative to help conserve water drawn from Lake Michigan. The project involved replacing water mains and installing meters in some homes. It was halted when high lead levels were found in several of the households with new meters. Now, the Chicago Tribune reports, city officials hope to restart the initiative, this time using a different type of meter that they say will eliminate the risk of lead contamination. Some experts argue, however, that the spike in lead levels was more likely linked to the disruption of water mains and other lead pipes, and that meter type will make minimal difference.
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