The Earth’s climate is warming. This is the unequivocal conclusion of climate scientists. Despite the complexities of climatology, certain consistent trends emerge with implications for water availability: as the world gets warmer, it will experience increased regional variability in precipitation, with more frequent heavy precipitation events and more susceptibility to drought. These simple facts will have a profound impact on freshwater resources throughout the United States, as the warmer climate will reduce available water supplies and increase water demand. Low_lake_levelsClimate change is likely to lower Great Lakes water levels, disturb fisheries and wildlife, alter Great Lakes shorelines, and reduce regional 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.
The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center is working to prepare the region to meet the challenge of climate change. Certainly we must take immediate measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. We must also determine the likely impacts of climate change – even if we aggressively reduce emissions – and prepare to adapt to the changed conditions. To adapt to climate change, water law and policy will need to embrace fundamental reforms that emphasize water conservation and more efficient and environmentally-sound allocation at the local, regional, and national scales.
Additional resources on climate change:
- Great Lakes Law updates on climate change
- Climate Change and Great Lakes Water Resources (National Wildlife Federation, 2007) – prepared by Great Lakes Environmental Law Center Executive Director Noah Hall and board member Bret Stuntz for the National Wildlife Federation (large file, may take a few moments to download)
- Noah Hall, Bret Stuntz, and Robert Abrams, “Climate Change and Freshwater Resources,” 22 Natural Resources & Environment 30 (2008) – a short overview of the likely impacts of climate change on freshwater resources and the policy changes needed for adaptation
- Great Lakes Environmental Law Center comment letter to U.S. EPA regarding the Draft National Water Program Strategy: Response to Climate Change