Category: Water

Podcast: Adaptation and Water Security with Dr Catherine Grasham & Dr Ellen Dyer

Podcast: Adaptation and Water Security with Dr Catherine Grasham & Dr Ellen Dyer

Living in poverty often means a struggle for water security. Rapid urban growth, unregulated pollution from industry, extreme floods and droughts, along with a lack of reliable and safe drinking water, and increasing damage to water ecosystems threatens economies and undermine the lives of the poor. Climate change is going to make these impacts even worse. But talking about water security means different things to different people. There is a danger that, in trying to become more resilient to a changing climate, that decision makers create situations that unintentionally reduce populations’ water security.

In this podcast episode, we speak to Dr Catherine Grasham and Dr Ellen Dyer from REACH to learn all about their work on water security and resilience. REACH is a global research programme funded by UK aid and led by the University of Oxford that work with a global network of academic, government, practitioner and enterprise partners.Their research looks at how to improve water security for the poor by delivering world-class science that then can transform policy and practice.

Cover photo by DFID on Flickr.

Even looking at flood maps can’t convince coastal residents their homes will be underwater

Even looking at flood maps can’t convince coastal residents their homes will be underwater

By Risa Palm and Toby W. Bolsen

Advertisers understand that providing consumers with the facts will not sell products. To get people to stop and pay attention, successful advertising delivers information simply and with an emotional hook so that consumers notice and, hopefully, make a purchase.

Climate communication scientists use these same principles of messaging—visual, local, and dramatic—to provide facts that will get the public’s attention. Such messaging is intended to help people understand risk as it relates to them, and perhaps change their behavior as a result.

As social scientists studying the effectiveness of climate change communication strategies, we became curious about a particular message we found online. Some houses advertised for sale in South Florida were accompanied by banner ads with messages such as “Flooding hurts home value. Know more before you buy. Find out for free now.” The ads were sponsored by the First Street Foundation through its website The nonprofit foundation provides detailed aerial photos of present and future flooding as a consequence of rising sea level.

My colleague and I decided to survey residents of coastal South Florida to better understand how information affected their attitudes and opinions. Did these messages developed by a nonprofit organization change the perceptions of coastal residents who live in low-lying areas about the threat of coastal flooding as a result of sea-level rise?

Defining the danger to property by zip code

Many studies of climate change communication and response have been based on national surveys or more local reviews of counties and states susceptible to a range of coastal flooding. We focused our survey on a single region and a population at greatest risk: those who live in zip codes along the South Florida coast where the probability of flooding in local neighborhoods is extremely high.

Maps can be a way to see potential flood risk. [Image: floodiq/courtesy of the author]

With permission of the First Street Foundation to reproduce their maps that represent what flooding in the future might look like, we developed a survey to understand the effectiveness of tailored messages. How would this messaging impact residents’ beliefs about climate change and sea-level rise? We also asked if residents believed their communities and homes were at risk.

We surveyed more than 1,000 residents living in 166 zip codes in South Florida between October and December of 2018. All those surveyed were at risk from either the direct or indirect effects of flooding to their homes, including a decrease in property values, as coastal property is perceived as a less desirable destination.

We sampled residents of seven metropolitan areas, including Tampa-Saint Petersburg-Clearwater, Fort Myers, Key West, Miami-Dade County, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, and Vero Beach. Half the sample received a map of their own city, rendered at a scale so that their city block was visible. The maps illustrated what could happen just 15 years from now at the present rate of sea-level rise if there were a Category 3 hurricane accompanied by storm-surge flooding.

[Photo: Asael Peña/Unsplash]

Does visual information make a difference?

The study was intended to assess how residents might perceive the vulnerability of their property and their communities to severe storms. We asked residents about their political affiliation and their support for policies such as zoning laws, gasoline taxes, and other measures to address climate change.

Surprisingly, we found that those who had viewed the maps were, on average, less likely to say they believed that climate change was taking place than those who had not seen the maps.

Further, those who saw the maps were less likely than those survey respondents who had not seen the maps to believe that climate change was responsible for the increased intensity of storms. Respondents who classified themselves as Republicans had the strongest negative responses to the maps.

Those who saw the maps were no more likely to believe that climate change exists, that climate change increases the severity of storms, or that sea level is rising and related to climate change. Even more dramatically, exposure to the scientific map did not influence beliefs that their own homes were susceptible to flooding or that sea-level rise would reduce local property values.

