The federal government recently released its fourth National Climate Assessment which focuses on the impact climate change will have on the U.S. economy over the next century. As mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990, the U.S. Global Change Research Program takes a comprehensive look at climate change and its effects on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems and biological diversity.
And the impacts for the water industry will be significant where rising air and water changes accompanied by changes in precipitation will intensify droughts and wet weather events, reduce snowpacks and negatively impact surface water quality.
The intensity of the recent droughts experienced in much of California, Texas and the Southwest is expected to continue, with prolonged periods of water scarcity making water availability an ever more critical issue.
But it’s changes in the relative amounts and timing of snow and rainfall that will lead to mismatches between water availability and needs which will threaten the future reliability of hydropower production in the West. Power plants will struggle to find a reliable supply of water for cooling operations and saltwater contamination from rising sea level is expected to impact water supplies in coastal areas as well as Hawaii and many U.S. Caribbean and Pacific Island communities.
Taken as a whole across the twelve areas of the economy the research focuses on, the annual losses caused by climate change could stretch into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Citing a 2017 study published in Science, the report suggests that US GDP will recede by 1.2 percent for every 1 degree Celsius increase in the global temperature.
But that’s if we do nothing. And the water and wastewater industry has already begun down the path of becoming more resilient. Water reuse and zero liquid discharge initiatives continue to gather pace as they make sound economic sense. Smart cities are installing the sensors and digital monitoring technologies to react quicker to wet weather events before they become catastrophic. Regulatory hurdles to change and new processes are being reduced as government oversight between federal and state departments are streamlined. Water and wastewater departments are being united to form different entities and job responsibilities in the future.
Although aging and deteriorating water infrastructure continues to burden the industry, climate change is likely to bring an unprecedented level of investment and innovation to the US water market in the 21st Century that has never been seen before. And that’s a good thing for all of us.