Climate change is affecting weather patterns and the world’s ecosystem and, in particular, posing serious challenges to the world’s water supply. Climate change is having a profound effect on how communities can reliably access clean water, causing poor water quality and scarcity and putting significant stress on the water infrastructure,
For US water providers, addressing the impact of climate change will require: finding solutions to maintain adequate levels of water supply to communities; ensuring high standards of water quality in the face of droughts or flooding; and balancing the need for infrastructure improvements while keeping this vital resource as affordable as possible.
Climate change generally refers to changes in average temperature, precipitation, and weather intensity. Climate experts agree that the main cause of global warming is the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. While a certain level of greenhouse gases are essential to maintaining the temperature of the earth, higher levels raise the earth’s temperature causing climate change.
Global warming affects water sources in three general ways: changes in annual rainfall; increases in sea levels; and increased runoff which results in decreased raw water quality. Climate change can alsocan affect the nation’s already compromised water infrastructure. Specifically, buried pipes become more prone to cracking as a result of greater soil movement due to flooding and droughts. This results in leaking pipes, which causes unnecessary water loss while compromising water quality.
The United States is already seeing changes in the frequency of severe weather conditions, such as droughts, floods, and hurricanes, which have adverse impacts on the nation’s water supply. The disruption caused by hurricane Sandy on water and power systems along the East Coast only serves to heighten the concerns about climate change. This water-energy nexus means that both the electrical and water infrastructure must be protected to maintain adequate service.
Each weather event raises the question…is it “climate change”, or is it just freak weather? There is, in fact, a difference between climate variability and weather, and according to NASA, that difference is time. Weather is short-term, and climate “change” is a long-term, typically 30 year, span. There are two approaches that can be used to address climate change: 1. Utilities can adapt and plan for the effects of long-term climate variability, and 2. Utilities can work to mitigate current contributing factors where possible.
Sandy gave us a hard reminder of the immense power of water. There are many uncertainties associated with changing climate patterns and its impact on water, but there is little doubt that climate variability could seriously disrupt water quality and supply unless we respond with adequate planning and risk assessment. The bottom line is that communities, no matter how large or small, need to come together to better plan around both climate variability and weather.