Deadline Looms for Western States to Cut Colorado River Use

Banks along parts of the Colorado River where water once streamed are now just caked mud and rock as climate change makes the Western U.S. hotter and drier. 

More than two decades of drought have done little to deter the region from diverting more water than flows through it, depleting key reservoirs to levels that now jeopardize water delivery and hydropower production. 

Cities and farms in seven U.S. states are bracing for cuts this week as officials stare down a deadline to propose unprecedented reductions to their use of the water, setting up what’s expected to be the most consequential week for Colorado River policy in years. 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in June told the states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — to determine how to use at least 15% less water next year, or have restrictions imposed on them. The bureau is also expected to publish hydrology projections that will trigger additional cuts already agreed to. 

Tensions over the extent of the cuts and how to spread them equitably have flared, with states pointing fingers and stubbornly clinging to their water rights despite the looming crisis. 

Representatives from the seven states convened in Denver last week for last-minute negotiations behind closed doors. Those discussions have yet to produce concrete proposals, but officials close to the negotiations say the most likely targets for cuts are Arizona and California farmers. Agricultural districts in those states are asking to be paid generously to bear that burden. 

The proposals under discussion, however, fall short of what the Bureau of Reclamation has demanded and, with negotiations stalling, state officials say they hope for more time to negotiate details. 

“Despite the obvious urgency of the situation, the last 62 days produced exactly nothing in terms of meaningful collective action to help forestall the looming crisis,” John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority wrote in a letter Monday. He called the agricultural district demands “drought profiteering.” 

The Colorado River cascades from the Rocky Mountains into the arid deserts of the Southwest. It’s the primary water supply for 40 million people. About 70% of its water goes toward irrigation, sustaining a $15 billion-a-year agricultural industry that supplies 90% of the United States’ winter vegetables. 

Water from the river is divided among Mexico and the seven U.S. states under a series of agreements that date back a century, to a time when more flowed. 

But climate change has transformed the river’s hydrology, providing less snowmelt and causing hotter temperatures and more evaporation. As the river yielded less water, the states agreed to cuts tied to the levels of reservoirs that store its water. 

Last year, federal officials for the first time declared a water shortage, triggering cuts to Nevada, Arizona and Mexico’s share of the river to help prevent the two largest reservoirs — Lake Powell and Lake Mead — from dropping low enough to threaten hydropower production and stop water from flowing through their dams. 

The proposals for supplemental cuts due this week have inflamed disagreement between upper basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — and lower basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — over how to spread the pain. 

The lower basin states use most of the water and have thus far shouldered most of the cuts. The upper basin states have historically not used their full allocations but want to maintain water rights to plan for population growth. 

Gene Shawcroft, the chairman of Utah’s Colorado River Authority, believes the lower basin states should take most of the cuts because they use most of the water and their full allocations. 

He said it was his job to protect Utah’s allocation for growth projected for decades ahead: “The direction we’ve been given as water purveyors is to make sure we have water for the future.” 

In a letter last month, representatives from the upper basin states proposed a five-point conservation plan they said would save water, but argued most cuts needed to come from the lower basin. The plan didn’t commit to any numbers. 

“The focus is getting the tools in place and working with water users to get as much as we can rather than projecting a water number,” Chuck Cullom, the executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, told The Associated Press. 

That position, however, is unsatisfactory to many in lower basin states already facing cuts. 

“It’s going to come to a head particularly if the upper basin states continue their negotiating position, saying, ‘We’re not making any cuts,'” said Bruce Babbitt, who served as Interior secretary from 2003-2011. 

Lower basin states have yet to go public with plans to contribute, but officials said last week that the states’ tentative proposal under discussion fell slightly short of the federal government’s request to cut 2 to 4 million acre-feet. 

An acre-foot of water is enough to serve 2-3 households annually. 

Bill Hasencamp, the Colorado River resource manager at Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, said all the districts in the state that draw from the river had agreed to contribute water or money to the plan, pending approval by their respective boards. Water districts, in particular Imperial Irrigation District, have been adamant that any voluntary cut must not curtail their high priority water rights. 

Southern California cities will likely provide money that could fund fallowing farmland in places like Imperial County and water managers are considering leaving water they’ve stored in Lake Mead as part of their contribution. 

Arizona will probably be hit hard with reductions. The state over the past few years shouldered many of the cuts. With its growing population and robust agricultural industry, it has less wiggle room than its neighbors to take on more, said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke. Some Native American tribes in Arizona have also contributed to propping up Lake Mead in the past and could play an outsized role in any new proposal. 

