The Stream, October 4, 2023: Mountain Communities in Bolivia Face Water Shortages after Record Hot, Dry Winter

New York City skyline. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • A New York City audit, completed as extreme flooding shut down parts of the city over the weekend, found severe-weather resiliency projects to be delayed and over budget.
  • Severe drought and hot water probably killed more than 100 freshwater dolphins in the Brazilian Amazon.
  • Alpine communities in Bolivia are facing dwindling water supplies as record winter heat and drought compound unseasonably dry La Niña weather.
  • Still recovering from Storm Daniel, central Greece reckoned with extreme floods this weekend as Storm Elias made landfall.

Researchers from Japan have found that airborne microplastics ‘may have become an essential component of clouds,’ affecting weather across the world.

“Microplastics in the free troposphere are transported and contribute to global pollution. If the issue of ‘plastic air pollution’ is not addressed proactively, climate change and ecological risks may become a reality, causing irreversible and serious environmental damage in the future.” — Hiroshi Okochi, professor at Waseda University. 

Researchers collected cloud water from mountain summits in Japan and analyzed its composition, according to a press release from Waseda University. Hydrophilic microplastics — “water loving” plastics smaller than 5 millimeters in size — were found. 

The study’s findings suggest that microplastics continue to “play a key role in rapid cloud formation” as they accumulate in the atmosphere. Their degradation likely “releases greenhouse gasses and contributes to global warming” while contributing to plastic abundance in ecosystems around the world, particularly in polar regions.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

One of the hottest winters on record, coupled with existing drought, is stretching thin the water supplies of Bolivian communities, Reuters reports

Alpine glaciers — which usually feed wetlands, streams, and reservoirs — are retreating earlier than usual, forcing residents to ration the water they receive from delivered water tanks. Some livestock owners have reported that their animals have died of thirst.

The effects are being acutely felt in high-altitude communities, particularly in the village of El Alto, where residents expected the last three years of La Niña weather to bring more precipitation than it has. 

The outlook isn’t particularly hopeful. Though December usually signals the beginning of a rainy season, experts predict that the switch to El Niño weather could extend the country’s dry spell.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


Inches of rain that fell on New York City over the weekend, causing extreme flooding and shutting down much of the city’s public transportation networks, the New York Times reports. Days later, according to Bloomberg, a citywide audit found that a number of projects aimed at weather-proofing this infrastructure were behind schedule and over budget. In some instances, such as the construction of an F-line rail tube, delays of up to six years were cited. In another example, “only two of six critical subway stations the MTA determined needed to be more watertight were completed.”


Temperature (in Fahrenheit) at which waters in certain stretches of the Brazilian Amazon were measured this weekend, as more than 120 river dolphins turned up dead near Tefe Lake, AP reports. The loss of life accounts for between 5 and 10 percent of the species’ total local population. Ongoing drought is also exacerbating the burden on the region’s humans — the mayor of Tefe said that food delivery to several isolated communities has stalled as a result of dry rivers.

On the Radar

Recovery efforts in Greece are expected to lengthen as the country was again hit with flash floods — marking the second time in less than one month, the Wall Street Journal reports. Cars were swept away, bridges fell, and buildings were flooded in Volos and other communities in central Greece thanks to Storm Elias making landfall. 

In context: Constant, Compounding Disasters Are Exhausting Emergency Response

More Water News

Eastwick: The low-lying community of Eastwick in southwest Philadelphia, reckoning with decades of “pollution and long-standing socioeconomic challenges,” faces an existential threat of flooding — forcing many residents to make a decision of whether to stay or go, Yale Environment 360 reports

Hanoi Floods: Some districts in Vietnam’s capital reported up to 10 inches of rain this weekend, flooding streets, ruining homes, and overwhelming infrastructure, WION reports. Hanoi residents were urged to evacuate, especially those from downstream towns, and landslide warnings were issued.

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