Tuesday 17 August 2021

Judgement Day?

The news may have left American readers – at least those less absorbed by the fall of Afghanistan or the “pandemic of the unvaxxed” – reeling:


Yep, that’s right. For the first time since its creation in 1930 (that’s 91 years, people!), the US Bureau of Reclamation declared a Tier 1 water shortage in the US’s largest fresh water reservoir. Come January the great states of Arizona and Nevada, plus their southern – and perhaps less great – neighbours of “old” Mexico will have their Colorado River water allocations reduced (Arizona, currently worst affected, will lose about one fifth of it). Further cuts affecting other equally great states are scheduled.

But wait, there’s more. When the water level is high, the Hoover Dam (which created Lake Mead) generates up to 2,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power. Currently it’s only 327.66 m above sea level or 1,075 ft (which triggered the Tier 1 restriction declaration). If it were to fall to 289.56 m (950 ft) the Dam would not be able to generate any electric power.


Aussies are more used to droughts than Yanks. Unfortunately, our greater familiarity with the problem has not made us any wiser.

You see, every time a drought hits this also Great Southern Land, the reaction of ignorant demagogues – sorry – respectable politicians is to promise more dams: that should “drought-proof” Australia. It never fails, no matter how much people try to explain the folly of that.

Well, that damn Hoover Dam was not meant to produce hydroelectric power only, but also to … “drought-proof” the great states of the south-west of the American Union!

It ain’t working no more, uh? But it will work here, surely? Drought-proof my ass.

But wait, there’s still more.



Click that link and watch the short (35 seconds) video attached. It was posted less than a week ago. Go ahead, unmute it. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish. Here’s what the woman speaking says:

“We are walking on the Paraná River’s bed. It’s a really sad image. Look! Paraguay, ahead. The Caraguatay island. Look what water remains. The Argentine bank, where we’ve walked. Today everybody is meandering, shocked, on the Paraná riverbed, the majestic Paraná River”.
Those people were justifiably shocked. In fact, everyone, but especially readers in Australia, Europe and North America, should be shocked.



Think of the largest river by volume of water where you live.

Australians, no doubt a little self-consciously, will point to the Murray River. Next, Western and Central Europeans, probably a little less self-consciously, could mention the historical Rhine or the blue Danube, respectively. At hearing that, East Europeans – particularly Russians – will likely scoff: the mighty Volga (pronounced as “Wolga”) dwarfs those creeks, they might say. Then North Americans, with characteristic chauvinism, may point to the Mississippi or Saint Lawrence.

This table should help to understand why this is shocking news:

River            average water
              discharge (m³/s)

Colorado                   640
Murray                     763
Rhine                    2,900
Danube                   7,130
Volga                    8,060
Mississippi             16,792
Saint Lawrence          16,800
Paraná                  17,290

Source here, here, and here.

No river in Europe, North America or Australia is bigger than the Paraná River! Not one! (The Colorado River, which is really variable, on average actually carries less water than the Murray!)

Only the Congo (in Africa), 4 rivers in Asia (Ganges, Yangtze, Brahmaputra, and Yenisei) and 6 in South America (Amazon, Orinoco, Madeira, Guainía/Negro, Río de la Plata, and Caquetá/Japurá) carry more water.

Well, that river, the world’s twelfth by water discharge, the Paraná (“as big as the sea” in the language of the Tupí, natives of the area, Wikipedia says), is running dry in part of its length because of a drought in southern-central Brazil. Let that sink in (pun intended).


I could not believe it, so I did my fact-check. The island the woman mentioned (Caraguatay Island) is home to a park of the same name – in Spanish – and is located to the south of world-famous Foz do Iguaçú, not far from it.


Google Maps shows the precise location of Isla Caraguatay. That part of the now exposed riverbed where the video was made is normally covered by a river more than a kilometre in width, marking a natural border between Argentina (to the east) and Paraguay (to the west). Google Images has photos of the island, the park and, importantly of the river, flowing and as it is now, not flowing.

A few images and sundry reports, from Twitter and here, indicate that the area is indeed affected by a drought. I could find two reports from local newspapers (here and here, both in Spanish).

I found only two references from well-known news sources, both dated August 1th. The Paraná River is not only an important waterway in South America, it is also the Río de La Plata River main tributary. Its riverine ports afford both land-locked Paraguay and inland Argentine provinces access to the sea. That explains the interest from Reuters and Al Jazeera: a large part of the Argentine soy and corn harvest is moved through the Paraná/Río de La Plata and ships cannot be fully loaded, because there’s no water enough for a fully loaded ship.

This is the Al Jazeera report:


Whatever those charlatans tell you, there’s no drought-proofing climate change, people. You guys better go to China and Germany with your buckets and wait for the rains.

And this talk of buckets reminded me of fires …

Image Credits:
[A] Source: WikiMedia. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. You know the customary disclaimer: my use of the file suggests no endorsement, blah, blah, blah.

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