The Effect Of Climate Change On Water Resources And Programs

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The Effect of Climate Change onWater Resources and ProgramsNOTICE: This PDF file was adapted from an on-line training module of the EPA’s Watershed AcademyWeb, found at To the extent possible, it contains the same material asthe on-line version. Some interactive parts of the module had to be reformatted for this noninteractivetext presentation. A self-test is included at the end of the file.This document does not constitute EPA policy. Mention of trade names or commercial products doesnot constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.Links to non-EPA web sites do not imply any official EPA endorsement of or responsibility for theopinions, ideas, data, or products presented at those locations or guarantee the validity of theinformation provided. Links to non-EPA servers are provided solely as a pointer to information thatmight be useful to EPA staff and the public.WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

The Effect of Climate Change on Water Resources andProgramsIntroductionThe goal of this module is to educate water program managers, as well as the general public, onthe expected effects of climate change on water resources and water programs. This knowledgewill help us to prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change. The information in thismodule is organized by the following questions:1. Climate Change 101: How is the global climate changing and what are the causes?o Why does climate change matter to U.S. water program managers?o What are the water-related effects of climate change in the United States?2. How do actions taken to reduce the release of greenhouse gases affect water resourcesand water programs?3. What is EPA’s National Water Program doing to address the effects of climate change onwater resources?After completing the module, you may take the Self Test.The following information is covered in the Climate Change 101 section: is climate?What is the greenhouse effect?What is causing climate change?What are greenhouse gases?How is the global climate changing?o Temperature changeso Other environmental changes6. How are changes in climate evaluated and predicted?Climate Change 101:What Is Climate?Climate is weather averaged over an extended period of time (30-year intervals are typically usedin establishing baseline climatology) (Figure 1).During the Earth’s history, the climate has changed many times and has included ice ages andperiods of warmth. Before the Industrial Revolution, natural factors such as volcanic eruptions,changes in the Earth’s orbit, and the amount of energy released from the sun were the primaryfactors affecting the Earth’s climate.However, beginning late in the 18th century, human activities associated with the IndustrialRevolution and burning fossil fuels began changing the composition of the atmosphere.WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

Climate: Weather, such as temperature, precipitation and wind,averaged over an extended period of time.Figure 1What Is the Greenhouse Effect?Sunlight passes through the atmosphere and warms theEarth’s surface. Some of this solar radiation is reflectedby the Earth and the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases inthe atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), absorbheat and further warm the surface of the Earth. This iscalled the greenhouse effect (Figure 2).As more greenhouse gases are emitted into theatmosphere, heat that would normally be radiated intospace is trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere, causingthe Earth’s temperature to increase.Greenhouse Gas: Any gas that absorbsheat in the atmosphere (e.g., CO2)Greenhouse Effect: Trapping andbuildup of heat in the atmosphere nearthe Earth’s surface caused in part byincreased levels of greenhouse gasesWhat Is Causing Climate Change?The global carbon cycle involves billions of tons ofcarbon in the form of CO2 (Figure 3). Carbon dioxide is Figure 2absorbed by oceans and living biomass and is emittedto the atmosphere annually through natural processes. When in equilibrium, carbon movementamong these various reservoirs is roughly balanced.WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

The concentration of CO2in the atmosphere hasincreased from a preindustrial value of about 280 partsper million (ppm) to 379 ppm in 2005 (IPCC, 2007d).Most scenarios of future emissions of CO2 involveincreases of CO2. In 2004, 26.9 billion metric tons ofCO2 were emitted, and 33.9 billion metric tons areprojected to be emitted in 2015. By 2030, 42.9 metrictons of CO2 are projected to be emitted (EIA, 2007).See Figure 4.What Are Greenhouse Gases?Figure 3Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere arecalled greenhouse gases. CO2 is theprincipal greenhouse gas, but other gasescan have the same heat-trapping effect(Figure 5). Some of these other greenhousegases, however, have a much strongergreenhouse, or heat-trapping, effect thanCO2. For example, methane is 21 timesmore potent a greenhouse gas than CO2.Different GHGs have different atmosphericlife times, and therefore actions to reduceemissions will take time to effect reductionsof gases in the atmosphere. The principal,human-generated greenhouse gases thatenter the atmosphere are Carbon DioxideFigure 4(CO2): Carbon dioxide enters theatmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels (oil,natural gas and coal).Methane (CH4): Methane is emitted during theproduction and transport of coal, natural gas andoil. Methane emissions also result from livestockand other agricultural practices and by the decay oforganic waste in municipal solid waste landfills andanaerobic wastewater treatment plants. CH4 is agreenhouse gas approximately 21 times morepotent than CO2 and has an atmospheric lifespan ofroughly 12 years (EPA, 2009c).Nitrous Oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide is emittedduring agricultural and industrial activities, as wellas during the combustion of fossil fuels and solidwaste. Nitrous oxide is also emitted fromwastewater treatment plants during nitrification and Figure 5WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

