Press Release: Study Finds Climate Change Will Impact U.S. Water Supply

For Immediate Release:
September 27, 1999

Contact: Kelly Sullivan/Heather Fass

Study Finds Climate Change Will Impact U.S. Water Supply: Both Quantity and Quality of Water Supply Could Be Affected

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new study released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change concludes that climate change is likely to impact both the availability and quality of the U.S. water supply.

The study, Water Resources and Global Climate Change, finds that as climate change alters precipitation, evapotranspiration and runoff in the United States, these changes are likely to affect the magnitude, frequency, and costs of extreme weather events, as well as our nation's water supply.

The report, one in a series by the Pew Center examining the impacts of climate change on the environment, was researched and written by Dr. Kenneth Frederick of Resources for the Future, and Dr. Peter Gleick of Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment & Security.

"Recent floods and droughts have reminded everyone that the climate and our nation's water supply are inextricably linked," said Eileen Claussen, Executive Director, Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "This study shows that as the climate changes, so will its impact on our water supply."

While some specifics are difficult to predict, several consistent impacts can be identified. For example, in mountainous watersheds, higher temperatures will increase the ratio of rain to snow, accelerate the rate of spring snowmelt, and shorten the overall snowfall season, leading to more rapid, earlier, and greater spring runoff.

In already arid regions, there is likely to be greater flux in the water supply, while higher temperatures fuel an increased demand for water. In other areas, new instances of flooding and droughts also will impact the availability of water.

"An adequate - and safe - water supply is an essential component to our health, environment, communities and economy," said Claussen. "These new findings demonstrate that climate change will not only impact the quantity of our water supply, but the quality as well."

While higher water flows could improve water quality in some streams, the increased runoff of pollutants and saltwater intrusion could accompany climate change induced sea-level rise.

The study notes that there are steps that can be taken today to begin preparing for changes in our water supply. In addition to reviewing options for adapting and expanding the existing infrastructure, including reservoirs and dams, there are opportunities to develop water marketing and trading strategies and improve the management of water systems.

"The findings from this report show without question that there are steps we can - and should - be taking today to prepare our water supply for the consequences of climate change," said Claussen. "But the most important step of all is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change."

In addition to being presented to Members of Congress and their staff at a briefing tomorrow on Capitol Hill, the findings from the study also are highlighted in a print advertisement sponsored by the Pew Center. The advertisement is scheduled to run on September 29th in The Washington Post, September 30th in Roll Call, and October 2nd in National Journal.

The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the nation's largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of America's environment. The Pew Center supports businesses in developing marketplace solutions to reduce greenhouse gases, produces analytical reports on the science, economics and policies related to climate change, launches public education efforts, and promotes better understanding of market mechanisms globally. Eileen Claussen, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, is the executive director of the Pew Center.

The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, which is composed of 21 major, largely Fortune 500 corporations all working with the Pew Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center - it is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.