Consistent with national surveys, party identification was the strongest predictor of general perceptions of climate change and sea-level rise. However, the majority of homeowners denied that there was a risk to their property values, regardless of political affiliation.

What does it take to change minds?

We believe that the motivation of our respondents, their underlying beliefs when forming an opinion, is important when reflecting on these survey results. Specifically, people often process information or learn in a way that protects their existing beliefs or their partisan leanings.

In the case of our respondents’ general beliefs about climate change and its connection to sea-level rise, those who belonged to the Republican Party may have dismissed the maps either because they challenged their party’s stance on the issue or because they did not view the information as credible given their prior views. In the case of our respondents’ views about the future effects of sea-level rise on property values, all of the homeowners we surveyed, regardless of their partisanship, may have been motivated by their personal financial interests to reject the notion that sea-level rise would reduce their own property values.

It is important to emphasize that targeted information about climate change may lead to unintended effects. While accurate and easily absorbed information is important, it will take a much more nuanced approach to change the way people understand information. As advertisers well know, it takes more than facts to sell any product.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Epicurrence on Unsplash
Dengue outbreaks affect UCCRTF cities

Dengue outbreaks affect UCCRTF cities

By Jahangir Alam, Hasib Raman, Napoleon Manegdeg, Nilo Manangan

Four Asian cities supported by the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) reported severe dengue outbreaks from January to September 2019.  Reports from the health departments and medical institutions in La Trinidad and Malay, Philippines and in Faridpur and Patuakhali, Bangladesh showed an increase in the number of dengue patients in the period compared to the same period last year. Increased prevalence of dengue fever is linked to climate change due to increased rainfall, which leads to more standing water that provides favorable conditions for mosquitos to breed.

In total, 451 dengue cases were reported in La Trinidad, 338 dengue cases in Malay, 2,795 dengue cases in Faridpur, and 587 dengue cases in Patuakhali. The disease caused 20 deaths in the Philippine province of Aklan (where the municipality of Malay is located), two in Faridpur, and the death  of an eight-year old boy in La Trinidad and a nineteen-year old girl in Patuakhali.

Flooding increasingly threatens the health of people living in UCCRTF cities. Along with the direct losses, damage, and inconvenience caused by perennial flooding, most flood-prone cities experience associated health risks such as diarrhoea, leptospirosis, and dengue, among others. 

The link between dengue and the presence of water in the environment is well documented. The dengue carrying mosquitoes breed profusely in any place where clean standing water is present such as in ponds, creeks, canals, water tanks, containers, and flower pots. Dengue cases rise sharply during the rainy season and after flood events as there is more stagnant water in cities.

The main underlying cause of dengue outbreak in the four UCCRTF cities this year is the spike in mosquito population, which can be traced from increased number of mosquito habitats especially in frequently flooded and waterlogged communities in La Trinidad, Malay, Faridpur, and Patuakhali. A dengue larval survey in La Trinidad revealed the widespread presence of dengue carrier mosquito larvae in water bodies throughout the municipality.

Continuous rain in Faridpur in August 2019 has inundated several parts of the city leading to waterlogging in low-lying areas, which in turn has caused outbreaks of water and vector-borne diseases including dengue. Since dengue is linked to precipitation, flooding, and poor drainage, there might be an increase in seasonal dengue outbreaks with changing precipitation patterns in many parts of the world, if not properly addressed.

Community-led projects and dengue prevention

With no effective cure or preventive vaccine for the dengue virus, efforts to contain the disease focus on reducing the number of mosquitos and protecting people from bites.  There is a need for dengue-prone communities to maintain cleanliness and remove stagnant water, especially during the rainy season and after flooding, to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. As such, addressing flooding and flood risks and ensuring the environment is clean are priority resilience initiatives in the four UCCRTF cities: 

  • In La Trinidad, UCCRTF is working with the community to improve the flood control system along Balili River by expanding the volume capacity of the flood culvert. This is to improve flood flow and reduce perennial flooding in the adjacent strawberry fields.
  • Malay being a coastal town has numerous swampland areas which are ideal breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes. The pilot community is evaluating the flood dynamics from which the team will implement nature-based solutions and green infrastructure in strategic portions of the main river. This will help reduce water runoff, decrease erosion of riverbanks, and reduce incidents of flooding and flash floods in the area. 
  • In Faridpur, the sustainable river project along a small section of the Padma River will improve drainage and flood flow and reduce waterlogging in the pilot community.
  • Patuakhali is one of the most flood prone cities in Bangladesh due to its location and low-lying elevation. The pilot community in Patuakhali is implementing a community-based solid waste management program that will improve environmental waste pollution and at the same time reduce waterlogging and clogging of drainage in the community.
La Trinidad’s “4S” strategy