denitrification processes. N2O is 310 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 and has anatmospheric lifespan of 120 years (EPA, 2009b).Fluorinated Gases: Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfurhexafluoride (SF6) are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety ofindustrial processes. Fluorinated gases are sometimes used as substitutes for ozone-depletingsubstances (i.e., CFCs, HCFCs and halons). These gases are typically emitted in smallerquantities, but because they are potent greenhouse gases, they are sometimes referred to as HighGlobal Warming Potential gases (High GWP gases). HFCs are 140 to 11,700 times more potentthan CO2 and have atmospheric lifespans of 1–260 years. Most commercially used HFCs remainin the atmosphere less than 15 years. PFCs are 6,500 to 9,200 times more potent than CO2 andhave an atmospheric lifespan of several thousand years. Sulfur hexafluoride is 23,900 times amore potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and is extremely long lived with very few sinks (EPA,2009c).How Is the Global Climate Changing?Recorded Global Temperature ChangesGlobal mean temperatures over land and oceanhave increased over the past three decades asillustrated by Figure 6. The global average surface temperaturehas risen between 1.08 F and 1.26 Fsince the start of the 20th century(NOAA, 2006).The rate of increase since 1976 has been6. Annual Average Global Surfaceapproximately three times faster than the FigureTemperature Anomalies, 1880-2006. Includingcentury-scale trend (NCDC, 2008).2007, seven of the eight warmest years on recordMean temperatures for the contiguousglobally have occurred since 2001, and the 10warmest years have all occurred since 1995.United States have risen at a rate near0.6 F per decade (NCDC, 2008).Six of the ten warmest years on record for the contiguous United States have occurredsince 1998 (NCDC, 2008).Including 2007, seven of the eight warmest years on record globally have occurred since2001 (NCDC, 2008).The 10 warmest years globally have all occurred since 1995 (NCDC, 2008).Projected Global Temperature ChangesThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that the average surfacetemperature of the Earth is likely to increase by 3.2 F to 7.2 F (1.8 C to 4.0 C) by the end ofthe 21st century, relative to 1980-1990 (IPCC, 2007c). As seen in Figure 7 warming is not predicted to be evenly distributed around the globe.WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

Land areas will warm morethan oceans in part because ofthe ocean’s greater ability tostore heat.High latitudes will warmmore than low latitudes inpart because of positivefeedback effects from meltingice.Most of North America, all ofAfrica, Europe, northern andProjected change in annual mean surface air temperaturecentral Asia, and most offrom the late 20th century (1971-2000 average) to theCentral and South Americamiddle 21st century (2051-2060 average). The change is inare likely to warm more thanresponse to increasing greenhouse gases and aerosolsthe global average.based on a middle of the road estimate of future emissions.Projections suggest that theWarming is larger over continents than oceans, and islargest at high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Thesewarming will be close to theresults are from the GFDL CM2.1 model but are consistentglobal average in south Asia,with a broad consensus of modeling results.Australia and New Zealand,and southern South America. Figure 7Warming will differ by season,with winters warming more than summers in most areas.Global Temperature Change ScenariosOver the next 100 years, temperature changes areexpected to be in the range of 3 F to 7 F, butwhere in this range temperatures actually occurwill depend on the actual changes in CO2concentrations in the atmosphere, and theseconcentrations will depend on human activities andthe success in efforts to control releases of CO2 andother greenhouse gases.Figure 8 provides temperature projections to theyear 2100, based on a range of emission scenariosFigure 8and global climate models. Several factors, such aspopulation growth and the implementation of new, cleaner technology, will influence whethertemperature increases follow the blue, green or red lines in the graph (Figure 8). Scenarios thatassume the highest emission rates of greenhouse gases provide the estimates in the top end of thetemperature range. The orange line(constant CO2) projects global“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is nowtemperatures with greenhouse gasevident from observations of increases in global averageair and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snowconcentrations stabilized at year 2000and ice, and rising global average sea level.”levels (IPCC, 2007c).– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC,2007b).WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

