Water and climate change don’t play nice together. The two create massive floods in the Midwest, record heat and droughts on both coasts and sometimes even tsunamis that devastate the land and man-made infrastructure. Water-related disasters, spurred on by the transformation of our climate, need to be managed, according to a new report released by the National Resources Defense Council.
“This is a national call to action, but not a call to alarm,” says Steve Fleischli, senior attorney at the international nonprofit environmental organization, at a press conference. “Our cities can be resilient but they must prepare and many cities are preparing for these changes.”
“Thirsty for Answers: Preparing for the Water-related Impacts of Climate Change in American Cities” focuses on climate change as a local – not just a global – problem. It forces people to look at how the changing climate will affect their communities’ and neighborhoods’ relationships with water and challenges them to plan for a different future.
“This report makes clear that some of the first, most profound and far-reaching impacts of climate change are water-related, affecting the water we drink, fish and swim in,” says Michelle Mehta, an attorney for NRDC’s Water Program and a principal author of the report. “In the future, we can expect increased violent storms, drought and rising seas, so communities nationwide, regardless of size, should get plans up and running to reduce their unique vulnerabilities and prepare for impacts.”
The report outlines the severity of the challenge to water resources and the efforts 12 cities in the United States are making to combat the changes. Researchers studied more than 75 scientific studies, data and reports generated by nonprofit organizations and government agencies to compile this survey.
Rising sea levels threaten to transform supplies of fresh water into brackish backwash on all three coasts. In the East and South, cities like Norfolk, New York, Miami and New Orleans brace for rising sea levels. They are joined by the Midwest anticipating intense, frequent storms. Western cities seek ways to deal with shrinking snow caps that have been a traditional supply of fresh water at the same time they are hit with hotter temperatures and less rain.
If climate change continues on this trajectory, we can expect our infrastructure to become threatened and possibly useless against sewage overflows and flooding. Erosion will increase. Temperatures will soar – all threatening clean drinking water. People tend to be reactive instead of proactive, but this is one instance when advance planning will make all the difference.
Dan Lashof, director of NRDC’s Climate Center, points to the ideological opponents of climate change, those clutching to our past. He says, “They may debate the facts, but cities don’t have that kind of time.”
In fact, the cost of inaction is much higher than planning ahead and improving infrastructure now, investing in wetlands and finding better methods of conservation, according to the report.
“Our cities were designed for the 19th and 20th centuries and not for the 21st. We need to employ strategies that protect our wetlands to be used as buffers for floods and speed bumps for storms. We need to use water wisely through conservation and reuse,” says Fleischli, before adding that many communities around the nation can learn from those that have already begun planning for the future.
The complete report is available online on the NRDC website.