Eileen Wray-McCann is a writer, director and narrator who co-founded Circle of Blue. During her 13 years at Interlochen Public Radio, a National Public Radio affiliate in Northern Michigan, Eileen produced and hosted regional and national programming. She’s won Telly Awards for her scriptwriting and documentary work, and her work with Circle of Blue follows many years of independent multimedia journalistic projects and a life-long love of the Great Lakes. She holds a BA and MA radio and television from the University of Detroit. Eileen is currently moonlighting as an audio archivist and enjoys traveling through time via sound.
https://www.circleofblue.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Colorado_River_Dry_Delta.jpg 2848 4288 Eileen Wray-McCann https://www.circleofblue.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Circle-of-Blue-Water-Speaks-600x139.png Eileen Wray-McCann2021-03-08 07:54:022021-03-08 10:37:33What’s Up With Water – March 8, 2021
This is Eileen Wray-McCann for Circle of Blue. And this is What’s Up with Water, your “need-to-know news” of the world’s water, made possible by support from people like you.
In the United States, winter storms that swept through the South in mid-February crippled the water system in Mississippi’s capital. The 166,000 residents of Jackson endured three weeks of water outages, low water pressure, and notices warning them to boil their water for safety. Jackson’s water crisis has a number of causes. There were over a hundred water main breaks during the storms in addition to electrical and mechanical failures at the O.B. Curtis water treatment plant. While the pipes and plant were being repaired, city officials and the National Guard handed out non-potable water for flushing toilets. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told NPR that the water crisis is the result of decaying infrastructure that was weakened by the storms. The water system’s 100-year-old pipes, said Lumumba, are as fragile as peanut brittle.
In Canada, the CBC reports that the Magpie River has been granted legal status equivalent to a person. It’s a bid to protect the Quebec waterway from threats such as hydropower development. The designation was made by the regional municipality of Minganie and by the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit. Guardians will be appointed to act on behalf of the waterway to protect its flow and biodiversity. The personhood designation for the Magpie River reflects an international movement to recognize the legal rights of nature. Courts in India and Columbia, and governments in Ecuador and New Zealand are among those that have recognized the rights of rivers.
In business news, a new report finds economic benefits for reducing the strain on the world’s fresh water. The annual report is from CDP, a London-based nonprofit that works with investors to encourage companies to reveal environmental risks to their operations. The report found that failing to respond to water risks could cost companies five times as much as taking proactive measures. In general, companies featured in the report are better at addressing water scarcity than they are at addressing water pollution. This version of the CDP report is based on survey responses from nearly 3,000 companies representing 12 sectors, including mining, food, apparel, and energy.
This week Circle of Blue reports on the closing of the largest coal-fired power plant in the American West.
Navajo Generating Station was an edifice built on the political bargaining that, generations ago, divvied up the region’s land, minerals, and water. But the facility’s time is past. In November of 2019, the power plant stopped producing electricity. Last December, the towering trio of smokestacks came tumbling down. In January, the precipitators that kept the fine coal particles from releasing into the air were dynamited, crumbling to the desert floor like a felled colossus. What remains are a few scattered buildings, a transmission line, a rail line, and a lot of questions.
While Navajo Generating Station has been stilled, its legacy remains unsettled, in the form of a water rights dispute.
The coal-fired power plant that sat on Navajo Nation land in the northeastern corner of Arizona did not merely generate electricity. It also drew water from the Colorado River to cool the plant’s machinery. What happens to that water without the plant? Who gets to decide how it is used? In a drying region where every drop of water is measured and meted out, the stakes are high and the legal claims are unresolved.
The three players are the Navajo Nation, the state of Arizona, and the federal government. The ground rules are established in decades-old interstate compacts as well as more recent federal laws. But they will have to cope with unsettled water rights claims and new infrastructure. For example, a pipeline to deliver water to the Navajo Nation in Arizona is currently under construction — but due to legal complexities it’s uncertain if water will flow through those pipes as soon as the system is finished.
As crews demolish Navajo Generating Station, water in northeastern Arizona is a lingering unknown for a basin beset by climate stress and inequality in water access for the Navajo people. Stanley Pollack is a contract attorney handling water rights for the Navajo Nation. As he put it, “The only thing that’s clear is the lack of clarity.”
Across the West, a generation of coal-fired power plants is facing the same fate as Navajo Generating Station. Owners of coal-based energy facilities are feeling the nudge to retire them. The pressure comes from state mandates, expensive pollution controls and the competition with cheaper sources of electricity from sun, wind, and natural gas.
Stacy Tellinghuisen is with the Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit group Western Resource Advocates. She says there are benefits to this trend beyond the reduction of heat-trapping gases. Closing these facilities can make water available for other uses, be they industrial, municipal, agricultural, or environmental. Tellinghuisen told Circle of Blue that there haven’t been many transfers of water rights from closed power plants because it’s a complex and time-consuming process. She said “Most plants have closed in the last five years. The water rights process is slower than that.”
One place where a transfer has happened is in Colorado. In 2013, Black Hills Energy turned out the lights at the coal-fired W.N. Clark plant in Cañon City. Last year, the company sold its water rights back to Cañon City Hydraulic and Irrigating Ditch Company. Water from the Arkansas River that once cooled the coal plant is heading toward a future in agricultural irrigation.
And that’s What’s Up With Water from Circle of Blue, which relies on your support for independent news that gives a voice to water. Please visit circleofblue.org and make a difference through your tax-deductible donation.