Temperature Increases Drive Other Environmental ChangesAccording to the IPCC, an increase in the average global temperature is very likely to lead tochanges in precipitation and atmospheric moisture. Increased temperatures cause changes inatmospheric circulation and increase evaporation and water vapor, resulting in precipitationincreases, more intense precipitation, more storms and sea level rise.Climate models suggest an increase in global average annual precipitation during the 21stcentury (IPCC, 2007c and 2001), although changes in precipitation will vary from region toregion (Figure 9). An increase in the intensity of precipitation events, particularly in tropical andhigh-latitude regions thatexperience overallincreases in precipitation isalso predicted. Regionalprecipitation projectionsfrom climate models mustbe considered with cautionbecause they demonstratelimited skill at small spatialscales.The frequency of heavyprecipitation events hasincreased over most landareas, consistent withwarming and observedFigure 9increases of atmosphericwater vapor (IPCC, 2007d). Mid-latitude storm tracks are projected to shift toward the poles,with increased intensity in some areas but at reduced frequency (EPA 2008t).Tropical storms and hurricanes are likely to become more intense, produce stronger peak winds,and produce increased rainfall over some areas due to warming sea surface temperatures (whichcan energize these storms) (IPCC, 2007c).The IPCC estimates that the global average sea level will rise by 7.2 to 23.6 inches (18-59 cm or0.18-0.59m) by 2100 relative to 1980 to 1999 under a range of scenarios (IPCC, 2007c). Theseestimates assume that ice flow from Greenland and Antarctica will continue at the same rates asobserved from 1993 to 2003, but these rates could increase or decrease in the future. Currentmodel projections indicate substantial variability in future sea level rise between differentlocations.WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

How Are Changes in Climate Evaluated and Predicted?The IPCC is a scientific intergovernmentalbody set up by the World MeteorologicalOrganization (WMO) and by the UnitedNations Environment Programme (UNEP) in1988 (Figure 10). The IPCC was established toprovide decision makers and others interestedin climate change with an objective source ofinformation about climate change. The IPCCdoes not conduct any research, nor does itmonitor climate-related data or parameters. Itsrole is to assess on a comprehensive, objective,open and transparent basis the latest scientific,technical and socioeconomic literatureproduced worldwide relevant to theunderstanding of the risk of human-inducedclimate change, its observed and projectedimpacts, and options for adaptation andmitigation.The Intergovernmental Panel on ClimateChange is a scientific intergovernmental bodyset up by the World Meteorological Organizationand by the United Nations EnvironmentProgramme.The U.S. Global Change Research Program(USGCRP) is a coordinated effort of many U.S.federal agencies focused on improving ourunderstanding of the science of climate changeand its potential impacts in the United States aswell as global impacts.The U.S. Global Change Research Program(USGCRP) was established by Congress underFigure 10the Global Change Research Act of 1990. It isa multiagency program that coordinates U.S.federal support for scientific research and observing systems on climate and environmentalchange in the United States as well as globally. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency isone of the 13 participating agencies in the program. The planning and implementation of EPA’sclimate research and assessment activities are closely coordinated with the overall USGRCP.Why Does Climate Change Matter to U.S. Water ProgramManagers?Climate change is expected to have dramatic effects on water resources in the United States andon the work of water program managers (Figure 11).In addition, steps taken to reduce the release of greenhouse gases could have consequences—positive as well as negative—for water resources and programs.WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

