EPA Releases National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change

Document establishes goals and actions to prepare for climate change impacts on water resources...


by Shirley Qian

EPA recently announced the release of the final National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change following a public comment period. This document sets out long-term goals and specific actions that are EPA's contributions to national efforts to prepare for, and build resilience to, the impacts of a changing climate on water resources. Research centers at Cornell such as New York State the Water Resources Institute have a critical role to play, as well as everyday people at Cornell, in helping our region prepare. After reading over the key findings leave us a comment about what more Cornellians could do to prepare.

Some impacts of climate change on water resources are:

  • Increases in water pollution problems due to warmer air and water temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns, causing an increase in the number of waters categorized as “impaired,” with associated impacts on human health and aquatic systems.
  • Impacts on water infrastructure and aquatic systems due to more extreme weather events, including heavier precipitation and tropical and inland storms. 
  • Changes in the availability of drinking water supplies due to increased frequency, severity and duration of drought, changing patterns of precipitation and snowmelt, increased evaporation, and aquifer saltwater intrusion, affecting public water supply, agriculture, industry, and energy production uses.
  • Water body boundary movement and displacements as rising sea levels alter ocean and estuarine shorelines and as changes in water flow, precipitation, and evaporation affect the size of wetlands and lakes. 
  • Changing aquatic biology due to warmer water and changing flows, resulting in deterioration of aquatic ecosystem health in some areas. 
  • Collective impacts on coastal areas resulting from a combination of sea level rise, increased damage from floods and storms, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion to drinking water supplies, and increasing temperature and acidification of the oceans. 
  • Indirect impacts due to unintended consequences of human response to climate change, such as those resulting from, for example, armoring shorelines or carbon sequestration and other greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

- From the National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change

The "2012 Response to Climate Change" strategy presents five long-term visions designed to shape EPA's future work on climate change and water issues based on the growing understanding of climate change. Each of these vision areas identifies a range of long-term goals and the strategic actions that need to be taken in the coming years to achieve those goals.

  1. Infrastructure: Climate change could challenge the ability of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities to protect public health and the environment. The water sector will need to adapt to be able to respond to extreme weather events, sea level rise, shifting precipitation and runoff patterns, temperature changes, and resulting changes in water quality and availability. Resilient and adaptable water utilities will help ensure clean and safe water to protect public health and sustain the communities that the utilities serve.
  2. Coastal and Ocean Waters: Coastal and ocean environments are particularly vulnerable to climate change. In addition to the impacts that will be experienced inland, coastal areas will face special challenges. Sea-level rise is already a multifaceted problem that uniquely affects coasts and oceans. Coastal wetlands and estuarine habitats are being inundated or eroded, and many will not be able to sustain themselves as the rate of sea-level rise accelerates. The potential for ocean acidification to damage the marine food chain, shellfish, and coral is another issue unique to the coastal and ocean environment. Coastal regions will also experience saltwater intrusion into ground water aquifers, the threat of rising seas to drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, and the effects of varying stream flow on estuarine salinity and ecology.
  3. Watersheds and Wetlands: Healthy watersheds and wetlands provide a host of ecological services, including water purification, ground water and surface flow regulation, wildlife habitat, flood and surge impact reduction, water temperature moderation, erosion control, and stream bank stabilization. They also store carbon and sequester other greenhouse gases. These ecosystems are already threatened by a number of stressors, and climate change will further exacerbate this situation.
  4. Water Quality: Climate change can have a variety of impacts on surface water, drinking water, and ground water quality. Higher water temperatures and changes in the timing, intensity, and duration of precipitation can affect water quality. Higher air temperatures (particularly in the summer), earlier snowmelt, and potential decreases in summer precipitation could increase the risk of drought. The frequency and intensity of floods could also increase. In addition, sea level rise may affect freshwater quality by increasing the salinity of coastal rivers and bays and causing saltwater intrusion—the movement of saline water into fresh ground water resources in coastal regions.
  5. Working with Tribes: Native Americans have distinct cultural and spiritual connections to water and land. More than 560 federally recognized Indian tribes are responsible for protecting and restoring thousands of square miles of rivers, streams, and lakes, as well as ground water in over 110,000 square miles of Indian country in the United States. Changes in the Earth's climate provide a new set of challenges for tribes seeking to maintain and protect their resources and the safety and health of their people.

- From the EPA Climate Change and Water website

To learn more about water-related climate change initiatives at Cornell, visit the President's Sustainable Campus Committee's Water Focus Team website at http://www.sustainablecampus.cornell.edu/water

What else can we do to prepare? Leave us a comment below...

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