Local government in the cities have supported the work of the community-led projects. For instance, the Provincial Health Office in La Trinidad has strengthened measures to check breeding sites of mosquitoes. “The flood control project will contribute to dengue control as it will reduce the presence of stagnant waters on the ground and help eliminate breeding sites of dengue-causing mosquitoes,” said Vicente P. Perez, Jr., municipal planning and development officer of La Trinidad, Benguet. “Lessening flooding would prevent creation of breeding sites,” he stressed.

The La Trinidad Municipal Health Office encourages upland communities to practice a “4S” strategy for disease control:

  1.  Search and destroy mosquito breeding sites;     
  2.  Self-protective measures of using mosquito repellent and wearing long sleeves; 
  3. Say yes to fogging; and     
  4. Seek early consultation when signs of the disease appear.

Building resilience is not limited to providing solutions to a single issue but creates spaces for co-benefits and more holistic change. The four cities have identified various flood mitigation measures as their priority community-led projects. These projects will build resilience against flooding. The overlap between flood mitigation, waste management, and health is clear as flood mitigation will reduce the build-up of stagnant waters left behind after floodwaters recede.

This article was originally published on the Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities Blog.
Cover photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash
PRESS RELEASE: European Commission welcomes the provisional agreement on minimum requirements for water reuse in agriculture

PRESS RELEASE: European Commission welcomes the provisional agreement on minimum requirements for water reuse in agriculture

The new rules, proposed by the European Commission in May 2018, will set out harmonised minimum water quality requirements for the safe reuse of treated urban wastewaters in agricultural irrigation.

Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “With this provisional agreement, we are equipping the EU with a powerful tool to tackle some of the challenges posed by climate change. Together with water savings and efficiency measures, the use of reclaimed water in the agriculture sector can play an important part in addressing water stress and drought, while fully guaranteeing the safety of our citizens”.

Currently, the practice of water reuse is established in only few Member States and it is deployed much below its potential. The newly agreed rules will facilitate and stimulate the uptake of this beneficial practice, which can ensure a more predictable supply of clean water for the EU farmers and help them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its impacts. By setting minimum requirements, the new rules will ensure the safety of the practice and increase citizens’ confidence in agricultural produce in the internal EU market. This harmonised approach will also facilitate the smooth functioning of the internal market for agricultural produce and create new business opportunities for operators and technology providers.

Under the new legislation, treated urban wastewaters, which have already undergone certain treatments under the rules of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, would be subjected to further treatment to meet the new minimum quality parameters and thus become suitable for use in agriculture.

Besides the harmonised minimum requirements, the new legislation also sets out harmonised minimum monitoring requirements; risk management provisions to assess and address potential additional health risks and possible environmental risks; and a permitting procedure and provisions on transparency, whereby key information about any water reuse project would be made publicly available.

Next steps

The provisional agreement now has to be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

Following approval, the Regulation will be published in the EU’s Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later.


The Regulation proposed by the Commission aims to alleviate water scarcity across the EU, in the context of adapting to climate change. It will ensure that treated wastewater intended for agricultural irrigation is safe, protecting citizens and the environment.

The proposal delivers on one of the commitments of the Circular Economy Action Plan, and completes the existing EU legal framework on water and foodstuffs. It also contributes to reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the EU (in particular Goal 6 on water and sanitation), as well as contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Access the full pdf here

Cover photo by Levi Morsy on Unsplash
River deltas are ‘drowning’, threatening hundreds of millions of people

River deltas are ‘drowning’, threatening hundreds of millions of people

By Frances Eleanor Dunn and Stephen Darby

The world’s river deltas take up less than 0.5% of the global land area, but they are home to hundreds of millions of people. Many live in major fast-growing cities such as Kolkata in the Ganges delta, Bangkok in the Chao Phraya delta, or Shanghai, one of dozens of large cities in the Yangtze delta region.

