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New Reports: Here Comes Climate Change

Winter 2011 Issue

The National Academies of Science of every nation that has one have called the threats posed by greenhouse gas emissions and resultant climate change real and imminent. They have together called for urgent action. And, as has been widely reported, the surge of recent greenhouse gas emissions is beyond worst case scenarios projected only a few years ago.

Climate scientists are now providing projections on what climate change - or what may more accurately be termed climate disruption - will mean on the ground and for our water.

The Nobel Prize winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just issued a new report. The panel projects that climate change will make flooding and drought events more frequent in years to come. This study tells us to get ready to cope with more frequent water related disasters along our streams, rivers and shores. Water scarcity is likely to increase, as periods of drought become more frequent and intense.

In addition, New York charged an esteemed panel of experts from Columbia University, City University of New York (CUNY) and Cornell University with the task of reviewing what ongoing climate change will likely mean for our state, under the name "ClimAID." (Just Google "ClimAID" for the 600-page report and the 52-page synthesis summary.)

According to the ClimAID experts, heavy downpours have increased and are a trend that is likely to continue. Flooding and flash flooding will probably be heightened in hilly and urban regions. Increased flooding will tend to increase pollutants in water supplies and endanger infrastructure (such as wastewater treatment plants) located in low-lying areas. Longer summer dry periods have the potential to reduce the ability of water supply systems to meet demand. Even conflicts among competing water users are posed as a risk. Increased water temperature will adversely affect habitat and limit the ability of our waters to assimilate pollutants.

NYWEA Must Lead Responses

That is only a small part of the adverse impacts projected by the ClimAID report. Therefore, it is more imperative than ever that the dedicated water quality professionals of the New York Water Environment Association understand and explain these impacts, and lead the way in fashioning thoughtful responses. We need to consistently assess and implement measures to increase the resiliency of critical infrastructure. We need to capture, hold and infiltrate water and soils on the landscape through the multitude of practices known as green infrastructure. And, we need to alert those we serve to the growing problem and the need to actively adapt.

Otherwise, we are simply not doing our job.