Welcome to “What’s Up With Water,” your need-to-know news of the world’s water from Circle of Blue. I’m Eileen Wray-McCann.
In the United Kingdom, government leaders are hoping to solve two problems with one effort. The twin goals are are to improve the flow of information and reduce the wasting of water. Project Gigabit aims to expand broadband Internet access to rural areas. As the news site TechRadar reports, one option is to run fiber optic cables through water distribution pipes. This would reduce the cost of tearing up roads to place the data cables. The UK government has allocated 4 million pounds for a test run of the concept. The other goal of the project is to reduce water loss from pipe leaks. Sensors will be placed in pipes alongside the broadband cables, to notify water companies if there is a leak.
In the United States, a far-ranging drought is causing wells to dry up across multiple states as groundwater levels decline. Circle of Blue reported that there is a 10- to 12-month wait list for a new well in northern California’s Glenn County. Just across the border in southern Oregon, the number of dry wells in Klamath County doubled in the last month, according to the Herald and News. The well problem extends even to the northern plains, where drillers in Minnesota and North Dakota report year-long waiting lists. One driller told the Bemidji Pioneer that drought is not the only issue. More people are moving out of cities during the pandemic. They’re heading to rural areas and into new homes, so the there is a higher-than-normal demand for wells, increasing the backlog.
In Greenland, warm temperatures are devastating the island’s ice reserves. According to Reuters, in late July scientists noted the third-largest loss of ice in Greenland in a single day. The amount of ice that melted that day could cover the entire state of Florida with two inches of water. The rapid melting event occurred in a month that the U.S. government scientists just declared as the hottest on record. Like rising temperatures, ice loss in Greenland will have global consequences. Meltwater from Greenland’s ice sheets have caused about a quarter of the rise in the world’s sea levels.
This week, Circle of Blue looks at a major new climate report, which finds that a warming planet is accelerating the water cycle.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of the world’s leading climate scientists, has released its sixth assessment report. The 1,300-page paper is the most comprehensive, up-to-date survey of the physical science of climate change. It synthesizes the findings of thousands of recent publications.
The report paints an alarming picture of the future of fresh water. It concludes that man-made contributions to a warming planet are far-reaching. It finds more evidence that severe weather events are linked to carbon in the atmosphere and that those weather events are becoming more extreme. The report shows that certain trends such as rising seas and shrinking ice sheets will continue even if carbon pollution is halted immediately.
The report stated unequivocally, for the first time, that climate change is occurring due to “human influence,” namely the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Natural influences, such as volcanic activity or sunlight intensity, account for a mere sliver of atmospheric warming.
The report, while grim, does offer hope. It says that by swiftly and drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the worst effects of climate change can be prevented, avoiding worst-case outcomes for water availability.
The report found that some changes in the water cycle are already evident. Extreme droughts affecting agriculture and ecosystems are more frequent and intense than they were in the last century. This trend will continue as glacial melting, decreased rainfall, and a thirstier atmosphere jeopardize sources of freshwater in some parts of the globe.
Droughts are now worse mainly in dry areas, such as the Mediterranean basin, western North America, and southern Africa. But some wet regions, like the Caribbean and the Amazon, are expected to suffer worsening droughts as well. These patterns threaten to further strain groundwater, which is already being depleted in many areas.
Droughts are not the only problem where water is concerned – there is also danger from the other extreme: heavy rainfall will also become more common and more intense. Atmospheric warming makes heavy rainfall even heavier: the warmer the atmosphere, the more moisture it can hold, and the more it can release as rain. Today, with atmospheric warming of just over 1 degree Celsius, 10-year rain events are 30 percent more frequent and 7 percent more intense than they would be absent human influence. The intensity and frequency of such storms increases with more warming.
The worst-case scenarios for freshwater could still be averted with swift and drastic action. Just as human behavior causes atmospheric warming, it can also prevent it. By quickly cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching carbon neutrality by around 2050, it is possible to limit atmospheric warming to 2 degrees Celsius or even 1.5 degrees, the goal established in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Those increments are important, according to Mathew Barlow, a lead author on the report and a professor of climate science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. As he put it “Reducing emissions will reduce impacts. Every fraction of a degree matters.”
And that’s “What’s Up With Water,” from Circle of Blue, where water speaks. More water news and analysis await you at circleofblue.org. This is Eileen Wray-McCann – thanks for being here.
Eileen Wray-McCann is a writer, director and narrator who co-founded Circle of Blue. During her 13 years at Interlochen Public Radio, a National Public Radio affiliate in Northern Michigan, Eileen produced and hosted regional and national programming. She’s won Telly Awards for her scriptwriting and documentary work, and her work with Circle of Blue follows many years of independent multimedia journalistic projects and a life-long love of the Great Lakes. She holds a BA and MA radio and television from the University of Detroit. Eileen is currently moonlighting as an audio archivist and enjoys traveling through time via sound.