With fertile soils and easy access to the coast, deltas are critical hotspots of food production. Vietnam’s Mekong delta alone supplies almost 20% of the world’s rice. They also host unique ecosystems such as the Sundarbans in Bangladesh and India, the largest mangrove forest in the world.

But many of the world’s deltas are now facing an existential crisis. Sea levels are rising as a result of climate change, while deltas are themselves sinking, and together this means the relative sea level is rising extra fast.

Deltas are built from sediments that are carried downstream by rivers and eventually deposited where the river meets the sea. As these sediments compact under their own weight, deltas naturally sink. Where left undisturbed, the supply of new river sediment can compensate for the subsidence and help to maintain the delta surface above sea level.

But deltas are now subsiding much faster than they would do naturally. That’s thanks to groundwater being pumped (or “mined”) from aquifers underneath them and used to irrigate crops and provide water for rapidly growing cities.

In these circumstances, only the continued deposition of sediment on deltas can keep them from “drowning”. We therefore wanted to find out whether supplies of river sediments would be affected by future environmental changes.

To address this question, we used a computer model to project changes in the flows of sediment to almost 50 major deltas worldwide. We used the model to explore the impact of various environmental changes, including climate change, population growth, increases in wealth and the construction of dams. Our results are published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Rice farmers in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Phuong D. Nguyen / shutterstock

We found that most of the world’s major deltas will receive less river sediment by the end of the century, regardless of the environmental change scenario. On average, we projected a 38% decrease. Our results suggest that many deltas – already significantly stressed – will become sediment starved, further compounding the risks of rising relative sea levels.

Some of the most severe reductions will be found in major Asian deltas such as the Ganges (81% less sediment) and the Mekong (77%). This is particularly concerning because these deltas are among the largest and most densely populated in the world.

We found that climate change will generally drive a small increase in the flows of sediments as, among other factors, warmer temperatures lead to increased precipitation and more soil is washed into rivers. But in many deltas this modest uptick will be more than offset by dams (which trap river sediments) and improved soil conservation practices as societies become wealthier. The Aswan Dam on the River Nile in Egypt or the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in the US are among the dams that have already starved their downstream deltas of sediment.

Bad news for a river delta. Tupungato / shutterstock

Better management of river sediment is vital to improve the outlook for the world’s deltas. International cooperation will be essential in deltas such as the Mekong and Ganges which are supplied by large rivers that drain many countries. For dams specifically, comprehensive environmental risk assessments that fully cost the consequences for downstream regions are required so that plans can be changed or scrapped. For those dams that are to be built in the coming decades, their design must accommodate transport of sediment downstream.

For authorities within deltas, faced with managing a dwindling supply of river sediment, new approaches are needed to better manage this precious declining resource. Flood embankments prevent sediment reaching delta plains and may need to be breached, as is being explored in the Ganges delta. Additionally, the removal of sand from rivers for construction materials, which is pervasive in many deltas around the world, must be better managed.

Ultimately, difficult decisions need to be made about development priorities between countries upstream of deltas and those including the deltas themselves, and there will be trade-offs to be made between hydropower, agricultural practices and delta sustainability.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash.
Working with Local Hydrologists in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Improve Streamflow Monitoring

Working with Local Hydrologists in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Improve Streamflow Monitoring

By Andi Thomas

This blog post was posted on NASA Earth Observatory blogs and was reposted under Creative Commons licensing.

Karibu! Welcome! I just returned from a training in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after an incredible week focused on using satellite data to better understand complex watershed dynamics and manage water resources. Referred to as Dar by locals, Tanzania’s largest city sits on the tropical east coast of Africa and is full of salty sea smells and friendly people. Our SERVIR colleagues from the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) and I spent a full 5 days with Tanzanian water resources managers from the Rufiji Basin, Wami-Ruvu Basin, and other offices focused on…you guessed it…water. 

My colleagues from RCMRD and I shared the labor in teaching on different modules designed to build on one another with each day (Top left: Calvince Wara, Top right: Denis Macharia, Bottom: Andi Thomas, Behind the Camera: Felix Kasiti).

Flowing from the Eastern Arc Mountains, the Rufiji river basin is one of the largest in East Africa and where most of Tanzania’s agriculture grows. The Wami-Ruvu basin is where Tanzania’s largest urban centers (including Dar) and industrial complexes are concentrated, but you will also find agricultural fields. Both basins are vulnerable to environmental factors that affect water quantity and quality. Examples include increased water demand from population growth, pollution from industrial and agricultural runoff, and uncertainty in rainfall patterns as our climate changes. With NASA’s freely-available satellite data, hydrologists can measure streamflow at a given place and time, and estimate discharge using different hydrologic models. 

