The Pacific Northwest could be hit with dueling water troubles in the face of climate change: flooding near the coast and water shortages in more arid areas. That’s only part of the water issues Natural Resources Defense Council says Washington, Oregon and Idaho should begin preparing for now.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, studied each state’s water preparedness strategy, relating to climate change.
The results were a bit concerning, says Ben Chou, NRDC’s water quality analyst. Most states, 29 of them, are doing “very little” to prepare for water-related climate impacts.
“There are a majority of states that aren’t taking this threat very seriously, and they’re not planning at the state level,” Chou says.
In the Pacific Northwest:
The department is implementing long- and short-term goals. Hedia Adelsman is an executive policy advisor at the Washington Department of Ecology. She says water supply is a big concern for the state.
“Eighty percent of the water in eastern Washington goes to irrigation of major crops, — among them are major export crops for us, from apples to cherries,” Adelsman says. “Water supply is also so critical for several of our salmon species that have been listed.”
To help with these concerns, one of Washington’s strategies is to draw more water from rivers when they’re running high and store it for irrigation and other uses during dry periods. The Department of Ecology is also experimenting with refilling aquifers.
Washington found that not creating a climate change plan now could cost the state anywhere from $10-16 billion in the future.
Oregon’s goals include increasing the amount of water it can store for irrigation and conserving more.
Chou says poor water preparedness could lead:
Public health issues from flooding and heavy rainfall. That could lead to poor water quality and the release of untreated sewage. Chou says warming temperatures could also lead to more smog, which could affect people who have breathing troubles like asthma.
Economic troubles from rising sea levels, which could impact tourism and fishing communities.
But there are strategies states can implement now that, Chou says, will help states no matter what happens with climate change. He calls these plans “no regret strategies.”
“These strategies make sense, even if you take climate change out of the equation,” Chou says. “Things like: water conservation, if we can use water in a more efficient way, a smarter way, it certainly benefits us to do so.”
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