Climate-Related Water Concerns Heat Up

Climate Wire 5/5/08
WATER: Climate-related water concerns heat up (05/05/2008)
Christa Marshall, ClimateWire reporter

Eighteen million Southern Californians may be rationing water this summer for the first time in years. The region’s water distributor is preparing to ask customers to stop using water supplies outdoors one day a week for activities such as washing the car and running sprinklers.

Meanwhile, the impact of carbon capture and sequestration of CO2 from coal-fired power plants on water supplies soon will be studied by a leading drinking water research foundation. It wants to determine whether storing the gas in underground geological formations could unleash dangerous runoff by dissolving rock.

“We have to be careful we don’t create a problem by trying to solve a problem,” said Robert Renner, executive director of the Awwa Research Foundation, the study’s instigator and sponsor of a Friday briefing on Capitol Hill on the global impact of climate change on drinking water.

Appearing with Renner were three Australian, British and American experts who described how rising temperatures have dried up rivers and reservoirs, increased costs and raised the likelihood of pathogens and salt water creeping into drinking water sources.

“The amount of water that is available in Southern California is gradually declining over time, which hampers our ability to meet demands and fight fires,” said Roy Wolfe, manager of corporate resources at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which revealed the upcoming rationing situation. “Climate change is one factor that appears to be reducing the amount of Colorado River supply that is available.”

Several recent studies reported that rising temperatures could reduce the flow of the Colorado River to such a degree that it threatens the Colorado River Compact, which set regulations in 1922 on how to distribute river water to several Western states. Southern California’s use of the river’s water is a lower priority than that of some agricultural areas, creating an additional squeeze, Wolfe said.

Endangered species are a ‘wildcard’ that could exacerbate shortage

Threatened fish species such as the delta smelt recently prompted the closing of some water pumps in California, creating a “wildcard” in the supply of water going forward, Wolfe added.

As in the American West, parts of Australia and the United Kingdom are experiencing stifling droughts that have sped up the melt of snowpacks and decreased the volume of river flows, the speakers said.

Going forward, Southern California likely will tap into a $5 billion water storage system as well as purchase more expensive “transfer” water to meet demand fueled by a growing population, according to Wolfe.

In an April report on climate change and water, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that arid regions like the western United States could experience reduced supplies because of global warming, while tropical areas would likely experience increased flooding (ClimateWire, April 10).

“As a first step, improved incorporation of information about current climate variability into water-related management would assist adaptation,” the IPCC study says.
Improved computer modeling on climate change would make a big difference for utilities trying to plan ahead for potential problems such as seawater intrusion into freshwater deltas, Renner said. Behaviorial changes also are needed so that consumers use water more efficiently, Mike Farrimond, executive director of U.K. Water Industry Research, added at the briefing.

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate Thursday that would “provide funding to enhance the ability of U.S. drinking water utilities” to develop and implement programs responding to climate change hopefully would give a boost to research if passed, Renner said.
“Our utilities cannot do all the research themselves,” he said.
Robin Silver, M.D,
Co-Founder/Board Member
Center for Biological Diversity
P.O. Box 39629
Phoenix, AZ 85069-9629
Phone: 602.246.4170
Fax: 602.249.2576


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