The Stream, July 3, 2024: Algerians, Suffering From Drought and Water Shortages, Demonstrate For Desalination And Infrastructure

The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire, which burned in 2022 and was the largest in New Mexico’s history, will affect the Gallinas River for years to come. Photo © Brett Walton/Circle of Blue


  • After a particularly dry start to the summer, heavy July monsoon rains are replenishing India’s soils, reservoirs, and rivers, to the delight of growers.
  • Reservoirs across Algeria sit at one-third capacity as demonstrators call for desalination construction to pick up the pace.
  • A new study finds that 55 percent of America’s river discharge comes from ephemeral streams — waterways which lost protection when the Supreme Court pared down the Clean Water Act last year.
  • Deadly flooding and landslides near the French-Swiss-Italian border has prompted evacuations as officials decry the effects of climate change in the region.

On the heels of severe wildfire in New Mexico, sudden flash floods prompted a second series of evacuation orders as residents contend with back-to-back disasters.

“It’s a mistake to think of flash flooding or debris flow after the fact as a footnote, instead of a big part of the fire itself. It can be more destructive and cause more loss of life than the fire.” — Don Falk, a professor in natural resources and fire ecology at the University of Arizona.

Following two weeks of brutal wildfires in southern New Mexico last month — in which 25,000 acres burned, thousands of people were evacuated, and at least two people were killed — a sudden deluge has brought extreme flooding to those communities, AP reports

Scientists say that both weather events stem from climate change, which brings “increases in both high-severity fires that kill vegetation and dry out soils, and extreme rainfall events that deliver more precipitation in shorter amounts of time,” the New York Times reports.

Wildfires destroy tree cover and brush, and dry out soils — all of which absorb water and stabilize an ecosystem during periods of heavy rainfall. Without this vegetation, flash floods can move quickly across the steep-sloped landscape, carrying debris, soot, and ash. In some neighborhoods, rushing waters reached heights of over six feet, as evacuation orders were announced.

In context: Billions in Federal Assistance after New Mexico’s Largest Wildfire. But Little Money to Repair Streams

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

In early June, protests erupted in the streets of Tiaret, Algeria, as demonstrators expressed their frustrations over increasingly dire water shortages, the Guardian reports.

Months of timid rainfall and dry taps had already forced many in the country into rationing strategies and water queues. But as the height of the summer approaches — with three-fourths of Africa’s largest country covered by the Sahara desert — Algeria’s 81 dams sit only at one-third capacity. 

Residents are calling for a faster-acting government and pushing for the construction of desalination plants to provide fresh water. Five plants are already being built, and seven more “will be built from next year,” according to the Guardian. 

And the government is acting – per Reuters, by the end of 2024, Algeria will produce 3.7 million cubic meters of desalinated water per day. By 2030, officials hope this volume will reach 5.6 million cubic meters per day after investing $4.5 billion in these water supply projects.

But long timelines do not help residents and pastoralists now. They say they have endured years of poorly governed local utility services and are suffering this summer because of them. Adding to their frustration, the demonstrations, which have circulated widely on social media, have not been picked up by state-controlled media.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


People who have died amidst heavy downpours and resulting flash floods and landslides across northern Italy, southern France, and southwestern Switzerland this past week, Le Monde reports. As the Rhone and other rivers have swelled and overtopped, flooding streets and villages, a bridge in Visletto was destroyed, broken in half. Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes, as exasperated officials declared emergencies and voiced frustrations. “Are we going to experience one catastrophe after another every summer? Or is this an exception? Nobody knows. But certainly, the accumulation of such events worries us and shows how vulnerable we are,” said Swiss Federal Council member Ignazio Cassis, EuroNews reports.

In context: Constant, Compounding Disasters Are Exhausting Emergency Response



Percent of water from America’s river basins that can be traced back to ephemeral streams, according to a new study published in the journal Science. These streams that do not flow year-round lost protections last year when the U.S. Supreme Court limited the Clean Water Act’s reach, posing a long-term threat to the country’s fresh waterways. In the American West, for example, “ephemeral streams flow only for four to 46 days per year on average, but contribute up to 79 percent of the downstream river flow,” the New York Times reports.

On the Radar

India can expect to receive above-average rainfall this July after a particularly dry June left growers with a worrisome summer outlook. On July 2, the season’s monsoon rains — which provide 70 percent of India’s annual rainfall and are crucial to supporting its farming economy — arrived to cover the entire country, a phenomenon that is six days ahead of historic norms, Reuters reports. Overall, rainfall this monsoon year is still seven percent below average; however, all of India’s regions — save for its northeastern stretches — will receive roughly 106 percent the amount of rainfall compared to an average July. Still, the sudden amount of rainfall comes with risks; the deluge last week killed 11 people in the capital New Delhi. 

More Water News

Chile’s Lakes: After a years-long drought left multiple lakes and reservoirs dry and receding in south-central Chile, recent torrential rains have once again replenished their waters, as seen in before-and-after photographs published by Reuters.

Crested Newts: Ancient wetlands in the Scottish Borders are the site of a hopeful restoration project to save both native vegetation and the endangered crested newt, BBC reports, as volunteers and scientists work to reintroduce the amphibian to their ponds. 

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