The times they are a-changin'...

The impacts of global climate change are becoming increasingly significant and increasingly common. The United States is of course not immune to these changes – as communities across the country are beginning to observe – and the extent of future impacts are only expected to increase. The effect that these impacts will have however, will be a function of not only our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but just as importantly – how we are able to prepare for these changes. On the front lines of this effort to adapt to and mitigate for this looming threat are our nation’s often unsung heroes: Water and Energy Utilities. Throughout the U.S., utilities are taking steps to guard against the danger that climate-related changes pose to the physical, social, and economic welfare of their communities. The recent Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) – a product of the U.S. Global Change Research Program established in 1989 – explores the degree of climate change impacts in the United States currently, the potential future risks, and the work being done to prepare for them now.


No region of the United States is unaffected by “water sector sensitivities to weather -and climate- related events” and according to the NCA, much of the responsibility will fall on communities and their water utilities to get ready for greater “climate variability and change”. Two significant risks facing these communities and utilities and highlighted by the NCA are: one, changes in water quantity and quality and two, deteriorating water infrastructure that is already at risk.

Changes in Water Quantity and Quality

Climate extremes and greater variability will further stress the ability to time water supply and demand while also ensuring water quality. As the NCA notes, “variable precipitation and rising temperature are intensifying droughts, increasing heavy downpours, and reducing snowpack” while groundwater depletion and declining surface water quality (due to increases in water temperature and greater stormwater runoff) will compound these concerns. The following presents a quick glimpse into one of these dramatic changes since just the year 2000: