Thursday, October 20, 2011

Climate Change Puts the World’s Water Infrastructure In Danger

Climate Change Puts the World�s Water Infrastructure In Danger

by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
September 29, 2011

The effects of climate change put water infrastructure in danger,
particularly in the developing world, according to a paper published
in the scientific journal PLoS Biology. Not just water infrastructure
is in danger, either. Two of the effects of climate change are
droughts and floods which, in addition to harming water
infrastructure, can disrupt food supplies and even the global economy.
Two examples from last year are the floods in Pakistan which ruined
crops, and the drought in Russia which caused a grain embargo.

The paper uses several examples to illustrate how climate change
effects can extend from the developed world to the developing world,
including the 2008 intensification of the drought in Australia.
According to the paper, the intensification of the Australian drought
contributed to the increase in food prices in India.

Old dams could be in trouble. The Hoover dam in the Colorado River
basin is cited as an example. The Hoover dam�s design, created in the
1930s, is based on a 30-year period with some of the highest
precipitation rates of the past millennium. Lake Mead now stores only
about 30 percent of its designed capacity, which puts the region�s
cities, agriculture and energy production in danger. Lake Mead
supplies water for Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Hydropower projects are in a boon cycle in the developing world, which
puts governments at risk for defaulting on loans from development
investors. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) projects that 40 percent of all development investments are at
risk from climate change.

Developing countries are not the only ones whose water infrastructure
is at risk from climate change. Lead author of the paper, John
Matthews, Director of Freshwater Climate Change at Conservation
International, said that the policies of Colorado River, which
supplies part of Southern California�s water, influence the the
infrastructure of much of the western U.S. Those policies, according
to Matthews, �were based on an enormous hydrological error about the
amount of water that would available in the future � in the time we
are living now.�

�The infrastructure we�re building worldwide right now is based on the
same assumptions that we made back then,� Matthews added. �We run a
huge risk of making poor nations poorer and accelerating the decline
of species and ecosystems through bad development investments.�

The authors of paper recommend a three-step process for conservation
science to provide practical decision making tools for funding,
designing and operating water infrastructure:

Consider alternatives to building new infrastructure
Explicitly integrate ecosystems into infrastructure development
Reduce the vulnerability of the infrastructure and its impacted
ecosystems over the operational lifetime of the project

The conservation community should make �climate-sustainable water
resource management� part of its long-term strategy to help regions
adjust to the future effects of climate change, the paper concludes.
�Given the risks for human communities and ecosystems from climate
change, ecologists working in the developing world need to think more
like development economists, and economists need to think more like
ecologists,� the paper states.

In other words, climate change (and its very real effects) calls for
paradigm shifts. Whether both developing and developed countries will
make those shifts remains to be seen.

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