I've just posted an article I co-authored with Bret Stuntz, an attorney and director of the climate change program for the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. The article, “Climate Change and Great Lakes Water Resources: Avoiding Future Conflicts with Conservation,” was the basis for my presentation at the “Water, Catalyst of Life and Strife: A Threat to Security or a Vital Opportunity to Foster Cooperation?” symposium at Hamline Law School last weekend (the article is based on a report Bret and I prepared for the National Wildlife Federation). Here is the abstract (you can also download a free prepublication draft from the Social Science Research Network).
Despite the complexities of climatology, certain consistent themes emerge with implications for water availability: as the world gets warmer, it will experience increased regional variability in precipitation, more frequent heavy precipitation events, becoming more susceptible to drought. This article focuses on how climate change will impact Great Lakes water resources. It explores what a changing climate will mean for the Great Lakes, including possible lowering of lake levels, impacts on fisheries and wildlife, changes in Great Lakes shorelines, and reduction of groundwater supplies. Climate change will also reduce water supplies in other parts of the country, creating increased pressure to divert Great Lakes water to other regions. As the Great Lakes and other regions struggle with loss of water supplies, demand for water is expected to increase unless water conservation laws and policies are adopted. Unfortunately, current laws and policies intended to protect Great Lakes water resources from diversions and overuse within the basin are not up to the new challenges posed by climate change. The region can better protect and manage Great Lakes water resources in a future of climate change by adopting new water resource policies that (1) emphasize water conservation as water becomes more scarce and valuable; (2) protect aquatic habitat for fisheries and wildlife in changing conditions; (3) provide strong legal protections against diversions of Great Lakes water to other regions; and (4) create regional governance institutions that can help adaptively manage water resources as new scientific information becomes available. The article concludes by examining how the proposed Great Lakes Compact gives the region an opportunity to make these improvements in water resource policy and better protect the Great Lakes from the pressures of climate change.