Irrigators around Yuma, Arizona, have proposed taking 925,000 acre-feet less of Colorado River water in 2023 and leaving it in Lake Mead if they’re paid $1.4 billion or $1,500 per acre-foot. The cost is far above the going rate, but irrigators defended their proposal as fair considering the cost to grow crops and get them to market. 

Wade Noble, the coordinator for a coalition that represents Yuma water rights holders, said it was the only proposal put forth publicly that includes actual cuts, rather than theoretical cuts to what users are allocated on paper. 

Some of the compensation-for-conservation funds could come from $4 billion in drought funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act under consideration in Washington, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona told the AP. 

Sinema acknowledged that paying farmers to conserve is not a long-term solution: “In the short term, however, in order to meet our day-to-day needs and year-to-year needs, ensuring that we’re creating financial incentives for non-use will help us get through,” she said. 

Babbitt agreed that money in the legislation will not “miraculously solve the problem” and said prices for water must be reasonable to avoid gouging because most water users will take be impacted. 

“There’s no way that these cuts can all be paid for at a premium price for years and years,” he said. 

 

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California Pop-Up Clinics Offer Vaccinations Against Monkeypox

In an effort to boost monkeypox vaccination rates, Los Angeles County is organizing pop-up clinics where eligible individuals can get the shot. Angelina Bagdasaryan has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.
Videographer: Vazgen Varzhabetian

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US Defense Chief Tests Positive for COVID

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday he tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time this year and is experiencing mild symptoms.

The Pentagon chief said in a statement that he will continue to work a normal schedule but do so virtually from home. Austin said he would quarantine for the next five days in accordance with CDC guidelines and “retain all authorities.”

In January, Austin, 69, also contracted COVID-19.

“Now, as in January, my doctor told me that my fully vaccinated status, including two booster shots, is why my symptoms are less severe than would otherwise be the case,” he said.

Austin said he would continue to consult closely with his doctor in the coming days.

The defense chief urged all Americans to get vaccinated, saying the inoculations “continue to both slow the spread of COVID-19 and to make its health effects less severe.”

Austin said his last in-person contact with President Joe Biden was July 29.

Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on July 21 and came out of isolation July 27. He tested positive again on July 30 and spent another week in isolation.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.

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New Study Reveals Britain’s Health Inequalities

People who live in the poorest regions of England are diagnosed with serious illnesses earlier and die sooner than their counterparts in more affluent regions, according to a new study.

The Health Foundation study, published Monday, found that “A 60-year-old woman in the poorest areas of England has a level of ‘diagnosed illness’ equivalent to that of a 76-year-old woman in the wealthiest areas . . . While a 60-year-old man in the poorest areas of England will on average have a level of diagnosed illness equivalent to that of a 70- year-old man in the wealthiest areas.”

The Health Foundation is an independent charity dedicated to improving “the health and healthcare of the people in the UK.”

The foundation said while previous studies about health inequalities in England have mostly relied on self-reported health outcomes, their study “linked hospital and primary care data to examine socioeconomic, regional and ethnic variations in the prevalence of diagnosed long-term illnesses.”

The study also uncovered “significant ethnic disparities in diagnosed illness” in populations of people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and black Caribbean backgrounds.  This group had higher levels of long-term illness than the white population.

People from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds also had “the highest rates of diagnosed chronic pain, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The Health Foundation, however, also found that the white population “had the highest levels of diagnosed anxiety or depression, and alcohol problems.”

“White people are also more likely to be living with cancer,” according to the study’s findings. This may be occurring because of “the increased survival rates associated with cancers that are more prevalent in this group and due to more diagnoses resulting from greater access to cancer screening in the white population.”

‘The NHS wasn’t set up to carry the burden of policy failings in other parts of society,” Jo Bibby, director of Healthy Lives at the Health Foundation said in a statement. “A healthy, thriving society must have all the right building blocks in place, including good quality jobs, housing and education. Without these, people face shorter lives, in poorer health”.

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NASA-Funded Researchers Head to Western Australia for Clues on Extra Terrestrial Life 

NASA researchers are studying “Mars-like” salt lakes in Western Australia in their hunt for extra-terrestrial life. Experts from the United States say the region, with its pink-hued water and distinctive trees, is more like Mars than almost any other location on Earth.

The Yilgarn Craton is a vast mineral-rich region about 400 kilometers east of Perth in Western Australia.

Yilgarn is a word used by the area’s indigenous people to describe quartz. The region has been the focus of exploration and mining, but scientists believe it could harbor clues about the universe and life on other planets.

