The Stream, October 21, 2021: California Extends Drought Emergency Statewide


  • The Michigan city of Benton Harbor declares an emergency after high levels of lead were discovered in the local drinking water system.
  • Climate change is worsening flooding in the city of Venice.
  • Flash floods kill nearly 50 people in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in India.
  • California Gavin Newsom declares drought a statewide emergency.

Members of the United Kingdom government are urging Members of Parliament to reject a bill that would change sewage discharge laws for water companies.

“In this most important of environmental decades, it’s shocking that the government is recommending that MPs reject progressive and ambitious amendments that would protect water, air and nature.” – Hugo Tagholm of the nonprofit Surfers Against Sewage. The United Kingdom government will likely reject calls to place a legal duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers. The Guardian reports that Members of Parliament (MPs) will debate the expansive environmental bill this week, but the UK environment secretary, George Eustice, has recommended MPs reject amendments to the bill.


In Benton Harbor, Residents’ Complaints of Lead-Tainted Water Carry Echoes

When Carmela Patton moved into her Benton Harbor home from a nearby apartment complex, she didn’t think twice about turning on the faucet to boil noodles or get a drink.

Only late last year, after her pastor recruited her to participate in a water quality sampling program, did she learn the city was in the midst of a water contamination crisis.

She stopped drinking the water then, and rightly so, she said: Samples collected from her faucet would later show a lead level above 700 parts per billion. That’s 47 times the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level,” though no amount of lead is considered safe.

So when state leaders this week advised Benton Harbor residents to drink only bottled water — a stark escalation of the government response three years into Benton Harbor’s lead-in-water crisis — Patton was unimpressed.

“It’s a long time coming,” she said. “Why not earlier? Why just now?”

This piece was originally published by Bridge Michigan and is part of the Great Lakes News Collaboration. The collaborative’s four nonprofit newsrooms – Bridge Michigan, Circle of Blue, Great Lakes now at DPTV and Michigan Radio – explore what it may take to prepare the Great Lakes region for the future climatologists say we can expect.

In Case You Missed It:

HotSpots H2O: As Famine Looms in East Africa, Humanitarian Groups Call for Urgent Action – Drought has left millions in the region facing food insecurity – and conditions are expected to get worse.

What’s Up With Water – October 18, 2021 – This week’s episode covers garbage and high levels contaminating South African rivers, an agreement between Israel and Jordan extending their long record of water cooperation, a province in China hit by major flooding, a new study that has identified major infrastructure systems that are vulnerable to rising waters in the United States.

Benton Harbor Declares Emergency Over Lead Contamination

City commissioners in Benton Harbor, Michigan unanimously declared an emergency and empowered Mayor Marcus Muhammad to lead the city’s response to high levels of lead in the local drinking water system. Hours after the decision was made, the Associated Press reports that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited the town to hear from residents who have been urged to use bottled water due to the contamination.  The Democratic governor has set aside nearly $19 million in state and federal money to replace the nearly 6,000 lead service lines throughout the city, although the cost of total replacement is closer to $30 million.



Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of flooding in Venice, Italy. City data shows nearly the same number of flooding events above 1.1 meters — the official level for “high water” caused by tides, winds and lunar cycles — have occurred within the past two decades as the past 100 years, according to The Independent. After a devastating series of floods in 2019, officials sped up the construction of moveable, underwater barriers meant to spare the city from serious flooding but not from lower-level tides that are becoming more frequent. City officials say the barriers will last for the next 100 years, although experts worry the infrastructure will weaken as climate change worsens.


Flash floods in the Indian state of Uttarakhand have killed 46 people, the BBC reports. The northern Indian state typically receives only around 30.5mm of rainfall in October. On Monday alone, Uttarakhand recorded 122.4mm of precipitation.

  • Why it matters: Water crises plague the Uttarakhand state, which lies in the heart of the Himalaya Mountains. The mountain range is one of the world’s most important sources of fresh water. The mountains are also young, geologically volatile, and undergoing a deadly disruption. The heat of climate change is turning the Roof of the World into a high-risk region as glaciers melt, floods rip through canyons, and landslides bury roads, hydropower dams, and villages.


California Governor Gavin Newsom is extending the drought emergency statewide, The New York Times reports. The move will allow the State Water Resources Control Board to ban practices that waste water, like the washing of sidewalks and driveways. The proclamation made Tuesday will extend the state of emergency to eight new counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and San Francisco.

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