Climate Change and Its Potential Impacts on Water Supply

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The past 200 years have seen a drastic change in emission of greenhouse gases though the ever increasing use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. This trend has occurred at the same time as large-scale deforestation in many areas around the globe. In recent years, a large body of scientific evidence has been gathered showing that human activities such as these are responsible for dramatic changes in the composition of the atmosphere and that global warming is taking place as a result. Many leading scientists have predicted that global warming will increase rapidly over the next century.

In 2005, a study lead by the SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography and published in the November 17, 2005, issue of the journal Nature investigated the effects of global warming on water supplies around the world. This study concluded that global warming will reduce glaciers and storage packs of snow in regions around the world, causing water shortages and other problems that will impact millions of people. Especially ice and snow-dependent regions will experience costly disruptions to water supply and water management systems. For example, it is estimated that vital water resources from the Sierra Nevada range in California may suffer a 15 to 30% reduction in the twenty-first century as a result of reduced snow pack runoff. Studies warn that even more severe problems may occur in regions depending on water from glaciers since their meltwater cannot be replaced. Vanishing glaciers will have the greatest impact on water supplies in China, India, and rest of Asia.9

These stark realities of climate change, combined with the occurrence of high levels of water loss around the world, make it very clear that there is an urgent need for water suppliers to reduce the volume of water losses to an optimum in order to be able to meet demand in a sustainable future.

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