A dozen American cities from Los Angeles to New York face a slew of water-related problems due to climate change according to a new report released on July 26th by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The report, entitled “Thirsty for Answers: Preparing for the Water-related Impacts of Climate Change in American Cities” found that water-related vulnerabilities such as drought, rising sea levels, and increased rainfall will affect waterways and water supplies in communities throughout the U.S.
Quoted in a press release from the NRDC, Michelle Mehta, an attorney with the organization and one of the report’s key authors, said, “The 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. In the future, we can expect increase violent storms, drought, and rising seas, so communities nationwide, regardless of size, should get plans up and running to reduce their unique vulnerabilities.”
The range of possible environmental impacts listed in the report include:
- Rising seas: Coastal cities such as Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Los Angeles will be threatened by flooding and storm damage due to rising sea levels. Conservative projections suggest that the California coast could see a 12-to-18 inch rise in sea levels.
More rainfall along the Atlantic could cause serious flooding as a result of nor’easters and tropical storms.
- Increased Storms and Floods: Research shows that the Midwest is expected to experience more frequent, intense storms contributing to heavy flooding along the Mississippi River, ultimately sending untreated sewage and storm runoff into the Chicago river and Lake Michigan.
- A Drier West: The report outlines rising temperatures, less rainfall and a smaller snowpack in the U.S. West that could result in water supply shortages in regions such as Seattle, Los Angeles and Phoenix.
- Decreased Water Quality: Higher carbon dioxide concentrations along with warmer water and increased runoff could result in harmful algae blooms in the Chesapeake Bay and near Seattle. These blooms can also cause fish kills and contaminate shellfish with toxins that can cause illness in humans who consume them.
The NRDC report examines how communities are trying to do just that. For example, San Francisco—one of the cities included in the report along with Boston, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle and several others—has created an interagency task force to develop policies to cope with sea-level rise. The city’s Public Utilities Commission is also working with government agencies along with other cities to plan for possible water shortages as well as working to develop regulatory reforms to support the potential use of gray water, recycled water, and rainwater. Chicago has developed a climate action plan to minimize greenhouse gas emissions while calling for improved policies on local, state and federal levels. And New York City has introduced the Climate Change Adaption Task Force as well as the New York Panel on Climate Change to secure the city’s infrastructure in response to floods or sea-level rise.