These predictions support sustainable water management, as other factors change in and around the basin. In Tanzania, the long rains are from March to June while the short rains are from October to December. As our climate changes, Tanzania experiences high and low extremes with intense drought or floods with the changing of seasons. These anomalies threaten agricultural production and livelihoods in the region as populations grow, pollution increases, and natural disasters are more devastating. Monitoring and modeling water resources can help to plan ahead and respond more efficiently. 

Dar es Salaam is a fishing community on the coast. Fishermen park their boats along the shoreline after a long day of fishing while the night fishermen prepare to leave at sunset.

One of the goals of the SERVIR program is to build capacity to use satellite data in the regions we work in by training the trainers with tools, products, and services that aid in environmental management. For this training, we used a common hydrological model– the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model– to estimate streamflow. Over five days, the intensive training covered the entire modeling process for VIC– from data access and preparation to model run, calibration, and interpretation. 

As a result of this workshop, stakeholders are equipped to return to their offices and replicate the process for different sub-basins. Estimating discharge over time with satellite data will save resources and allow hydrologists in the region to better understand long-term basin characteristics for improved management practices.

Here is our “Hollywood Selfie”  of some of the participants and trainers.

One last photo before I leave you. Here we are outside of the hotel, just before our last meal together. I cannot wait to meet again someday!

Cover photo is the work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain in the United States.
Drought may hit half world’s wheat at once

Drought may hit half world’s wheat at once

By Tim Radford

The planet’s daily bread could be at risk as the global thermometer creeps up and climates begin to change. New research has warned that almost two thirds of the world’s wheat-growing areas could face “severe, prolonged, and near-simultaneous droughts” by the century’s end.

Right now, 15% of the world’s wheat producing regions are at risk of severe water scarcity at the same time. Even if the 195 nations that agreed in Paris to stop global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5°C by 2100 keep that promise, the chance of simultaneous water stress across continents would still double between 2030 and 2070.

But if nations fail to mitigate the climate change and extremes of heat and rainfall that would inevitably follow runaway global heating, then the chances of devastating failure of wheat harvests in both Europe and North America, or both Europe and Australia, or Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, begin to soar.

Wheat provides one-fifth of all the calories for humankind. It is the world’s largest rain-fed crop and the global wheat trade matches the traffic in rice and in maize combined. Ten regions account for 54% of the planet’s wheat fields, and 57% of the world’s wheat.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate”

Scientists from Europe, the US and China report in the journal Science Advances that they worked with computer simulations to model the future global weather for water scarcity with changes in temperature for the next eight decades.

Wheat is a successful crop partly because its water needs are relatively low, but it can’t flourish without reliable rainfall before and during growth. And the new simulations confirm earlier fears: that extremes of heat and devastating drought could happen in more than one continent at the same time.

When this happened in the 19th century, global famine followed. Forecasts already warn that with each 1°C rise in temperature, global wheat yield will fall by between 4% and 6.5%. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat can slash yields and limit the vital nutrients in cereal harvests. Other teams have found that climate change may already be making this happen.

Worse could follow as one heat wave is pursued promptly by another. And all this could happen in a world in which, as population grows, demand for wheat could increase by at least 43%.

Continued checking

Scientists tend not to take the research of others for granted: they keep on checking. The latest simulation analysed 27 different climate models, each with three different scenarios.

The scientists looked at evidence from the near-past to find that between 1985 and 2007, the impact of drought on world wheat production was twice that between 1964 and 1984.

They included developing countries and low-income nations in eastern and southern Asia in their survey, because these are where half of the already hungry and under-nourished live, and where bread is an important part of people’s diet.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate, which would likely affect all market players, ranging from direct influences on subsistence farmers to price-mediated changes in international markets”, they write.

The article was originally published on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash.
The Impact of Global Warming on Water

The Impact of Global Warming on Water

By Mark Barber

While politicians and laypeople debate whether global warming is real, the effects of climate change continue to steadily creep into every ecosystem on the planet—and that has major consequences for life as we know it.

