Media Release: New Report Suggests that Climate Change May
Have Serious Impacts on National Water Resources
Today, the Pacific Institute and the Department of the
Interior released a new report titled "Water: The
Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change
for the Water Resources of the United States" prepared
as part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's National
Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Change.
The report, a two-year compilation of scientific studies
by representatives of the government, corporate and non-governmental
organization sectors to evaluate the implications of both
existing climate variability and future climate change
on national water resources was prepared under the leadership
the Pacific Institute. It concludes that climate changes
in this century may have serious implications for U.S.
"This reports is another reminder that climate change
is upon us, and a wake up call that we need to begin long
range planning efforts to prepare for the eventuality
of global warming," said Deputy Secretary of the
Interior David J. Hayes. "The good news is that the
analysis and findings in this report are the basis for
beginning that planning process now," Hayes added.
The buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere over the past century, primarily from fossil
fuel combustion, has substantially contributed to a temperature
increase of about two-thirds of a degree Celsius in the
United States, with 1998 the warmest year on record. The
report concludes that this has already resulted in substantial
thawing of the permafrost in the Alaska Arctic and unprecedented
melting of mountain glaciers, an increase in sea level
of between 10-20 centimeters, and an alteration of water
runoff patterns as a consequence of decreased snow and
ice cover and earlier melting.
Climate models project that temperatures could increase
another 3-6 degrees Celsius bythe end of this century.
Warming of this magnitude could seriously affect U.S.
water resources. Among the impacts outlined by the study
- Snowfall and snowmelt will be significantly affected
in the Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific
Northwest, leading to changes in the timing and magnitude
- Rising sea levels will threaten coastal aquifers
and water supplies. Vulnerable regions include Cape
Cod, Long Island, the coastal aquifers of the Carolinas,
and the central coast of California;
- The risk of increased flooding may be as serious
and widely distributed as the adverse impacts of droughts;
- Changes associated with climate change, such as increases
in lake and stream temperatures, permafrost melting,
and a reduction of water clarity, could seriously threaten
fish and water species and critical habitats, such as
Peter Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute, and
the lead author of the study, emphasizes the need to focus
on measures to reduce the risks of climate change and
to develop effective ways to adapt to changes that are
inevitable. "Sole reliance on traditional management
responses is a mistake," Gleick stated,
"water managers need to integrate possible climate
change impacts into their planning processes and to build
flexibility into the system to maximize our ability to
respond to changing conditions." Gleick also emphasized
the importance of water conservation and efficiency programs,
and the need to look beyond traditional options for water
supply options, such as dams and reservoirs to potential
alternative sources of supply, including wastewater reclamation
and reuse and desalination.
"Water: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability
and Change for the Water Resources of the United States"
is available online.