A child collects drinking water in Rajasthan, India. Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue


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.
The seven states of the Colorado River basin failed to meet a federal deadline to agree on ways to conserve the troubled waterway. 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico get water from the river, and its reservoirs are critically low. Because the states missed the January 31 deadline, the U.S. government could impose its own solution. Last year, Federal officials asked for a conservation plan to reduce annual water use by as much as a quarter. Though no grand deal emerged before the deadline, there was slight progress. Six states submitted the outlines of a conservation plan. But before they agree to any cuts, they want the federal agency that manages the river to use computer modeling to gauge the benefits of this approach. The outline envisions substantial water-use reductions that would take into account water loss from evaporation in reservoirs and seepage into river banks. Current water allocations don’t include these losses. That’s one of the reasons the system is in a deficit. One Colorado River Basin state did not endorse the modeling approach. California, which has some of the oldest and most secure rights to the river, released its own plan. California’s concept, however, does not include reductions for evaporation.
A new report from environmental watchdogs found that three facilities in the Chicago area are among the country’s top water-polluting oil refineries. The refineries named in the report include a Citgo facility in Lemont, Illinois; an ExxonMobil facility in Joliet, Illinois; and a BP facility in Whiting, Indiana. The report is from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group founded two decades ago by former EPA lawyers. The report was based on data from 2021. In that year, all three Chicago-area refineries were in the top 10 for selenium discharge, while the Citgo and BP refineries were also in the top five for nitrogen pollution. Selenium is toxic to fish, while nitrogen promotes the growth of harmful algae. The report highlighted oil refineries in other states as well, including California, Louisiana, and Texas. According to the report, there are 129 oil refineries in the U.S., and their average age is 74 years. The most recent national wastewater laws for refineries were passed in 1985, and they limit the release of only 10 pollutants. Two years ago, the EPA declined to revise the standards, which are nearly 40 years old, even though the agency has taken action against other sectors. In 2015, the EPA revised selenium and nitrogen limits for coal-fired power plants, which are comparable to refineries in their production of toxic chemicals.
In southern Iraq, drought, dams, and water diversions are impeding the region’s ecological recovery. Yale Environment 360 reports that the Mesopotamian marshes are experiencing historic setbacks. The marshes are a UNESCO World Heritage site that were drained and bombed by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. As little as three years ago, the ecosystem was thriving once more as one of southern Iraq’s most vibrant cultural, agricultural, and biodiverse regions. The marshlands were home to 22 endangered species and 66 at-risk birds. Crops that were grown in ancient Mesopotamia — barley, pomegranates, and wheat — were still harvested. But a four-year long drought, coupled with upstream dams and diversions, has dried the soil and left the riverbeds vulnerable to pollution. Mismanaged irrigation systems and climate change compound the situation. Farmers in the region are being forced to leave for crowded urban centers, setting the stage for heightened food prices.
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 circleofblue.org. This is Eileen Wray-McCann – thanks for being here.