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April 1 is, on average, generally considered the date of the peak snowpack in the Northwest. And around now, is when many irrigation districts begin filling their canals to get ready for watering season.

There are grounds for optimism as well as caution.

Across the West, groundwater reserves are being depleted. Nature can’t replenish the aquifers as quickly as they’re being drawn down for irrigation, industry and drinking water.

Thirty-four water systems in Washington state were found to have unacceptable levels of lead. Most of those systems are now in compliance, although four of them are still working toward lower lead levels.
Flickr Photo/Christina Spicuzza (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Flint, Michigan, isn't the only place with lead in its drinking water: 34 water systems in Washington state have tested above acceptable levels of the toxic metal, according to a new investigation from USA Today.

The list includes water systems at five schools: Maple Valley Elementary, Griffin School near Olympia, Shelton Valley Christian School, Skamania Elementary and Washington State Patrol Academy.

In Flint, Mich., families are using bottled water to do everything — from cooking to bathing.

The tap water is still unsafe to drink after government officials allowed corroded lead pipes to poison the water.

People in Flint have lots of questions for those officials. Perhaps the biggest is the one Hattie Collins has.

"When are you gonna fix it? And I mean fix it right," she says.

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REUTERS/Henry Romero 

Mexico City is one of the world’s thirstiest places, with billions of liters consumed by the capital’s growing population of about 9 million, and a metropolitan area that tops 21 million. And this week, millions of the city’s residents got news that they should prepare for water cuts that will leave them without any water for days.

Why the crisis over Flint's water could really happen anywhere in the US

Jan 20, 2016
f
Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Flint, Michigan, where residents have been dealing with the aftermath of lead-tainted water for more than a year now. It's a situation that's led to lead poisoning and brain damage in some children.

Water contamination in Flint, Mich, — where the city switched water sources, causing pipe corrosion and ultimately filling the city's water supply with high levels of lead — has prompted President Obama to declare a state of emergency.

The move, which was requested by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, means FEMA is authorized to provide equipment and resources to the people affected. Federal funding will help cover the cost of providing water, water filters and other items.

Turning ice into fire. Iceland goes for drama.

Nov 27, 2015
Ari Daniel

The first thing you need to know is that Iceland is changing.

Icelander Sveinbjörn Steinþôrsson, a muscular guy in his 40s, grew up hiking on glaciers here. And he says he’s actually seen the changes.

"First trips to the glacier, I was, like, 14, 15 years old," Steinþôrsson says. "It was easy to find a spot on a glacier to see only white. You could not see the mountain in the north. And you thought you were alone in the world."

But now, when Steinþôrsson goes to those same places and looks out, he sees mountains and bare land poking through.

Flickr Photo/ Thilo M. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)/HTTP://BIT.LY/1SBLFKZ

Most cities want to control their own destiny. Shoreline, just north of Seattle, is no exception. But now a deal it hoped would help distinguish it from Seattle has fallen apart.

Seattle Public Utilities says its dams are about three-quarters full.
Flickr photo/Konstantin Stepanov (CC BY 2.0)

Way to go, Seattle and Tacoma and Everett. You’ve cut your water use by 14 percent over the past eight weeks. That handily beat the goal of the region’s city water managers of a 10 percent reduction.

The bad news, the cities said Wednesday, is that typical fall rains still haven't arrived (despite the drizzle outside) to end the drought gripping Washington state.

This is the second story in our two-part series on how drought and climate change are changing the way the Northwest looks to reservoirs to meet its water needs. Read part one here.

This summer’s hot, dry weather has left Northwest apple growers hurting for water to irrigate their orchards. It’s a hint at what’s predicted as the climate continues to warm.

Parched Olympic Peninsula Community Eyes New Reservoir

Aug 29, 2015
Amanda Cronin stands near the Dungeness River downstream from where water could be diverted during higher flows to fill a reservoir.
EarthFix/KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

This is the first story in a two-part series on how drought and climate change are changing how the Northwest relies on reservoirs to meet water needs.

SEQUIM, Wash. – For more than a century, the snowmelt that fed the Dungeness River here has provided water for farmers’ crops as well as salmon journeying to the ocean and back.

Last week was (in case you missed it) World Water Week.

A renewable energy company in Portland has cities across the globe taking a closer look at their water pipes.

Lucid Energy has designed a hydropower system that draws power from drinking water as it makes its way to the tap. Its turbines are small enough to fit inside a city water pipe, and they tap the power of gravity as water flows through.

Obama Administration Finalizes Clean Water Rule

May 27, 2015

The Obama Administration Wednesday announced a new clean water rule. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will help limit pollution in streams and wetlands.

