Year 4, Month 1, Day 16: Low Bridge! Everybody Down!

The Ridgefield Press (CT) runs a column on climate change and the problem with rivers:

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that climate change is negatively affecting the health of rivers and, by extension, the quality and availability of fresh water? — Robert Elman

Global warming is no doubt going to cause many kinds of problems (and, indeed, already is), and rivers may well be some of the hardest hit geographical features, given the likelihood of increased droughts, floods and the associated spread of waterborne diseases.

For one, rivers are already starting to lose the amount of water they channel. A 2009 study at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that water volume in the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest declined by 14 percent since the 1950s. This trend is similar in major rivers all over the world.

“Many communities will see their water supplies shrink as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns shift,” reports the nonprofit American Rivers, adding that a rise in severe storms will degrade water quality and increase the risk of catastrophic floods. “Changes in the timing and location of precipitation combined with rising levels of water pollution will strain ecosystems and threaten the survival of many fish and wildlife species.” These shifts will have dramatic impacts, threatening public health, weakening economies and decreasing the quality of life in many places. In the U.S., the number of storms with extreme precipitation has increased 24 percent since the late 1940s-and the trend is expected to continue.

I got them deep river blues. Sent January 11:

The ongoing slow-motion catastrophe of climate change is getting harder to deny. Precipitously dropping river levels are one of the most powerful indicators that in countless ways, things ain’t what they used to be — a realization daily shared by formerly doubting Americans who’ve started to see global warming’s effects first-hand. But despite the burgeoning awareness of the problem, many of our country’s social and infrastructural mechanisms are stuck in the past. Developed in a period of conspicuous consumption and never upgraded, both agriculture and manufacturing sectors waste unimaginable quantities of water every day — water that will soon be recognized as a precious resource, not a disposable commodity.

New technology will be vital in husbanding dwindling water supplies, but the most important changes will be in our attitudes and behavior. We Americans must recognize that the era of waste is ended, and transform our ways of living accordingly.

Warren Senders

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