One of the most concrete ways to grasp the impact of climate change is to understand how global warming affects water around the world. As you’ll see, global warming’s effects are intersectional. The impacts of climate change on water, for example, have repercussions for agriculture, drinking water, weather, power supplies, wildlife, and more. Thus, examining climate change through the lens of water helps shed light on its far-reaching effects.

We’ll be honest: Learning about climate change can be disheartening. But it’s important not to let the following information lead to disempowerment. Instead, consider this information a call to action on behalf of our water and our planet.

The Impact of Global Warming on Water

How Global Warming Affects Water

Here are just some of the ways global warming affects water around the world.

Precipitation pattern shifts
One of the most well-documented effects of climate change is its impact on the water cycle—especially precipitation. Scientists forecast that climate change will provoke new and less predictable precipitation patterns, dubbed “drought and deluge” or “precipitation whiplash.”

As these terms imply, it’s likely that precipitation patterns will consist of prolonged periods of dryness punctuated by brief, intense periods of precipitation that may provoke flooding. The risk of flooding is higher if it’s preceded by drought.

Climate change may cause more droughts because rising air temperatures lead to higher rates of evaporation and plant transpiration, thereby speeding up water loss from the soil and plants. This process may help account for the California droughts of 2011 and 2017 and the 2012 to 2013 drought that impacted much of North America.

Meanwhile, climate change is also making extreme precipitation events more likely. Studies suggest climate change may have provoked the massive amount of rainfall and flooding—and subsequent devastation—that occurred during 2018’s Hurricane Florence in North Carolina and 2017’s Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Flooding also poses a major threat to low-lying agricultural areas such as the Netherlands’ Flevoland.

Extreme precipitation events can bring devastating consequences in the form of ecological harm, property damage and loss, massive financial costs, and even death of people and animals. A recent study by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered that since 1980, many of the most economically disastrous weather- and climate-related disasters were related to water. For instance, tropical cyclones, droughts, severe storms, and flooding have resulted in costs totaling roughly $927 billion, $247 billion, $232 billion, and $124 billion, respectively.

the economic cost of weather and climate related disasters

How do my hydration needs compare to yours?

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed on the United States’ mid-Atlantic coast is another living example of many of the impacts brought on by extreme weather events. Between 1958 and 2012, the northeastern U.S. reportedly experienced a more than 70 percent increase in the amount of rainfall measured during heavy precipitation events. This has led to flooding, an increase in pollution running off into the bay, and changes in the water’s salinity (which impacts the ability of aquatic animals and flora to survive).

Diminished water quality
Global warming can impair water quality in several ways, which can have significant consequences for people, wildlife, and ecosystems. Take, for instance, these situations.

  • As noted above, climate change is leading to more intense precipitation events. Intensified precipitation levels lead to increased runoff. This runoff carries with it pesticides, herbicides, and other agricultural chemicals and disease pathogens—all of which end up in the waterways that supply humans, wildlife, and plant life with water. Increased pollution levels in waterways also lead to a rise of algal blooms, which we’ll address below.
  • Climate change is causing air temperature to rise, which provokes corresponding water temperature increases in lakes, reservoirs, and streams. Higher water temperatures are associated with reduced levels of dissolved oxygen in bodies of water. Lower oxygen levels place significant stress on aquatic animals—including crustaceans, fish, and insects—which need oxygen to survive.

The U.K. serves as an example of how climate change can impair water quality. Across this region, floods and droughts are on the rise. As noted above, flooding can negatively impact water quality in several ways, from increased pollution levels to more frequent or intense algal blooms.

Algal blooms
As noted above, algal blooms—or overgrowths of algae in bodies of water—can occur as a result of increased pollution in waterways (most notably pollution from nitrogen and phosphorous). A 2018 report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that algal blooms are becoming more common and more intense, and that’s bad news for our waterways and our health.

Some of these blooms produce harmful toxins that may be fatal to people and animals. Even blooms that don’t produce toxins can be harmful to the environment and local economies in several ways.

  • They may produce “dead zones” in the water where aquatic animals and flora cannot survive.
  • They make it harder to produce clean drinking water, thereby raising the treatment costs associated with obtaining safe drinking water.
  • They harm any industry or recreational activity that relies on clean water.

Again, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed offers a case study: Rising temperatures in the summer have contributed to algal blooms that have created “dead zones” and resulted in the widespread die-off of fish, other marine life, and underwater grass beds—impacting both the ecosystem and the local economy.

