The Stream, June 5, 2024: Scant Snow and Rain Across Canada Take Toll on Energy Production

Workers install new water lines in Traverse City, Michigan. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • As drought across Canada weakens its hydropower production, the country this year has become increasingly more reliable on energy imports from America.
  • Last month’s devastating floods in Brazil were exacerbated by climate change, a new study finds.
  • As the people of Papua New Guinea recover from a devastating landslide, access to clean water remains a significant concern.
  • In India, male farmers are having an increasingly difficult time finding brides as the effects of climate change on crops make turning a profit all the more unlikely.

The bursting of a major water main in Atlanta left many parts of the city, including most of its downtown, without water for up to two days.

“Healthcare is challenging enough to care for patients in a hospital. And when you add to that, not having water, not being able to flush toilets and other things… that are an annoyance at home are really a true challenge and make the job that much more complex.” — Adam Webb, chief operating officer of Emory University Hospital Midtown.

At least 58,000 gallons of water were delivered to the Atlanta hospital this weekend, as much of the city — including all of its downtown buildings — lost water line connections on Friday afternoon, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The water sent to the hospital kept the building’s air conditioning operating.

The bursting of corroded pipes at a crowded underground intersection — including 48-inch and 36-inch transmission lines — prompted Atlanta officials to declare a state of emergency. The Guardian reports that the major break was fixed on Saturday evening, while a precautionary boil advisory was issued for parts of the metropolitan area out of an abundance of caution, as no contamination has yet been detected. 

Many parts of the downtown area and nearby neighborhoods were without water pressure for two days, AP reports. Even into the new week, some households saw their water shut off as city officials tried to “stanch the flow from a broken water main that had been gushing a river into the streets since Friday night.” Utility workers faced challenging, cramped conditions to repair the water main breaks quickly.

The water outage posed serious challenges for medical professionals and their patients, from the loss of basic air conditioning and sanitation to more complex procedures. At least 10 dialysis patients at Emory University Hospital Midtown were transferred to a different facility, and many appointments and laboratory testings were rescheduled. Even MRI tests — the machinery for which requires constant flows of cool water — were affected. 

Elsewhere in the city, events including Megan Thee Stallion’s two weekend concerts were canceled, and both the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola were closed. 

In context: After Decades of Neglect, Bill Coming Due for Michigan’s Water Infrastructure

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

This March, U.S. energy exports to Canada reached their highest levels since at least 2010, a consequence of drought and its effects on our northern neighbors’ hydropower production, the New York Times reports.

The phenomenon is a reversal of the usual direction of trade, with Canada historically selling cheap energy – mostly hydroelectric power – to the U.S. But low snowfall and rain this year have highlighted the fragility of this pathway in the face of a changing climate, with some officials clamoring for a wake-up call and a more interconnected power grid. 

Current models predict that over the next quarter century, precipitation in eastern Canada will increase by between six percent and eight percent. Yet some scientists still worry that water reserves, strained during long dry spells, aren’t guaranteed to last for extended periods of underwhelming precipitation. 

In the U.S. Pacific Northwest, drought and wildfires make the power line connections between Washington, Oregon, California, and Canada particularly fraught. The convergence of high demands for energy with these dry weather phenomena could cause regional energy grids to “buckle,” the Times reports. 

Continuing to develop an infrastructure of complementary, renewable energy resources would likely make both hydropower plants and the energy trade more resistant to weather extremes, Serge Abergel, chief operating officer for Hydro-Québec Energy Services, tells the Times.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


People displaced in Brazil earlier this spring, after three months’ worth of rain fell in two weeks across the country’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. At least 170 people were killed in the deluge, which authorities are calling “the worst disaster in the region’s history,” Reuters reports. This week, a team of international scientists confirmed that the effects of global warming doubled the chances that such a weather event would take place in the area, and that climate change increased its intensity by between six percent and nine percent. They also found that the El Niño weather phenomenon played a significant role, too, in the rainfall’s extreme volume, the New York Times reports



Feet, in length, of the landslide site in Papua New Guinea where an estimated 2,000 people were buried alive, Al Jazeera reports. The decimated location is also where much of the community’s clean water sources flow, posing a serious challenge to the health of nearby villages. The United Nations said that there are currently no purification methods in place to make the local water safe for drinking, and that a “significant” risk of disease, including diarrhea and malaria, remains.

On the Radar

In rural India, where both government policy and climate change — prolonged droughts, heat, and erratic rainfall — is making farmers’ livelihoods all the more financially precarious, young men are experiencing a marriage crisis, Al Jazeera reports. No one wants to marry a breadwinner who cannot prove financial stability. “From my college batch, only 30 percent of the men managed to get brides,” one man, 36, told the outlet. “The rest of us have just been wandering around. Families [of potential brides] want someone with a job, or a farmer with 20-acre farmland which is irrigated. I have neither.”

More Water News

Bolivia: Faced with drought and disappearing lakes, Bolivia’s farmers are moving away from ancestral growing practices and creating new feeds for their livestock, which last longer and are less water-intensive, Reuters reports.

Sri Lanka: Heavy downpours on the island have triggered floods and landslides, killing at least 16 people as schools are temporarily shut down, AP reports

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