The Stream, October 1, 2021: Australia’s Senate Rejects Proposal For New Murray Darling Basin Management Plan


  • In the American West, the long-term impacts of wildfires threaten water supplies and California’s second-largest reservoir reaches record lows.
  • A new report reveals inequality in water infrastructure investment in the United States.
  • Four West African countries sign a first-of-its-kind agreement to manage water in the region’s largest aquifer basin.
  • Flood insurance premiums are expected to rise in the United States, especially in coastal communities.

A bold new plan to manage Australia’s Murray Darling Basin is rejected by the Senate.

“Right now it is incredibly difficult to see how the plan will be delivered in full and on time. While this is the case, the entire river system is at risk.” – Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. Australian officials rejected a plan by independent Senator Rex Patrick that would have put responsibility for managing the Murray Darling Basin in the hands of the commonwealth through a constitutional amendment. The Guardian reports that the move came after a Senate inquiry into the bill determined that states were better equipped to assess local needs than the commonwealth. The plan currently in place to manage the basin, in which the commonwealth has an oversight role, has been criticized for not taking a more strident approach to ensuring the states meet their obligations.


In Case You Missed It:

As Drought Grips American West, Irrigation Becomes Selling Point for Michigan – Michigan farmers irrigate with 187 billion gallons of groundwater a year. Is the state prepared for more?

What’s Up With Water – September 27, 2021 – This week’s episode covers a new study out of India that finds that arsenic from irrigation water is entering the country’s food chain, unanswered questions after a toxic wastewater spill from one of the world’s largest diamond mines in southern Africa, and conservation data released last week that finds California residents are barely conserving water.

Drought in the American West

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

Lasting Impacts of Wildfires Threaten Western Water Supplies

The lasting effects of wildfires are becoming a way of life in the West, Kaiser Health News reports. “Burn scars,” or areas where fires destroyed forest systems that held soil in place, an increase in droughts followed by heavy rainfall can pollute community water supplies with viruses, parasites, bacteria, and other dangerous contaminants. Although water utilities can usually catch the contamination before it reaches household taps, the cost to filter the dirty water can force rural towns into making a tough choice: Pay millions of dollars to make the water safe to drink, or shut off residents’ water intake entirely, risking shortages in areas where water may already be scarce.

  • Why it matters: Consider this chain of events. Drought increases the risk of fire. It dries out vegetation and kills trees, turning forests into matchsticks. Fires in river headwaters don’t just burn trees. They also send ash and debris into reservoirs and rivers. The Las Conchas fire in northern New Mexico in June 2011 pumped so much ash into the Rio Grande that the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority had to close its drinking water intake on the river. When they rampage through developed areas, fires can contaminate plumbing systems and water distribution pipes with volatile organic chemicals. The smoke is a public health threat. Drought is also a mental and physical strain, weighing on the minds of farmers who can’t plant fields and homeowners who run short of water, Circle of Blue reported earlier this year.

Lake Oroville Water Levels Reach Record Lows

Satellite images of California’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, revealed the state’s second-largest reservoir is at only 22 percent of its total capacity. The Independent reports that last month, amid worsening drought conditions, officials were forced to shut down a hydroelectric power plant for the first time ever. When at full capacity, the plant has the ability to supply electricity to up to 800,000 homes.



A new report from the Environmental Policy Innovation Center and the Water and Climate Policy lab at the University of Michigan revealed unequal investments in water infrastructure throughout the United States. The report found that only 7.1 percent of eligible drinking water systems in the United States have received assistance from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), the largest source of intergovernmental aid for drinking water systems. Additionally, the analysis of national and state-level data found that less than 30 percent of assistance given to disadvantaged communities were given as grants, rather than loans, and small and more racially diverse communities were less likely to receive assistance at all.


This week, officials in four West African countries signed a declaration to advance transboundary cooperation in the Senegal-Mauritanian Aquifer Basin (SMAB). Down To Earth reports that the declaration signifies the willingness of ministers from Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal to establish a legal and institutional framework for cooperation on SMAB for the first time in the region’s history. The basin is the largest in the Atlantic margin of north-west Africa and supplies water to more than 24 million people.


Flood insurance premiums for expensive waterfront homes in the United States is expected to rise today. Federal officials say the program will force homeowners to pay something closer to the real cost of their flood risk, which is rising as climate change worsens. According to data obtained by The New York Times, coastal communities will suffer most from the national experiment. In some parts of Florida, the cost of flood insurance will eventually increase tenfold.

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