The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, recently released its Technical Paper on Climate Change and Water. The report provides a global overview of the subject, relying heavily on other major reports from the IPCC and other agencies, as well as published peer reviewed studies. While it offers very little new information, it further reinforces the well established scientific consensus that climate change will stress water resources in ways that we have never experienced.
The report sums up the future in North America: “Climate change will constrain North America’s already overallocated water resources, thereby increasing competition among agricultural, municipal industrial, and ecological uses.” Specific impacts on the Great Lakes are briefly noted: “In the Great Lakes, projected impacts associated with lower water levels are likely to exacerbate challenges relating to water quality, navigation, recreation, hydropower generation, water transfers and binational relationships. Many, but not all, assessments project lower net basin supplies and water levels for the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Basin.” The report also describes how the heavy rains expected with climate change can “contaminate recreational waters and increase the risk of human illness through higher bacterial counts.” This is especially dangerous for beach areas near rivers, a common combination along the Great Lakes’ shorelines.
Thanks to this and previous IPCC reports, along with similar reports from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, it’s clear that new laws and policies are desperately needed. As I detailed in a recent article on climate change and the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes compact is a good step forward for the region. But more reform is required at all levels of government, especially federal, to fundamentally change how we value and protect freshwater in the era of climate change.