Western Australia’s acidic lakes are said to mimic conditions on ancient Mars. Three-billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia are some of the oldest on Earth and academics believe they are about the same age as those on the Red Planet.

A team of U.S. experts, supported by local Indigenous elders, are investigating how so-called “hyper-saline environments” — or places with lots of salt — are not only present-day ecosystems, but how they preserve a record of the past.

Associate Professor Britney Schmidt, from Cornell University in New York state, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the project is funded by NASA, the Washington-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“We are members of the Oceans Across Space and Time project, which is a program funded by the NASA Astrobiology Program and we are out here studying analogues, or examples, of what we think ancient Mars might have been like. So, Western Australia’s unique because it has very, very old rocks. So, here in the Yilgarn Craton somewhere around two to three million years old as well as highly acidic water, and so those two combinations are things that we see on the surface of other planets. So, it is really unique,” she said.

The U.S. team of researchers has been working with indigenous elders, who have explained the region’s so-called “dreaming stories,” which chart the creation of the land by ancestral spirits.

There are many big questions to answer; if life can survive in toxic and hyper-saline environments in Western Australia, could it have existed in extreme conditions on other planets?

We may never find out, but together science and traditional knowledge could yield valuable clues.

Much of the data will help to craft Ph.D. and master’s theses when the team returns to the United States.

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Zimbabwe Blames Measles Surge on Sect Gatherings After 80 Children Die

A measles outbreak has killed 80 children in Zimbabwe since April, the ministry of health said, blaming church sect gatherings for the surge.

In a statement seen by Reuters Sunday, the ministry said the outbreak had now spread nationwide, with a case fatality rate of 6.9%.

Health Secretary Jasper Chimedza said that as of Thursday, 1,036 suspected cases and 125 confirmed cases had been reported since the outbreak, with Manicaland in eastern Zimbabwe accounting for most of the infections.

“The ministry of health and childcare wishes to inform the public that the ongoing outbreak of measles which was first reported on 10th of April has since spread nationwide following church gatherings,” Chimedza said in a statement.

“These gathering which were attended by people from different provinces of the country with unknown vaccination status led to the spread of measles to previously unaffected areas.”

Manicaland, the second-most populous province, had 356 cases and 45 deaths, Chimedza said.

Most reported cases are among children aged between six months and 15 from religious sects who are not vaccinated against measles due to religious beliefs, he added.

Bishop Andby Makuru, leader of Johane Masowe apostolic sect, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Zimbabwe, some apostolic church sects forbid their followers from taking vaccinations or any medical treatment. The churches attract millions of followers with their promises to heal illnesses and deliver people from poverty.

With a low vaccination rate and in some cases, no record keeping, the government has resolved to start a mass vaccination campaign in areas where the outbreak was recorded.

The measles outbreak is expected to strain an ailing health sector already blighted by lack of medication and intermittent strikes by health workers. 

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Shanghai to Reopen All Schools Sept. 1 as Lockdown Fears Persist

China’s financial hub Shanghai said on Sunday it would reopen all schools including kindergartens, primary and middle schools on Sept. 1 after months of COVID-19 closures.

The city will require all teachers and students to take nucleic acid tests for the coronavirus every day before leaving campus, the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission said.

It also called for teachers and students to carry out a 14-day “self health management” within the city ahead of the school reopening, the commission said in a statement.

Shanghai shut all schools in mid-March before the city’s two-month lockdown to combat its worst COVID outbreak in April and May.

It allowed some students at high schools and middle schools to return to classrooms in June while most of the rest continued home study for the remainder of the semester.

The announcement on schools reopening brings great relief to many residents but fears about COVID lockdowns continue to persist, as China vows to stick to its dynamic zero policy which requires all positive cases and their close contacts to undergo quarantine.

On Saturday, videos circulating on Chinese social media showed customers pushing past security guards and running out of an IKEA mall in central Shanghai in panic as an announcement blared over its sound system saying the mall was being locked down due to COVID contact tracing.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the videos, but IKEA customer service said on Sunday the mall was shut due to COVID curbs. IKEA did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Shanghai, the most populous in China, reported five new local infections of COVID, all asymptomatic, for Saturday, while 2,467 domestically transmitted cases were reported nationwide.

It has extended its weekly COVID-19 test requirement and extended free testing until the end of September in a bid to keep the virus in check, authorities announced on Saturday.

The southern province of Hainan is now China’s worst hit region, with 494 symptomatic cases and 846 asymptomatic cases reported for Saturday.

Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan urged Hainan to achieve zero cases at the community level as soon as possible when she inspected several places on the island, including the Sanya Phoenix International Airport on Saturday, state media reported. 

