Welcome to “What’s Up With Water,” your need-to-know news of the world’s water from Circle of Blue. I’m Eileen Wray-McCann.
Australia’s prime minister announced billions of dollars in funding for two dams that have been on the drawing board for decades. Plans to build the Hells Gate and Urannah dams have been scrapped numerous times by politicians over the last 80 years. The dams would be located in the state of Queensland, which has been struck by intense cycles of drought and flood in recent years. The Guardian reports that federal authorities have pledged nearly $6 billion in funding. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his plan last week, bypassing steps that are typical for such projects – including an environmental impact study, which has not been done for the Hells Gate dam. Bowen River Utilities, the group promoting Urannah dam, says that structure could expand irrigated agriculture and provide hydropower. The funding announcement, however, was criticized by hydrology experts, who say that the prime minister is pandering to northern Queenslanders with the promise of what they called “big, shiny things.” The two dam projects still require state government approval before they can break ground.
In the United States, meager amounts of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains are melting quickly, another sign that drought-weary California should expect dry conditions to continue this summer. Historically, April 1 marks the end of the snow-accumulation period and the beginning of the spring runoff. This year, due to warm temperatures and clear skies, the melt season began early. The state Department of Water Resources reports that across California, the snowpack is just 38 percent of average. The paltry snow totals are a significant reverse from a few months ago, when a series of December storms raised hopes that the winter would be deliverance from drought. It was not to be. Because of the worsening water supply forecast, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered state regulators to consider new restrictions on water use. If implemented, the rules would prohibit businesses and organizations from watering ornamental grass. The governor also called on local water agencies to tighten conservation measures. Asking residents to voluntarily conserve has not been effective. Newspaper editorial boards and environmental groups argued that failing to impose statewide conservation targets, which was the approach of California’s previous governor, amounts to a failure of the current leadership.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a spending bill that will boost the state’s water and sewer systems. The governor called the $4.7 billion package one of the largest infrastructure investments in state history. It allocates federal money to Michigan infrastructure programs. About $2 billion will go toward water and sewer. That includes money for septic system replacements, PFAS cleanup, and dam safety repairs. The package will also fund the replacement of all lead service lines in Benton Harbor, a majority-Black community that has endured high lead levels in drinking water.
And that’s “What’s Up With Water,” from Circle of Blue, where water speaks. More water news and analysis await you at circleofblue.org. This is Eileen Wray-McCann – thanks for being here.
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.