Climate Change Impacts Water First

 

By Nancy Stoner

In my travels this year, I’ve been experiencing firsthand how communities around the country are taking innovative steps to cope with the environmental changes affecting the water environment. From extreme weather–such as severe droughts and flooding–to more subtle changes–like declining recharge of aquifers and loss of wetlands–communities are facing up to unprecedented challenges.

We depend on a reliable, clean supply of water to sustain our health, nourish our fields, produce energy and manufactured products, support fish and shellfish beds and allow us to enjoy recreational activities. But we are witnessing a historic collision between our growing population, increasing urbanization, and climate change that are putting unprecedented pressure on water resources and water management systems. At EPA, we are concerned about how this is affecting water quality and quantity, and in turn, how it affects our communities, ecosystems and the economy.

EPA is pitching in to help state, tribal, and local communities respond to these threats. We are working to develop practices that protect properties from flooding, preserve and enhance precious water supplies, reduce sewer overflows, and shore up water treatment infrastructure against storms. Through programs like Climate Ready Water Utilities and Climate Ready Estuaries, WaterSense, green infrastructure, healthy watersheds, and State Revolving Funds, we are helping to build resilience and expand awareness as we confront these cumulative challenges, including those exacerbated by climate change.

I recently toured the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve near Santa Monica, California, with members of local ecological groups to explore how wetlands and other ‘green infrastructure’ can help abate flooding from stormwater while recharging aquifers and keeping pollution out of channels and creeks. I also traveled to San Antonio, Texas, where I toured the city’s water system that has a model water conservation program and a recycled water system that supplements water supplies. I’ve learned about wastewater treatment plants such as East Bay Municipal Utility District that not only has reduced its energy use but that has actually produced energy out of its waste stream for sale back to the electric grid. In truth, plants such as these are no longer ‘wastewater’ systems; they are ‘resource recovery’ systems.

These are important times – climate change offers us a chance to reimagine a world where our cities gleam green and our waters run true and blue.

Nancy Stoner is EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. Since February 1, 2010, Nancy Stoner has been serving as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. Ms. Stoner’s extensive career in environmental policy and law began in 1987 as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Most recently Ms. Stoner served as the Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Water Program. Ms. Stoner is a 1986 graduate of Yale Law School and a 1982 graduate of the University of Virginia.

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