Why does climate change provoke algal blooms? Scientists studying algal bloom growth across the U.S. suspect a number of factors including the following:

  • Warmer water temperatures, which create an appealing environment for algal growth
  • Changes in salinity, which make it easier for marine algae to infiltrate freshwater ecosystems
  • Higher carbon dioxide levels, which feed algal growth
  • Extreme precipitation events, which can lead to runoff containing chemicals that feed algal growth
  • Sea level rise, which is expected to produce more shallow, stable pools of coastal water with conditions ideal for algal growth

Fjords in Scandinavia represent what can happen when these climate-change-induced shifts affect waterways. Nutrient pollution that spurs the growth of potentially harmful bacteria impact waterways and make it harder for native aquatic species to survive. Protecting the fjords is of utmost importance, because research suggests fjords play a big role in absorbing carbon and reducing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (a major contributor to climate change).

Declines in drinking water
If you’ve read this far, then it probably comes as no surprise that climate change is diminishing both the quality and the quantity of drinking water. This may occur for a number of reasons including the following:

  • Algal blooms make it harder to treat water and may emit toxins or cause plant and aquatic wildlife die-offs that significantly diminish water quality.
  • Higher temperatures may reduce the availability of drinking water by provoking the loss of mountain glaciers and mountain snowpack, and causing earlier spring snowmelts—all of which reduces the amount of available water in streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. Melting glaciers alone are expected to threaten the drinking water supply for millions of people.
  • Rising sea levels may carry saltwater to groundwater drinking supplies, making it harder to convert that groundwater (especially in low-lying, coastal regions) into drinking water.
  • Extreme precipitation events are likely to increase the presence of pollution in waterways, which can make it more difficult to treat drinking water. These events may also provoke the overflow of municipal sewer systems, which could release untreated sewage into local drinking water supplies.

The glaciers in the Alps represent the direness of the situation. New research has found that unless climate change slows or halts, two-thirds of the ice in the Alps glaciers is expected to melt by the end of the century, with half of that ice melting by 2050. This melting is expected to have a massive impact on water availability for drinking, farming, generating electricity, and more.

Other extreme examples of the decline in available water can be found in southern Spain, which is expected to completely convert to desert by the end of the century unless climate change is halted, and in parts of Australia, where desertification is also increasing.

Disruptions to power supplies
Climate change not only directly impacts water supplies for humans, wildlife, and ecosystems, but it may also disrupt human power supplies, as evidenced by the following:

  • Currently, glaciers supply many power plants around the world. As glaciers melt, available power supplies may also shrink.
  • Higher temperatures may decrease the water present in lakes and rivers, thereby limiting the abilities for hydroelectric plants to function at capacity—or at all.
  • Higher temperatures may also make available water sources too warm to effectively cool coal and nuclear power plants. This may cause what’s referred to as “power brownouts,” or drops in voltage within an electrical power supply system.

In a catch-22, power may become less available at a time when energy is more needed than ever to treat and distribute declining water supplies. All of this speaks to the immediate and pressing need to switch to renewable, less-resource-intensive energy sources.

Stronger hurricanes
Climate change has been linked to some of the strongest hurricanes to affect the U.S. in recent years. Research suggests these aren’t isolated incidents; instead, hurricanes and tropical cyclones are expected to get stronger if climate change escalates. This is true for multiple reasons including these.

  • Rainfall rates associated with tropical cyclones are expected to increase, because rising air temperature causes a rise in moisture content in the atmosphere. This means more moisture is likely to fall during storm events.
  • Rising sea levels create higher storm surge levels for tropical cyclones, which can exacerbate the damage caused by these storms.
  • While tropical cyclones capable of reaching maximum intensity used to be isolated to a relatively narrow geographic region, research suggests this region is expanding, meaning intense tropical cyclone activity may occur in more places around the globe. All told, climate scientists predict the number of tropical cyclones reaching very intense categories (Category 4 or 5) will increase over the course of the 21st century.

Heat waves
Heat waves have already become more common across numerous regions throughout the world, and the top 20 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1995. Meanwhile, computer models predict that average temperatures around the globe will rise anywhere from 3.2 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of the 21st century. These heat waves exacerbate many of the water-related effects of climate change, including droughts, algal blooms, and rising sea levels.