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What Killed Tons of Fish in a European River? No Answer Yet

Poland’s environment minister says laboratory tests following a mass fish die-off have detected high salinity levels but no mercury in the Oder River. That means the mystery is continuing as to what killed tons of fish in Central Europe.

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Idaho Top Court Allows Near-Total Abortion Ban to Take Effect

Idaho’s top court on Friday refused to stop a Republican-backed state law criminalizing nearly all abortions from taking effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade that had recognized a constitutional right to the procedure.

In a 3-2 ruling, the Idaho Supreme Court rejected a bid by a Planned Parenthood affiliate to prevent a ban from taking effect on Aug. 25 that the abortion provider argued would violate Idahoans’ privacy and equal protection rights under the state’s constitution. The measure allows for abortions only in cases of rape, incest or to prevent a pregnant woman’s death.

The court also lifted an earlier order that it issued in April blocking a separate Idaho law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy enforced through private lawsuits by citizens, allowing it to take effect immediately.

Justice Robyn Brody, writing for the court, said given the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision, Planned Parenthood was not entitled to the “drastic” relief it sought, noting that abortion was illegal in Idaho before the Roe decision.

“Moreover, what Petitioners are asking this Court to ultimately do is to declare a right to abortion under the Idaho Constitution when – on its face – there is none,” Brody added.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement called the ruling “horrific and cruel.”

Idaho state officials did not respond to requests for comment.

About half of the U.S. states have or are expected to seek to ban or curtail abortions following the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized the procedure nationwide.

Those states include Idaho, which like 12 others adopted “trigger” laws banning abortion upon such a decision.

Louisiana’s top court earlier on Friday rejected an appeal by abortion rights supporters seeking to block a similar ban.

The Idaho court did not decide on the merits of Planned Parenthood’s challenge to the ban and instead said it would hear arguments on Sept. 29.

Justice John Stegner in a dissenting opinion said the court should have proceeded more cautiously and blocked the ban in the interim, saying that “never in our nation’s history has a fundamental right once granted to her citizens been revoked.”

The U.S. Justice Department on Aug. 2 separately sued in a bid to block the Idaho ban, saying it conflicts with a federal law requiring hospitals to provide abortion in medical emergencies if necessary. That lawsuit, to be argued on Aug. 22, was the first action by the federal government challenging state abortion laws after Roe was reversed.

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Hot Nights: US in July Sets New Record for Overnight Warmth

Talk about hot nights. America got some for the history books last month.

The continental United States in July set a record for overnight warmth, providing little relief from the day’s sizzling heat for people, animals, plants and the electric grid, meteorologists said.

The average low temperature for the Lower 48 states in July was 17.6 degrees Celsius (63.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which beat the previous record set in 2011 by a few hundredths of a degree. The mark is the hottest nightly average not only for July but for any month in 128 years of record keeping, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climatologist Karin Gleason. July’s nighttime low was more than 5.4 degrees C (3 degrees F) warmer than the 20th-century average.

Scientists have long talked about nighttime temperatures — reflected in increasingly hotter minimum readings that usually occur after sunset and before sunrise — being crucial to health.

“When you have daytime temperatures that are at or near record high temperatures and you don’t have that recovery overnight with temperatures cooling off, it does place a lot of stress on plants, on animals and on humans,” Gleason said Friday. “It’s a big deal.”

In Texas, where the monthly daytime average high was over 37.8 C (100 degrees F) for the first time in July and the electrical grid was stressed, the average nighttime temperature was a still toasty 23.5 C (74.3 F) — 7.2 degrees C (4 degrees F) above the 20th-century average.

In the past 30 years, the nighttime low in the U.S. has warmed on average about 3.8 degrees C (2.1 degrees F), while daytime high temperatures have gone up 3.4 degrees C (1.9 degrees F) at the same time. For decades, climate scientists have said global warming from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas would make the world warm faster at night and in the northern polar regions. A study earlier this week said the Arctic is now warming four times faster than the rest of the globe.

Nighttime warms faster because daytime warming helps make the air hold more moisture, then that moisture helps trap the heat in at night, Gleason said.

“So it is, in theory, expected, and it’s also something we’re seeing happen in the data,” Gleason said.

NOAA on Friday also released its global temperature data for July, showing it was on average the sixth-hottest month on record, with an average temperature of 16.67 C (61.97 F), which is 0.87 C (1.57 F) warmer than the 20th-century average. It was a month of heat waves, including one in the United Kingdom that broke its all-time heat record.

“Global warming is continuing on pace,” Colorado meteorologist Bob Henson said.

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