The Stream, July 30, 2021: India’s Water Crisis Could Worsen As Coal Mining Projects Expand


  • As India plans to expand coal mining, environmentalists worry about the country’s worsening water crisis.
  • In the American West, heavy rains in Arizona aren’t doing much to mitigate drought, Lake Powell water levels reach historic lows, and water theft in California reaches an all-time high.
  • A U.S. representative is proposing additional funding for restoration projects in the Florida Everglades.
  • Flooding in Sudan damages or destroys over one thousand homes for internally displaced people.

The U.S Department of Defense is not planning to study the long-term health of firefighters exposed to PFAS chemicals.

“This report should alarm our service members and their families. DoD understood the health risks posed by toxic PFAS for decades but failed to act to protect service members.” – Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group. An internal audit of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) faulted the department for not planning to track and analyze blood tests of firefighters who have been exposed to PFAS chemicals, MLive reports. The decision to not study the long-term health of military firefighters goes against the DoD’s own workplace exposure guidelines, the report said. Activists pushing for stricter PFAS regulations, like those in Oscoda, Michigan, said they are unsurprised by the department’s actions. In Oscoda, high levels of PFAS chemicals were found in drinking water supplies in 2010. Since then, clean up efforts have been marked by disputes between the Air Force and the state of Michigan.

  • Why it matters: In Oscoda the source of water contamination is well documented. The chemicals are flowing underground, mostly unimpeded, from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base where PFAS compounds, sprayed for decades during training exercises to extinguish petroleum fires, soaked into the groundwater. Current and former Oscoda residents and veterans who served at Wurtsmith have stories of odd cancers and a profusion of illnesses that have stumped doctors looking for a cause. They wonder if their ailments are connected to the relatively unstudied toxic residues in soil and water, Circle of Blue reported in 2018.

Drought in the American West

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

Experts Say Recent Rain Only Minorly Improves Arizona Drought Conditions

Experts say Arizona’s active monsoon season is doing little to mitigate the effects of the prolonged drought. FOX10 Phoenix reports that although rain has filled up and overflowed washes and canals across the state, most of that water will evaporate. Although the monsoon rains won’t help in the short term, it will aid in collecting more water during the winter, which will runoff into streams and ultimately into drinking water reservoirs.

Lake Powell Water Levels Reach Historic Lows

The second largest man-made reservoir in the United States, Lake Powell, reached historic lows this week, ABC4 reports. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the lake’s water surface elevation was measured at just over 3,554 feet, 0.38 feet below the previous low record set in April of 2005. The Bureau said Lake Powell’s water levels are set to drop another two feet by the end of July.

  • Why it matters: Arizona, California, and Nevada combined to consume just over 6.5 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River in 2019, according to a 2020 auditfrom the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the lower basin. That is about 1 million acre-feet less than the three states are entitled to use under a legal compact that divides the Colorado River’s waters. States have grappled in the last two decades with declining water levels in the basin’s main reservoirs — Mead and Powell — while reckoning with clear scientific evidence that climate change is already constricting the iconic river and will do further damage as temperatures rise. For water managers, the steady drop in water consumption in recent years is a signal that conservation efforts are working and that they are not helpless in the face of daunting environmental changes.

Water Theft in California Reaches All-Time High Amid Ongoing Drought

Water theft in California is at an all-time high amid a historic drought, state and local officials say. CNN reports that the thieves are tapping into fire hydrants, rivers, and small family homes and farms, often to cultivate the growth of illegal marijuana crops. Since 2013, more than 12 billion gallons of water are estimated to have been stolen across the state.


$725 MILLION  

A Republican U.S. representative from Florida proposed amending the 2022 Energy and Water budget to add $725 million for restoration projects in the Everglades, the Ripon Advance reports. As the budget stands right now, only $350 million would be appropriated for the proposed projects. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast said his amendment would “ensure the Army Corps has the resources needed to accelerate Everglades restoration and stop harmful discharges.”

1630 HOMES

Nearly 1,700 homes in Sudan were damaged or destroyed by floods this week, according to the United Nations. The New Arab reports that although no deaths or injuries were reported, more than 1,630 homes in camps for internally displaced people were impacted by the floods. Water sources in the Kalma camp, which is home to 128,000 people, were also contaminated.


Environmentalists are concerned about India’s water crisis worsening as a result of the country’s plan to expand coal mining, Al Jazeera reports. When coal mines are dug, they fill up with groundwater, which then must be pumped out. This, activists and scientists say, leads to the depletion and contamination of groundwater resources. Although Indian officials say plans to increase coal production include supplying locals with clean water, campaigners and researchers say the proposals don’t properly mitigate effects of mining on natural resources.

  • Why it matters: The coalfields of Meghalaya, a wild and rural state in Northeast India, have never been licensed or subject to India’s laws restricting child labor, environmental discharges, or worker safety. Meghalaya’s mine regions, in effect, form a nearly perfect example of the consequences of either an unregulated free market, or what ecologist Garrett Hardin defined in a famous 1968 essay as the “tragedy of the commons.” By behaving in ways that serve only their self interest, mine owners and Meghalaya’s hands-off state government are depleting the coal resource, wrecking the land and water, and putting an immigrant labor force in harm’s way.
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