The Stream, July 16, 2021: Thawing Permafrost Threatens Stability of Trans Alaska Pipeline


  • Thawing permafrost in Alaska could lead to a massive oil spill that would almost certainly affect the state’s groundwater supplies.
  • In the American West, historic irrigation canals in New Mexico are running dry, while wildfires and drought are threatening traditional hunting and fishing practices among Native American communities in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Flooding in West Europe kills over 40 people and force thousands from their homes.
  • Low water levels on the Parana River in Argentina are affecting agricultural exports and sparking environmental concerns.

Cattle ranchers and grain farmers in Saskatchewan, Canada, are struggling to feed their animals amid a historic drought.

“It’s a critical time here right now. Hopefully we will be able to manage our way through it and come out OK on the other side.” – Garner Deobald, a farmer in the Saskatchewan village of Hodgeville. CJME reports that drought in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is uprooting the lives of cattle ranchers and grain farmers. Extreme heat and lack of rainfall in the region has created countless problems for farmers, many of whom say they don’t have enough grain or water to sustain their cattle for the rest of the summer and through the winter.


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Drought in the American West

Your need-to-know drought coverage for the week. 

Irrigators In New Mexico Grapple With Extreme Drought That Is Drying Up Centuries Old Canals

A centuries old network of irrigation canals in New Mexico, known as acequias, are running dry amid an unrelenting drought in the American Southwest. The New York Times reports that irrigators in places like the remote village of Ledoux, who rely on acequias fed by lakes or small tributaries, are running out of water to feed their crops. As a result, the growing season in many parts of New Mexico has been cut in half.

Wildfires and Drought Sweep Across Pacific Northwest, Threatening Indigenous Land and Water

Wildfires and extreme drought across the Pacific Northwest are creating challenges for Native American tribes trying to preserve traditional hunting and fishing practices. According to the  Associated Press, at least two tribes have declared states of emergency. In Oregon, wildfires present yet another obstacle to farmers of the Klamath Tribes, who got no irrigation this summer as extreme drought reduced flows to historic lows.



As of Thursday afternoon, Reuters reports that at least 44 people have died in Western Europe after torrential rain caused rivers to burst their banks. In Germany, 42 people have been declared dead and dozens were missing on Thursday, while two men in Belgium were found dead and a 15-year-old girl was missing after being swept away by a swollen river. Public transportation on major railroads and rivers was also disrupted, and over one thousand homes have been evacuated.


Thawing permafrost is increasing the instability of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which transports an average of 20 million gallons of oil every day. An analysis from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources found permafrost is thawing where an elevated section of pipeline is secured, causing several braces holding up the pipeline to tilt and bend. If the pipeline were to break, oil could seep into the state’s groundwater resources. According to Inside Climate News, the fragile nature of Alaskan land and water inherently raises the risk of any harm caused by an oil spill.


Low water levels on the Parana River in Argentina are forcing cargo ships to reduce their loads by thousands of tons, impacting a major agricultural shipping hub. Reuters reports that a dredging firm has had to pull increasingly massive amounts of mud from the river bottom to keep the river’s depth at government-contracted levels. The move has sparked concerns from environmentalists, who say dredging could damage aquatic life and the quality of water used locally by humans.

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