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Imagine flushing the toilet and watching sand come up. That's what happened to Pam Vieira, who lives south of Modesto, Calif. Her water well has slowed to a trickle, and you can see the sand in the tank of her toilet.

"Sometimes we have brown water," Vieira says. "Sometimes we have no water."

Vieira is one of as many as 2 million rural California residents who rely on private domestic wells for drinking water.

Some of those people are among the hardest hit by the state's severe drought, as wells across the state's Central Valley farm belt start to go dry.

The ongoing California drought has pitted wild salmon against farmers in a fight for water. While growers of almonds, one of the state's biggest and most lucrative crops, enjoy booming production and skyrocketing sales to China, the fish, it seems, might be left high and dry this summer—and maybe even dead.

Let me guess how you feel about your urine: Get that smelly stuff away from me as fast as possible?

A small group of environmentalists in Vermont isn't as squeamish. Instead of flushing their pee down the drain, they're collecting it with special toilets that separate No. 1 and No. 2.

Then they're pooling the urine of the 170 volunteers in the pilot project (a quart or so, per person, daily) and eventually giving it to a farmer, who's putting it on her hay fields in place of synthetic fertilizer. The goal is to collect 6,000 gallons this year.

Washington's pollution standards would be made much tougher -- making water clean enough that people can safely eat a daily serving of locally caught fish and shellfish -- under a plan laid out by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The governor announced Wednesday that he wants Washington to set the same fish-consumption standards that guide water pollution rules in Oregon.

As a consequence, waters in Washington would be clean enough that people can consume 175 grams of fish a day, up from the current standard of 6.5 grams a day.

Most of the southwestern U.S. is in the midst of some level of drought. Parts of California, Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas are all seeing extreme drought, as rainfall and winter snowpacks have been far below average.

One of the biggest factors affecting water supplies in these hot, dry places is evaporation. Reservoirs can lose as much water to evaporation as the water that’s actually pumped out of them for drinking water.

Imagine if a gallon of milk cost $3 in your town, but 100 miles away it cost $100, or even $200.

Something similar is happening right now in California with water that farmers use to irrigate their crops. Some farmers are paying 50 or even 100 times more for that water than others who live just an hour's drive away.

The situation is provoking debate about whether water in California should move more freely, so that it can be sold to the highest bidder.

A Simple, Elegant Invention That Draws Water From Air

May 27, 2014

When Italian designer Arturo Vittori and Swiss architect Andreas Vogler first visited Ethiopia in 2012, they were shocked to see women and children forced to walk miles for water.

Only 34 percent of Ethiopians have access to a reliable water supply. Some travel up to six hours a day to fetch some or, worse, resorts to using stagnant ponds contaminated by human waste, resulting in the spread of disease.

Though they concede it's unlikely the public was endangered, officials in Portland, Ore., have decided to drain 38 million gallons of water from a reservoir after a young man was observed urinating into it on Wednesday.

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Colorado River is flowing into northern Mexico through a dam that usually stops it. It’s called a pulse flow — a temporary release of water.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Stina Sieg of KJZZ traveled to see the effect it’s having on Mexico’s long-barren delta.

As California deals with a historic drought, more communities are looking to recycling sewage and storm runoff as a way to deal with the water crisis.

At the Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, California, Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Ron Wildermuth, manager of public and government affairs for the West Basin Municipal Water District.

Possible Rate Hikes For Seattle Public Utilities Customers

Feb 6, 2014
Flickr Photo/Joe Shlabotnik

Steve Scher talks with Ray Hoffman, director of Seattle Public Utilities, about the possible rate hikes for Seattle residents. SPU is hosting four public meetings to collect comments from the community.

Oregon Public Broadcasting Photo/April Baer

Voters in Portland, Oregon have decide not to add fluoride to their municipal drinking water. Seattle and most other large cities in the US added the chemical decades ago to prevent cavities in children.

Nothing spoils a summer swim in your favorite lake like an algae bloom. These become more common as the weather warms up.  A lake in Federal Way, Washington -- near Seattle -- is serving as a proving ground for a possible new tool to combat toxic blooms.

Almost every summer until last summer, Lake Lorene would turn pea soup green.

Lamont Granquist

Environmental groups have collected samples of black rock collected in water bodies along train tracks in the Northwest and found that some of that rock is coal. The Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Columbia Riverkeeper and other environmental groups have sent a notice of intent to sue BNSF Railway and several coal companies for violations of the Clean Water Act.

The Next Act For Clean Water

Dec 27, 2012
Water
Flickr photo/Ibrahim Areef

The Clean Water Act turned 40 this year. What has it accomplished? Where would we be without it? And what will the next 40 years look like for clean water in this country? Weekday presents a special broadcast produced by KUOW's EarthFix and Living On Earth from Public Radio International.

Eric Stowe / Splash

Eric Stowe’s Seattle-based nonprofit Splash works to provide clean water to children in China and the developing world. Ross Reynolds talks with Eric Stowe about how he got involved in clean water and the struggles he faces in his work .

blue faucet
blockpartypress / Creative Commons - flickr

Last Tuesday's general election marked a decisive moment for the city of Shoreline: 70 percent of voters there agreed to buy water services back from the city of Seattle and create their own water utility. 

How We Got Into Such A Mess With Stormwater

Oct 17, 2012
Diver exploring outfall drain in Puget Sound
OPB Photo/Michael Bendixen

The Clean Water Act took effect 40 years ago Thursday. In 1972, stormwater pollution was nowhere near a top priority. Today, it’s taken the lead as the top water contaminator. How bad is it? Puget Sound diver Laura James takes us where nobody wants to go — inside a stormwater outfall — to get an upclose look.

Read the full story on KUOW's EarthFix

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