rabble.ca : UN panel says climate change has implications for North America’s water supply

Via rabble.ca

by Brent Patterson, April 8, 2014

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations organization that assesses the impacts of climate change, has released a new report, the second part of a larger assessment by the panel. The Globe and Mail reports, “(It) lists outcomes such as the displacement of populations, food shortages and economic shocks that are triggered or exacerbated by rising temperatures.”

This new report has a chapter on North America. “So far, among the most obvious impacts experienced by city dwellers in North America are meteorological, including a higher risk of dangerously extreme heat in summer, heavier precipitation and flooding events and a decreasing snowpack in winter months. …(But) larger consequences for North America are in store, including the loss of glaciers in the West, with implications for water supplies, threats to the livelihood of northern communities because of vanishing sea ice in the Arctic and impacts on coastal industries because of shifts in populations of economically important fish species.”

Natural Resources Canada has stated, “Glaciers play a role in recharging groundwater aquifers. This aspect of our hydrology is critical to understanding the variability of water supply under a changing climate…” NRC says, “Canada’s glaciers hold water resources equivalent to all of the water contained by our lakes and rivers. As a Nordic country, much of Canada’s freshwater is derived from seasonal and perennial snow and ice, which exerts important controls on the timing and magnitude of water fluxes.” And they have cautioned that there will be “decreases in water availability resulting from increased intensity and frequency of drought, declining snowpack and glacier dimunition” in Canada.

Previous news reports have also told this story. In 2011, CBC reported, “The snowpack across the northern Rocky Mountains has shrunk far more quickly in the past 50 years than in the previous 800… Runoff from those layers of snow feed rivers that supply water to more than 70 million people (in the western United States), raising concerns that the declining snowpack will lead to water shortages in western North America, reported (a) study published online in Science Express. …Robert Sandford, chair of a group that connects policy makers with scientific research on water, said the study shows the declining snowpack will add to the gradual decline in stream flows that are already happening in some of Canada’s most important watercourses.”

And Postmedia News has highlighted, “(The melting snowpack is) altering river flows in the Canadian prairies and central British Columbia, said (the study’s) co-author Brian Luckman, at the University of Western Ontario. ‘Snowpack is essential for water supply to many of these areas,’ Luckman said, noting that the Rockies feed rivers flowing through central B.C. and the Bow, Athabasca and Oldman rivers in Alberta. ‘Between 60 to 80 per cent of the water in those rivers is snowmelt from the mountains.’ …The study says the changes are affecting the Colorado, Columbia and Missouri Rivers, which together supply water to 70 million Americans.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has stated,

“The issue of glacier melt is where climate justice and water justice come together. Water abuse is hurting the climate, and climate injustice is hurting water. The most important thing to remember is that water governs us. It is our lifeblood. It is not a resource for our profit and pleasure, but the most important element of the ecosystem which we depend on for life. We must build solidarity between the water and climate justice movements, between the global north and south, and among those who care for the future. We must vow to be one family and be brave because we are up against terrible forces.”


European Environment Agency (EEA): Towards efficient use of water resources in Europe

via: Environmental Expert

Resource efficiency within boundaries of sustainability
Managing water sustainably in a ‘green’ economy means using water more efficiently in all sectors and ensuring that ecosystems have the quantity and quality of water needed to function effectively. Water ecosystems are vital assets, delivering essential services to our societies and economies, and thereby playing a key role in European productivity and security. It is thus essential that our use of water does not exceed ecosystem sustainability boundaries.

Although water quality has improved in recent years, water resources are over-exploited in many areas of Europe. Together with continued shortcomings in water quality and hydromorphological alterations, this has had heavy impacts on the status of Europe’s water bodies.

Measures to improve the efficiency of water use offer an important tool in this context, enabling society to maximise its earnings from scarce water resources. To ensure that this relieves pressure on ecosystems, however, it is important that increased consumption does not offset efficiency gains.

Clearly, economic production cannot be sustained if it implies excessive water use and burdens natural systems.

Future economic growth must therefore be decoupled from environmental impacts. And this process of decoupling requires a dual focus: on resource-efficiency innovations and instruments, and on environmental sustainability boundaries.

The Water Framework Directive defines the boundaries for sustainable water use via its ‘good status’ objective for water bodies. This is an essential target for impact decoupling, conveying the conditions that ecosystems require to function and support human wellbeing, health and prosperity. In this context, the ‘environmental flows’ concept is an essential tool for securing that aquatic ecosystems have a good quantitative and hydromorphological status. It should be more widely applied and developed.

Resource-efficiency technologies
The examples addressed in this report highlight a range of resource-efficiency measures that can enable actors at varying levels and in different sectors to reduce their water use and achieve more sustainable water management. Resource-efficient technologies in agricultural irrigation, water supply and treatment can deliver substantial water savings. In agriculture, for example, shifts to water-efficient irrigation techniques such as drip irrigation, altered crop patterns and wastewater reuse are particularly promising. Sustainable public and industrial water management depends more on innovative production treatments and processes, ecological design in buildings and better urban planning.

Resource-efficiency measures in the urban and industrial areas often offer win-win situations, with technologies that cut water use also helping to reduce energy use (for example in drinking water and wastewater treatment) and achieve more efficient chemicals use. Water utilities and water-intensive industries have an important role to play here.

In some cases, however, measures to meet water or energy needs can create problems in the other sector. The energy intensity of technologies like desalination necessitates more efficient water use and the development of renewable energy. Similarly, technologies such as hydropower should be judged in terms of their impacts on water ecosystems, which can be considerable, and in the light of their relatively limited growth potential in comparison to wind and solar energy.

There are clear opportunities to enhance the adoption of efficiency technologies. Existing measures can, however, be better applied. Once proven to be useful, new innovations should likewise be shifted from pilot applications or isolated examples to become widely accepted and applied standards.

Download pdf of the report