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.
Western European countries are preparing for another arduous summer of wildfires and water shortages, expecting warm, dry conditions to linger in the coming months. There are already signs of stress after a dry winter. In southern France, groundwater levels and soil moisture are the lowest on record, according to the French geological service. Reuters reports that water restrictions are likely this summer in many regions of France. In neighboring Italy, the government appointed a national drought commissioner and a drought task force to coordinate the country’s response to water shortages. Those potential responses tend to focus on infrastructure such as enlarging reservoirs and purifying seawater. According to the news site Euractiv, left-leaning politicians want more emphasis on reducing the demand for water. This would target water consumption by agriculture and direct attention to water waste, such as the loss of water from leaking distribution pipes.
In the United States, the Biden administration unveiled a pair of options to sustain water levels in key Colorado River reservoirs in the next three years. The options could mean water cuts to the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada by as much as a quarter combined in 2024, and even more in 2025 and 2026. The potential cuts were outlined in draft form. A key question must be answered before the plan is finalized, and that is how the water cuts will be distributed among the states. One option is based on historical priority. This favors California, which has some of the oldest and most secure rights to water from the Colorado. The other option cuts water to each state by the same percentage. This is more palatable to Arizona and Nevada. Managed by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, lakes Mead and Powell are the largest water-storage facilities on a river that provides drinking water to some 40 million people and irrigation to over 5 million acres of farmland. After more than two decades of below-average precipitation, lakes Mead and Powell are closer to empty than full. Combined, water fills merely a quarter of their storage capacity. The draft water conservation plan is open for public comment for 45 days. After that, the federal government will choose its preferred option, which could be a blend of the two alternatives. A final decision is expected before August.
A new study blames extravagances of wealthy residents for worsening urban water shortages such as the crisis that afflicted Cape Town in 2018. As Day Zero threatened, reservoirs that serve Cape Town plunged so low the city nearly ran out of water. The study argues that the luxuries of the rich – things like pools and lavish gardens – fuel these crises. Published in the journal Nature Sustainability, the study modeled water use by Cape Town’s various economic classes. The water-consumption divide was glaring. The wealthiest 14 percent of households used half of the city’s water. Many cities respond to water shortages with blanket restrictions on the number of days or hours that residents can water their lawns. These restrictions generally do not account for the size of the lawn. In the U.S., one state might address that. Nevada lawmakers are considering a bill that would grant the city of Las Vegas new powers during severe droughts. Under the proposal, Las Vegas would be able to limit total water use per household. The limits being discussed would affect the city’s wealthiest households.
And that’s What’s Up With Water from Circle of Blue, where water speaks. You’ll find more news and analysis – and a chance to support our work  – at This is Eileen Wray-McCann – thanks for being here.