From a “showdown” along the Colorado River to the White House’s renewed push to remove aging lead pipes, 2023 is gearing up to be a big year for storytelling about water. Like last year, the Water Hub team is predicting some of the hottest themes we expect (and hope) to see covered in water media this year.
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For now, peek into the crystal river…
PFAS are everywhere
If you go looking for toxic forever chemicals, you generally find them. Just a few weeks into the new year and stories about how these man-made toxins — found in household products from cosmetics and textiles to firefighting foam — contaminate drinking water supplies are flooding news rooms across the country. PFAS have been found in the waters of Wisconsin towns near Tyco and 3M facilities, in the Lower Mississippi River near drinking water intakes, and in freshwater fish. We expect to see this trend continue as the EPA proposes new rules around the use of forever chemicals and more than 31 states gear up to consider legislation this year. Once these toxins are adequately regulated, we’ve just got to figure out how to clean them up and dispose of them safely.
Climate and water issues meet on the farm
The choices we make about the future of agriculture have deep impacts on the health of our air, water, and climate. The next Farm Bill, set to be reauthorized this year, is an important opportunity for the U.S. to prioritize farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, capture carbon on the land, and protect water resources. Ag lobbyists will be hard at work pushing false solutions like biogas and corn ethanol, as they did during infrastructure negotiations. Polling consistently finds strong support for sustainable and climate-friendly farming practices. In the West, as the region addresses decades of water over-use and megadrought, farm communities will need a just transition too. Research out of California’s Central Valley shows how strategically converting cropland around disadvantaged communities could create a win-win for local economies and environmental justice.
The future of water storage is underground (and in the landscape)
Western water news started off with a bang between tense Colorado River negotiations and January’s record-breaking atmospheric rivers that dumped more than 30 trillion gallons of water on California. (For context, that’s like 3 full Lake Meads in the span of a few weeks.) This weather whiplash (worse drought punctuated by extreme precipitation) is climate change on display. The fact that one storm, or good snow year, won’t replenish the dire water deficit decades in the making has been widely reported. And while we certainly don’t buy into the “all that wasted water washing to the sea” hand-wringing you often hear from the crowd calling for more water storage, it’s clear we need to think differently about water management. Scaling up nature-based solutions — making room for rivers, creating spongier cities that capture stormwater, and replenishing underground aquifers — will boost local water supply and help communities adapt to both drought and flood.
Lookout for infrastructure spending potholes
Federal funding for drinking water, stormwater, and sanitation infrastructure from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is beginning to make its way to communities. Big project announcements, like last week’s $340 million financing commitment in Philadelphia, will continue to make headlines as funding allocations in a bill turn into real dollars getting lead out of the nation’s drinking water systems. This is all good news, yet, the devil is in the details to ensure that water spending addresses racial and economic inequity. Historically, white communities benefit more from water infrastructure funding, including across rural America. To achieve the goals of the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative, states will need to proactively get the word out about these funding opportunities and engage deeply with communities.
The Color of Water
Last November, we launched the Color of Water director! We hope this growing resource of nearly 100 water leaders with expertise in every issue from Tribal water rights to freshwater ecology or stormwater infrastructure will generate even more inclusive coverage of water issues. Read the joint statement from Color of Water members for more.