How is Climate Change Affecting Our Water Quality?

Emily Folk

Already, nearly a billion people live with daily water stress. For the rest of us it is too easy to take access to clean water for granted. That's a bad idea in the best of circumstances, but the knock-on impacts of climate change throughout the global environment portend a world of water shortages for all of us - unless we do something now to head off a growing crisis.

Climate change is reshaping the world, but not for the better. It affects every component of our surroundings from air quality to soil health, and water quality is no exception. Global warming possesses the power to overhaul the water cycle if it's left unchecked.

Marine creatures are forced to migrate to safer regions or die, bodies of water absorb endless pollutants and humans suffer illnesses from polluted water. Global warming's reach knows no bounds concerning our natural resources, which is why people must educate themselves on the issue and help stop the spread of destruction.

Changes in your local water quality can affect everyone. Keep reading to learn about the effects and what you can do to lessen their impact.

The effects of climate change

Higher temperatures have increased the ocean's acidity, making it harder for marine life to survive. The ocean absorbs 30 percent of the atmosphere's carbon dioxide, and as air pollution increases, so will acidification. Contrary to popular belief, the seas are the world's biggest suppliers of oxygen — not the trees. Yet they undergo adverse changes because of human error, and sea life suffers from encountering strange, unlivable environments.

Rainfall patterns are no longer as predictable as they once were. Extreme weather events become more prevalent in numerous areas of the world — people regularly experience freak hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons. Agriculture has taken a hit because of the rainfall's unpredictability. Farmers can no longer foretell the best times to plant crops. The risk of their harvests suffering from drought or being uprooted by storms is a harsh and unavoidable reality.

Farmers in Europe grappled with unnaturally hot temperatures, little rainfall and premature crop growth in 2018, which led to nonviable crops more often than not. On the opposite end, islands and coastal communities experience destruction from water washing away or burying parts of the land. Heightening sea levels occur because of melting glaciers and ice caps. More water isn't always a good thing — it can wipe out entire communities.

Water Scarcity

If we could put the planet's waters in a gallon jug, proportionally, all drinkable water would amount to only one tablespoon. This knowledge becomes more alarming when you think about how much water people use — and waste — each day. Water sources might seem infinite for people with access to clean water, but those who struggle to find safe water know a very different story. And with global warming chipping away at natural resources, it may become the same story for everyone.

Rising temperatures exacerbate and cause droughts, making it difficult to secure water. Soil and plants lose water because of the high temperatures, which affects the entire water cycle. Increased evaporation leads to more water vapor and more rainstorms, but many people don't have the tools to collect and safely treat rainwater. It goes unused instead, running into lakes and streams.

This runoff carries bacteria, nutrients, animal waste and more with it as it enters bodies of water. Nutrients sound like a good thing, but in actuality, they cause toxic algal blooms. Algal blooms make water unsafe for marine life and humans by lowering the oxygen content. Some kinds also emit neurotoxins that disrupt functioning within the nervous and reproductive systems. The more algae explosions occurring in a given area, the less viable water people will have to drink.

What We Can Do

Though the water quality crisis seems inevitable, everyone can do something to slow or even stop it. Conserving water is one vital step — we need to preserve what we already have before taking more of it. Take short showers — most people recommend 10 or 15 minutes — and avoid running the faucet for longer than necessary. Farmers and gardeners can implement targeted irrigation systems that nourish plants with less wastage.

Storage can make a significant change in our access to water, but as mentioned earlier, it requires proper treatment and storing techniques. Boiling, chlorination and distillation are a few ways to treat rainwater and make it viable for household activities. Buy storage containers specifically for water and sanitize them before use.

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind power require less water than coal production. Coal-producing companies use water to extract and clean the coal and cool down the steam produced in the plant. Renewable energy doesn't call for the same intensive water usage that producing fossil fuels does. Many businesses and residential homes have switched to solar power, though wind turbines are still an up-and-coming phenomenon for most.

Preserve the World's Waters

Our water won't last forever if climate change keeps encroaching on our vital sources. However, we can slow climate change's progress by taking action, paying attention and communicating with others about the issue. Everyone needs water to live — ensure its longevity by taking steps to improve its quality.