The Stream, July 23, 2021: Drought Threatens Rural Farmers In San Joaquin Valley
YOUR GLOBAL RUNDOWN
- In the American West, dwindling water supplies force a first-of-its-kind construction moratorium in Utah, threaten the livelihoods of rural farmers in California, and jumpstart the green chile harvest in New Mexico.
- Flash floods hit the country of Oman as the government attempts to stop the spread of Covid-19.
- A pipeline bursts in western North Dakota, spilling tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater.
- Health officials issue a warning about toxic algal blooms in Utah Lake.
Drought in southern Angola is exacerbating a hunger crisis among pastoral communities.
“This drought – the worst in 40 years – has torn through traditional communities who had been struggling to survive since they were dispossessed of vast swathes of grazing land.” – Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa. Amnesty International announced this week that drought has created a humanitarian crisis in southern Angola. Since 2002, millions of pastoral communities have been forced from their homes to make room for commercial cattle ranches, leaving parts of the region food insecure. That crisis has been exacerbated by an unrelenting drought over the past three years, forcing more and more Angolans to flee to Namibia to survive, the aid organization said.
IN RECENT WATER NEWS
Some Chicagoans Wary of Lead Pipe Replacement
In the majority-Latino Little Village, concerns about the project are multi-dimensional. Some are worried about the disruption all the digging will cause to lawns and gardens. Others fear, based on onerous Trump-era immigration policies, that they will later be punished for accepting government assistance. Some residents fears’ even reach all the way back to the 1932 Tuskegee Experiments, in which the US government used Black Americans as test subjects.
Just as with public resistance to Covid-19 vaccines, the response to Chicago’s lead pipe replacement project is a story playing out in neighborhoods across the country. Government public interest initiatives, even with the best of intentions and resources, are being curtailed by mistrust.
DROUGHT IN THE AMERICAN WEST
Your need-to-know drought coverage for the week.
Utah City Halts Construction On New Homes As Water Grows More Scarce
Between an unrelenting drought and a real estate boom in Oakley, Utah, water supplies were dwindling. This spring, local officials imposed a construction moratorium on new homes that would connect to the town’s water system, according to the New York Times. Although Oakley is the first western city to put such a moratorium in place, it could become more common as water becomes scarcer.
Livelihood of Rural California Farmers Threatened By Ongoing Drought
Drinking water for hundreds of thousands of rural residents in California’s San Joaquin Valley is being threatened by drought, PBS News Hour reports. The problem is especially significant for local farmers, who grow food supplies distributed across the United States. As the drought worsens, farmers are forced to pull more and more water from underground aquifers, a resource that is dwindling and becoming more regulated by the state.
- Why it matters: Could a state groundwater regulation law passed in 2014 prevent farmers who are cut off from surface water from pumping so much groundwater that household wells go dry? In theory, yes, says Ellen Hanak of the Public Policy Institute of California. But local regulatory bodies are newly formed and might not have the data or power to target restrictions, Circle of Blue reported earlier this summer. Then there are the costs and benefits. The cost of pumping restrictions could result in hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in lost farm output. PPIC estimates that offsetting the impacts to homeowners — by deepening their wells, providing temporary bottled water and tanks, and drilling new wells — would cost only tens of millions of dollars and also maintain farm employment.
Famous New Mexico Crop Harvested Early To Conserve Water
Farmers in New Mexico have begun harvesting the state’s famous green chiles earlier in the season as irrigation supplies become less and less certain. The Associated Press reports that rather than starting from seed, farmers are more often planting seedlings that have sprouted in a greenhouse. The change saves water and hedges against increasing labor costs, the farmers said.
TODAY’S TOP WATER STORIES, TOLD IN NUMBERS
Three people are missing and one person has died after flash floods hit Oman this week, the Independent reports. Many areas of the Arabian Peninsula country have experienced extreme weather over the past week. The city of Sur received over two year’s worth of rain in just two days. The country’s meteorological office said the unpredictable weather will continue for several more days as the nation’s government extends a stay at home order to curb the spread of Covid-19.
A burst pipeline in western North Dakota spilled nearly 41,000 gallons of oilfield wastewater, the Associated Press reports. Officials said on Wednesday it was unclear how many acres of land had been affected by the spill, but wastewater migrated at least a half-mile from the break in the pipeline. Some water also spilled into a dry drainage ditch that connects to a tributary of the Little Missouri River.
ON THE RADAR
The Utah County Health Department warned that toxic algal blooms are turning up in Utah Lake, the Associated Press reports. According to county health officials, water recreation “should be avoided” because of the threat toxic algal blooms pose to humans and animals.
- Why it matters: In Clear Lake, California, toxic algal blooms are not only an aesthetic affront but pose a threat to public health, recreation, and the local economy. Harmful algal blooms are not limited to Clear Lake and Utah Lake. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered more than 3,400 drinking water providers nationwide to look for the toxins between 2018 and 2020.
Jane is a Communications Associate for Circle of Blue. She writes The Stream and has covered domestic and international water issues for Circle of Blue. She is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University, where she studied Multimedia Journalism and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. During her time at Grand Valley, she was the host of the Community Service Learning Center podcast Be the Change. Currently based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jane enjoys listening to music, reading and spending time outdoors.
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