The Stream, December 28, 2022: Mercury Pollution of Waterways Spoils Bolivia’s Gold Mining Boom

The Stream, December 28, 2022: Mercury Pollution of Waterways Spoils Bolivia’s Gold Mining Boom

The sun illuminates a canal in Buckeye, Arizona. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • Activists call Bolivia to regulate the use of mercury by the mining industry, which continues to pollute biodiversity catchments, rivers and drinking water.
  • The San Carlos Apache Tribe announces a tentative one-year agreement to provide water to an unincorporated residential community outside Scottsdale, Arizona.
  • Hundreds of Chinese immigrants, seeking refuge in the United States, risk their lives to cross the Darién Gap watershed in Colombia-Panama border.
  • or nationwide analysis of US public drinking water found elevated concentrations of arsenic and uranium in communities with higher black, Latino, and/or indigenous populations.

Teff, a native crop in Ethiopiais emerging as a smart alternative to water in Nevada’s high desert.

“The big issue here for farmers is that they face an uncertain future in terms of water availability.” – Dr. John Cushman, a biochemist at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Lack of water has made teff, a grain eaten abundantly in Ethiopia, a profitable option for farmers east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In this arid region, annual rainfall rarely exceeds single-digit centimeters, and irrigation water remains one of farmers’ biggest expenses.

But teff is resilient to periods of drought, Ambrook Research REPORTS, falling asleep – although not dying – when water is scarce. The crop also requires less fertilizer, and its profit margins typically hover around $1,000 per acre. of the grain itself it’s gluten-free, nutrient-dense, and a particularly healthy choice for diabetics.

However, despite teff’s durability, unseasonal temperatures and rising water costs pose uncertainty for farmers, reports Ambrook. Further research into innovative growing methods continues in Nevada and the arid western states in general.

– Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

The latest WaterNews from Circle of Blue


Bolivia’s mining business is booming. Gold was the country’s top export in 2021 – worth $2.5 billion – doubling its numbers in 2020, Yale Environment 360 REPORTS. But the process of extracting the precious metal is largely unregulated, especially in relation to the industry’s use of mercury.

Mercury is currently essential for the extraction of gold from riverbeds. The toxic chemical is mixed with the metal-rich soil to create a liquid liquid, from which pure gold is extracted. But the process’s residual water and fumes remain laden with mercury, which is being detected in both water systems and people in downstream Bolivian communities.

Samples from many indigenous communities living near the Bolivian Amazon revealed mercury levels well above what is considered safe — and that number, 2 parts per million, is disputed by many scientists who say no amount of mercury is safe. Research and the creation of health networks that would link mercury poisoning and tribal health to mining projects is still ongoing, but some people, according to Yale 360, have already complained of adverse health effects.

As concerns over mercury levels grow, communities’ reliance on fisheries – often central to culture and economy – has been called into question, without resolution. The Bolivian government said it will present plans to regulate mercury in July 2022, after the United Nations sent a “Letter of Claim.” These plans have not yet appeared.

This week’s top water stories, told by the numbers


The approximate number of homes in the Rio Verde Foothills — an unincorporated, age-restricted residential community outside of Scottsdale — that will have their water supplied by the San Carlos Apache Tribe. The community previously got its water from commercial companies, which drew from Scottsdale’s water reserves — a process the city announced it would no longer facilitate. If the one-year agreement is approved, the tribe would lease up to 65 million gallons of water by 2023, Native News Online REPORTS.

17 percent

More uranium than the national average is found in the drinking water of communities that have at least 10 percent more Hispanics and Latinos than whites. A last communication of nature survey shows a nationwide trend: uranium and arsenic contamination is more prevalent in the drinking water of communities with more black, Hispanic, Latino, and/or indigenous residents.

On the radar

In increasing numbers, Chinese citizens are risking their lives to cross the dangerous Darién Gap—a mountainous, tropical region marked by the Atrato River and its vast watershed—on the Colombia-Panama border. Hundreds of people who have recently made the journey — from China to Ecuador, through Central America and eventually reaching the United States — “are fleeing China in search of a safer and brighter future, which they call ‘runology,'” REPORTS freelance journalist Yingyu Alicia Chen.

More Water News

Salmon people: or new documentary by ProPublica and Oregon Public Broadcasting features the Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum, the Salmon People, who live along the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Dams, broken treaty rights and climate change have impeded tribal fishing rights and threatened the region’s salmon populations. However, these communities are resilient and solution-oriented in their efforts to revive a number of sacred fish.

Glaciers: The year 2025 will be recognized as the International Year of Glacier Conservation, United Nations General Assembly stated.

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