Figure 11.Temperaturechange affectsmany naturalprocesses that inturn affect thequality andquantity of ourwater resources.(Source: California– Department ofWater Resources.Climate Change inCalifornia FactSheet)What Are the Water-RelatedEffects of Climate Change inthe United States?Warmer air temperature is anticipated to have thefollowing water-related effects in the UnitedStates: Increases in water temperatureChanges in the location, timing, form andamount of precipitationIncreases in tropical storm intensityRising sea levels (Figure 12 shows risingsea levels on the east coast of the UnitedStates)Changes in oceans and coastal regions—chemical and physicalFigure 12WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

Air and Water TemperatureIncreasesObservations compiled by the NationalClimatic Data Center (NCDC) indicatethat over the past century, temperaturesrose across the contiguous United Statesat an average rate of 0.11 F per decade(1.1 F per century). Averagetemperatures rose at an increased rate of0.56 F per decade from 1979 to 2005.As indicated by the red and pink colors inFigure 13, warming occurred throughoutmost of the United States, with all but 3of the 11 climate regions showing anincrease of more than 1 F since 1901.The greatest temperature increaseoccurred in Alaska (3.3 F per century).The Southeast experienced a very slightcooling trend over the entire period(-0.04 F per century) indicated by thelight blue color, but warming within thisFigure 13region has occurred since 1979.According to the IPCC, all of North America is very likely to warm during this century, and theannual mean warming is likely to exceed the global mean warming in most areas warming inthe United States is expected to exceed two degrees Celsius (3.6 F) by nearly all models (IPCC,2007c).The Effect on Water ResourcesAn increase in the air temperature will causewater temperatures to increase as well. As watertemperatures increase, water pollution problemswill increase, and many aquatic habitats will benegatively affected (Figure 14).For example, increases in water temperaturesare expected to result in the following: Lower levels of dissolved oxygen due tothe inverse relationship that existsbetween dissolved oxygen andtemperature (Figure 15). As thetemperature of the water increases,dissolved oxygen levels decrease.WATERSHED ACADEMY 14. Air and water temperature increasesare expected to result in changes in marinespecies abundance and distribution.CLIMATE CHANGE

Increases in pathogens, nutrients and invasive species.Increases in concentrations of some pollutants such as ammonia and pentachlorophenoldue to their chemical response to warmer temperatures.Increase in algal blooms (Figure 16).Loss of aquatic species whose survival and breeding are temperature dependent.Change in the abundance and spatial distribution of coastal and marine species anddecline in populations of some species.Increased rates of evapotranspiration from waterbodies, resulting in shrinking of somewaterbodies such as the Great Lakes.Figure 16Figure 15The Effect on EPA Water ProgramsIncreases in air and water temperatures will affect the chemistry and biology of water resources.As a result, water programs need to be prepared to handle the following effects: Increased number of impaired watersDifficulty meeting water quality and drinking water standardsDifficulty meeting National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitlimits because of more complex environmental conditionsReductions in availability and quality of drinking water suppliesThe drinking water, surface water, discharge permits and TMDL programs have been identifiedas programs that face some of the greatest potential effects from air and water temperatureincreases (Figure 17).WATERSHED ACADEMY CHANGE

Figure 17Precipitation ChangesAs the air temperature warms, the rate at which waterevaporates from soils and waterbodies increases, and thatincreases the amount of water being held in the atmosphere.Because there is more atmospheric moisture, there are heavierdownpours when it rains. While moderate increases in annualaverage precipitation are expected, there is likely tobe a wider variation in the pattern of rainfall,specifically, drier dry periods punctuated by moreintense rainfall (Figure 18).Figure 18Observations compiled by NOAA’s NationalClimatic Data Center (NCDC) show that totalannual, average precipitation over the contiguousUnited States has increased at an average rate of 6.1percent per century since 1900, although there wasconsiderable regional variability (Figure 19).The greatest increases were in the East NorthCentral climate region (11.6 percent per century)and the South (11.1 percent).Future projections sug

the expected effects of climate change on water resources and water programs. This knowledge will help us to prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change. The information in this module is organized by the following questions: 1. Climate Change 101: How is the global climate changing and what are the causes?

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