The Climes They Are a-Changin’

By Brent Heverly

Get more information about how climate change could impact water resources

Managing water resources is a challenging job under any circumstances.  You have to account for the many different uses of the water (drinking, industrial, agricultural, and ecological, just to name a few) and make sure that both the quality and quantity of the water are adequate to make sure all these sectors have enough clean water.  But changing conditions can make water management even more complex.  Climate change is (literally) a hot topic these days, with a lot of discussion of rising global temperatures, carbon emissions, and renewable energy.  But what impact could climate change have on water resources?

Here are just a few of the potential water-related effects of climate change in the U.S:

  • Changes in precipitation: greater variation of precipitation (increased heavy rainfalls as well as intense droughts), changes in the size of vital water bodies and wetlands, water quantity (reductions in ground and surface water), and water quality (increased runoff that causes erosion and sedimentation)
  • Increased water temperature: lower dissolved oxygen levels, increased algal blooms, and altered distribution in aquatic species (since most species are adapted to survive in a certain range of temperatures)
  • Rising Sea Levels: increased coastal erosion, displacement of coastal wetlands, and salt water intrusion in drinking water supplies

Want to learn more?  You can find much more information about the potential impact of climate change on water resources and EPA activities related to water and climate change.  EPA’s Watershed Academy has also done a number of webcasts on water issues related to climate change that are full of information.

So what is EPA doing about it? EPA has developed a national water program strategy for the adaptation to climate change, mitigation of greenhouse gases, as well as further research and education on how climate change relates to water, with 44 key action items.  EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities (CRWU) program provides resources for the water sector to develop and implement long-term plans that take climate change impacts into account.  Resources include a climate ready toolbox and a software tool to assess climate-related risk (Climate Resilience Evaluation and Assessment Tool, or CREAT).

There’s also the Climate Ready Estuaries Program, which focuses on the specific impact of climate change to these unique ecosystems.  In the Mid Atlantic region, we are lucky to have the Delaware Estuary as one of these distinctive natural resources.  To assess how vulnerable this estuary is to climate change and explore strategies to mitigate the risks, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary joined with EPA as one of six national pilots in the Climate Ready Estuaries Program in 2008. Last year a Climate Change and the Delaware Estuary report was published which examined three case studies (tidal wetlands, drinking water, and bivalve shellfish) as examples of natural resources that could be affected and have an impact on habitats, humans, and aquatic life.

What are others doing about it? There are efforts all across the nation. The Source Water Collaborative includes EPA and 22 other national organizations that have an interest in safe drinking water.  As you’ve heard in our previous blogs, the Source Water Collaborative is sponsoring the Delaware River Basin Forum on March 10th.  This basin-wide event will address the issues that affect water resource sustainability that millions in the region rely on every day.  One of the issues to be highlighted is the regional impacts of climate change.  Visit the DRBF website for event locations and more.

And what is the Healthy Waters Blog doing about it? We’re striving to bring you the most current information possible on important issues like climate change that concern your water resources.  We’ll also have a live blog the day of the Delaware River Basin Forum with frequent updates of happenings at the central Philadelphia location and satellites.  Check back here throughout the day on March 10th!

So what are you doing about it? You can start by getting informed.  Tune into the conference, either by attending in person at any one of the locations, or by viewing the live webcast of the forum online from wherever you are!   Here’s even more you can do.

About the Author: Brent Heverly is a fourth year student at Drexel University studying environmental engineering. He is working at Region 3 under EPA’s Student Career Experience Program and hopes to convert to a permanent employee after graduation. He grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs near Perkasie, Pa. Someday Brent plans to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail.

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