The Stream, September 3, 2021: When Climate Disasters Strike, Rural America Suffers The Most


  • Rural, low-income towns across America suffer the most from climate disasters.
  • In the American West, funds approved in 2014 for water storage projects in California have not been used and a town in Utah completely runs out of water.
  • Extreme weather disasters have increased fivefold across the globe in the last 50 years.
  • Heavy rainfall floods parts of Spain.

A Flash Flood Emergency is issued for the first time in the northeast United States.

“And what’s really becoming clear is that these very extreme precipitation events are occurring more frequently than they used to and the main reason for that is human-caused climate change.” – Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist. As the remains of Hurricane Ida ravaged the northeast United States, ABC7 reports that the National Weather Service Office serving New York City announced Wednesday evening that they would declare a Flash Flood Emergency for the first time. The office issued two emergency declarations, one for Northeast New Jersey and a second for New York City itself. In Manhattan’s Central Park, a record 3.15 inches of rain in a single hour. Other communities across the East Coast are suffering as well. As of Wednesday evening, at least 27 people had died throughout Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.


Hurricane Ida Damages Louisiana Water Systems, Cuts Water Service

While people in Jefferson Parish, just west of New Orleans, queued for hours in the heat and humidity on Wednesday to pick up bottled water and packaged meals, the destruction that Hurricane Ida delivered to Louisiana’s eastern parishes was becoming clearer.

The Category 4 hurricane made landfall on August 29 as one of the strongest storms to hit the United States. Days later, local and state officials have begun to tally the extensive damage. Water systems, meanwhile, are dealing with severed pipes, broken treatment units, and power outages.

In New Orleans, the Sewerage and Water Board is asking residents to conserve water to prevent sewage backups. In smaller towns the problem is no water at all.

In Case You Missed It:

Colorado River Forecasts Not a ‘Crystal Ball’ – Computer models inform key decisions in the Colorado River basin. But they cannot predict the future.

HotSpots H2O: Flash Floods and Landslides Devastate Western Venezuela – Torrential rain fell relentlessly this past week in western Venezuela.

Drought in the American West

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

Funds For Water Projects in California Have Yet to Be Used, Years Later 

After drought hit the state of California in 2014, voters approved a $7.5 billion loan—part of which was to be used to build projects and stockpile more water. The Associated Press reports that as the state grapples with an even more intense drought now, none of more than six water storage projects scheduled to receive that money have been built. Some lawmakers say the state has wasted a tremendous opportunity by delaying projects like building the first major reservoir in 40 years.

  • Why it matters: When Californians approved the multi-billion-dollar bond in 2014, they did so without knowing how the controversial slice of the funds—money dedicated to storing more water—would be spent. Circle of Blue reported that the rules for evaluating, comparing, and selecting competing water-storage proposals had not been written yet, according to Susan Sims, the executive officer of the California Water Commission, the nine-member body that had the power to decide how to spend the $2.7 billion apportioned to water storage.

A Utah Town Runs Out of Water Amid Worsening Drought

In Utah, drought caused the town of Schofield to completely run out of drinking water. According to ABC4, a recent report from the Utah Department of Natural Resources and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality found that the town’s drinking water tank has run completely dry due to overuse and low spring water flows. Officials issued an emergency permit for the town to temporarily haul drinking water for residents while the long-term water management strategies are assessed.



A new “Atlas” released this week by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) found that extreme weather disasters have increased fivefold in the last 50 years, Al Jazeera reports. The UN agency surveyed around 11,000 disasters occurring between 1970 and 2019, which they found have killed more than two million people and cost $3.64 trillion in total losses.

5,000 HOMES

Heavy rainfall caused flooding in several parts of Spain on Wednesday, Reuters reports. The storm, which gained strength due to high temperatures and humidity, hit the northeastern region of Catalonia especially hard. In the town of Alcanar, emergency personnel rescued dozens of people trapped in vehicles, houses and camping facilities. As of Wednesday, around 5,000 homes in the area remained without electricity. Three people were taken to the hospital with mild hypothermia symptoms, but no fatalities had been reported.


The New York Times found that climate disasters like floods and wildfires are causing rural and low-income towns like Fair Bluff, North Carolina, to unravel. Rather than bounce back, climate shocks push already economically struggling communities to the brink of insolvency. The major challenge facing these small towns, and communities across the United States, is deciding when to build back, and when to move people away from threats that are worsening.

  • Why it matters: In 2019, Circle of Blue reporter Brett Walton visited Fair Bluff, months after Hurricane Florence flooded the town. The town lacks the financial reserves and economic footing to rebuild on its own. And although it was hit by two monstrous storms, Fair Bluff’s calamity is not all that rare anymore. The economic and demographic conditions that made it so vulnerable are just as apparent in Maine or Nebraska, Mississippi or Kansas. In small towns, so many in number and so great in basic needs, are often overlooked by federal aid. Al Leonard, the town manager, told Circle of Blue that Fair Bluff residents “cannot bring about recovery on their own.”
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