The rule is meant to clarify uncertainty about who can regulate these smaller waterways and water bodies.

Environmentalists say the new rule will keep drinking water clean. Lauren Goldberg is the staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. She says this new rule will provide critical protection for clean drinking water and fish habitat.

Across the Northwest, farmers are already making tough calls because of this year’s drought. The dismal snowpack is to blame.

Tom Kitchar has a theory of mining. It goes something like this:

Way, way back, when humans first came down from the trees, someone picked up a certain rock and realized it was useful.

It was heavy or sharp or easy to grip and use. It was a weapon. It was some sort of tool.

Soon everyone wanted one of these rocks. And those who went out to find and collect them were the first miners.

Northwest Faces Greater Risks From Acidifying Waters

Feb 24, 2015

The Pacific Northwest faces a higher risk of economic harm from ocean acidification than other parts of the country, according to a new study released Monday.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found a "potent combination" of risk factors along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. The region has cold ocean water that absorbs carbon dioxide more readily than warmer water, and it has upwelling ocean currents that bring corrosive water to the surface.

Federal regulators say Oregon is not doing enough to protect water quality in coastal areas. A ruling Friday on the state’s coastal nonpoint pollution control could end up costing the state millions.

A Portland start-up has tapped the city's water pipes as a new source of renewable hydropower that doesn't disrupt fish migration or stream flows.

Lucid Energy has installed a series of small hydroelectric generators inside a pipe that carries drinking water to the city. The company announced Tuesday that its new in-pipe hydro system is now producing power for Portland General Electric customers.

Bill Gates Helps Make Water From Human Waste

Jan 7, 2015
Courtesy of GatesNotes

Bill Gates will put his money where his mouth is when it comes to getting potable water to developing countries.

On his blog, Gates posted a video of a machine that makes “sewage sludge” a renewable resource.  Developed by Sedro-Woolley company Janicki Bioenergy, the project is being funded by the Gates Foundation.

Called the Omniprocessor, the machine burns solid human waste and transforms it into electricity, clean ash and, most importantly, clean drinking water.

So clean that Bill Gates would drink it — and he does.

The people who live in the northwest corner of New Mexico consider Darlene Arviso to be a living saint.

"Everybody knows me around here. They'll be waving at me," she says from behind the wheel of the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission water truck. "They call me the water lady."

That's because Arviso hauls water for tribe members of the Navajo Nation, where, on average, residents use 7 gallons a day to drink, cook, bathe and clean. The average person in the U.S. uses about 100 gallons a day.

It’s been a wet month for California.

Record amounts of rainfall and some snow have led to above normal fall precipitation. But how much is this helping with the state’s severe drought?

After a more than a year of testing, dairies in Washington’s Lower Yakima Valley are trying to reduce water pollution from manure. A report from the Environmental Protection Agency had found the dairies were likely sources of nitrate pollution to nearby residential wells.

EVERETT, Wash. -- A judge ruled against a couple Tuesday after they sued for the right to drill a well and build a new home on their property in Skagit County.

The case marks the latest battle in the ongoing fight over water rights in Washington's Skagit River valley.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Appel dismissed the case brought by property owners Richard and Marnie Fox. He told the couple that they can't build a home on their property because they don't have legal access to water.

SEDRO-WOOLLEY, Wash. -- The house was going to be modest, 1,300 square feet with a big porch looking out over acres of fields. Next to it would be a garage with a caretaker’s apartment over it.

“I’m kind of an old guy already,” Richard Fox said, standing in the pouring rain on his property and gesturing to the spot where he and his wife’s dream retirement home was to be built. A handful of drenched cows looked on, vaguely curious.

The rain California is getting lately may seem significant, but the state’s historic drought is far from over. One way water companies are nudging homeowners to use less water is by asking them to get rid of their lawns.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Daniel Potter of KQED reports that in some places, they’re even paying people to do it.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District pays homeowners $2 per square foot to tear out their lawn and plant something less thirsty.

A long-negotiated series of agreements to manage water in the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon and Northern California received Senate committee passage Thursday.

“This legislation is the result of a historic collaboration of efforts,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden during the committee meeting.

What Climate Change Means For A Land Of Glaciers

Nov 9, 2014
Earthfix Photo/Ryan Hashert

NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK, Wash. — Jon Riedel’s white hair and light blue eyes match the icy tint of the landscape he’s studied for more than 30 years.

He moved to Washington soon after finishing his PhD at the University of Wisconsin because he says the glaciers of the Northwest are still writing the landscape, still carving out curves and valleys.

Flickr Photo/Mark Round (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Attention salmon and people who like water: Let's hear it for the beaver.

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