5 small but mighty changes to affect climate change


While this list represents some of the most significant impacts of global warming on water, it is far from exhaustive. Climate change is also likely to impact water’s role in agriculture, ocean circulation, recreation, and many other areas.

It’s important to note, however, that all hope is not lost. Climate change can still be slowed by taking dramatic steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources or scaling back the industrial dairy and meat industries. We can all encourage these processes by urging local, state, and federal governments to invest in renewable energy and reducing our dairy and meat consumption. It’s not too late for each one of us to make a difference and help slow climate change’s impact on our precious water resources.

Cover photo and article by Waterlogic, presented with permission.
Balkan water reserves may soon run short

Balkan water reserves may soon run short

By Kieran Cooke

The Balkans is one of the world’s most troubled regions, often the setting for outbreaks of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict.

Now the area is also having to face up to the problems caused by a changing climate – in particular the prospect of severe water shortages in the years ahead.

Albania, a mountainous country with a population of just under 3 million, has abundant water resources at present. But government studies predict that due to increasing temperatures and declining rainfall, there could be severe water shortages within ten years.

The government says that within a decade water levels in three of the country’s biggest rivers – the Drin, Mat and Vjosa – will be up to 20% lower than at present.

Albania, largely isolated from the outside world for much of the second half of the 20th century under the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, is struggling to build its economy, with hopes of joining the European Union in the not too distant future.

“Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation”

Falling water levels in its rivers could seriously impede economic progress. More than 80% of Albania’s power is derived from hydro. Even a slight drop in water levels in the nation’s rivers results in power black-outs.

In the summer of 2017 Albania suffered a widespread drought; it was forced to use precious foreign currency reserves for power imports.

Added to these problems is a chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure and mismanagement in the sector. The country has more than 600 dams, but 70% of these are believed to be in need of repair; estimates are that up to half the total water supply is lost in leaks.

In recent years rainfall patterns have become less predictable – with sudden storms causing extensive flooding. Deforestation and haphazard building development along Albania’s water courses result in rivers frequently bursting their banks.

Rivers and water resources, like climate change, do not obey borders. Albania is dependent for a third of its water on neighbouring countries.

Slow progress

The waters of the Drin, Albania’s major river, are shared with the newly independent states of Kosovo and Montenegro in the north and with North Macedonia in the east. Territory in northern Greece also forms part of the Drin river basin. The area is one of the most ecologically rich in Europe.

After many years of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict, efforts are now being made to manage the waters of the Drin on a cross-boundary basis, though progress is often painfully slow.

Ironically, some countries in the region are contributing to their own climate change problems. Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation.

Coal-fired power plants are among the leading sources of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Lignite coal – the most polluting variety of the fuel – is mainly used in the western Balkans region. The small state of Kosovo has some of the largest lignite reserves in the world.

Due primarily to the burning of lignite at ageing power plants, air pollution is a big problem in the country. Pristina, the capital, is often blanketed in a thick black haze in the winter months and regularly tops the world league of cities with the worst air quality.

This article was originally published on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by on Elti Meshau on Unsplash.
ADB supports Marawi reconstruction with stakeholder dialogues for water supply rehabilitation

ADB supports Marawi reconstruction with stakeholder dialogues for water supply rehabilitation

By Joy Amor Bailey

The ADB Southeast Asia Regional Department (SERD) held a mission in Marawi City, Philippines on 26–28 February to refine the scope of activities under Output 3 of the $408 million Emergency Assistance for Reconstruction and Recovery of Marawi project. 

This includes a $5 million grant from the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF), which will be allocated for the health and water supply components of the project.  

The mission focused on identifying and selecting a site for the water supply rehabilitation, as well as conducting social and environmental safeguards, determining procurement of goods and services, and ensuring delivery timelines.  

During the mission, the guidance note, “A Resilience Framework for the Post-conflict Reconstruction of Marawi and Other Affected Areas”, was presented. The note is intended for Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) and partner implementers to integrate peace-building, disaster risk management, and climate change adaptation principles in the post-conflict recovery process.  

Through an interactive half-day workshop, the stakeholders were briefed on technical guidelines for priority sectors. This resilience framework is expected to inform ADB’s overall support and also help guide other activities of the TFBM for project vetting and monitoring. 

Cover photo by Xiaolong Wong on Unsplash.
This article was originally published on the Livable Cities ADB Blog.