With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley. 

Climate change has received a great deal of media attention in recent years, governments have created policies, and even stores have started to make changes to address the subject. While many of us are aware of the topic, you may not have given thought to how climate change is impacting our water resources. Water is a precious resource, so it is crucial to understand the risks climate change pose and what you can do about it.

The Climate Change Basics

Since 1992, research has shown that global temperatures have year on year been consistently rising. 2015 was declared to be the hottest on record, and this has had significant effects on water. This shift in temperatures has caused the polar ice caps to start melting, and large glacial chunks have started to crumble and break off into the oceans to melt away.

The Changing Polar Landscape

Glaciers are an essential source of freshwater in the world. The steady decline of the polar glaciers is a disturbing indication of what may happen in the future. The massive ice formations in Glacier National Park are vulnerable to melting completely this century, and globally, glaciers have been estimated to lose 92 cubic kilometres each year. This adds up to enough water to sustain the homes, factories, and farms in Canada for six years.

When these natural freshwater resources have been depleted, they will be gone for good, and those areas that are reliant upon these ice sources will need to seek their water supplies elsewhere.

Snowmelt provides a slow trickle to keep a consistent flow of freshwater into both man made and natural reservoirs. Due to the higher global temperatures, this process is no longer occurring as it should. The increase in temperature means that while the amount of snowfall declines, the levels of rainfall increase. This may seem like a good thing superficially, but rainfall does not produce the same valuable water as melting mountain snow each season. To fully understand this impact, it is crucial to learn about the global relationship with snow.

Snow as a Precious Resource

While many of us view snow as an inconvenience, since we need to clear our driveways and fit snow tires in the winter, it is actually a precious resource. Over 50 percent of the freshwater in the world is derived from snowmelt and mountain runoff. The snow on our mountains provides a slow feed for reservoirs and other water storage areas. This makes it possible to contain the water used all year round. When there is no snow, the rain will come more forcefully. Storm intensity has shifted over the last 50 years, due to changes in the water cycle. The amounts of rain falling during the 1% of most intense storms have increased by as much as 20%. The immediacy and ferocity of these storms make it untenable to capture and hold the water falling as rain. The runoff cannot be contained, and reservoirs can quickly become overwhelmed. This creates waste as water is lost, creating shortages even just after a rainy season.

More Floods and Droughts

The water vapour feeding both rain and snowstorms is derived from two sources. Approximately 60 percent of the snow and rain over land masses is derived straight from the oceans, while the remaining 40 percent is “recycled” over our continents. For example, China gets most of its snow and rain from water evaporation over Eurasia.

As the world warms, the rate of ocean evaporation appears to be increasing. Just imagine having a large pot of water sitting on your stove, as you turn the dial higher, the faster you’ll see water evaporation. On a global scale, this higher evaporation rate contributes to an increase in the average annual amounts of snow and rain.

At the same time, the warmer atmosphere will hold more moisture. This affects the intensity of rain downpours, as the air is holding more water. So, while the world appears to be getting wetter, this is not the whole story.

While it may appear contrary, intense rain doesn’t necessarily lead to wetter soil. When a violent downpour of rain occurs, it won’t really help crops or other plants. Rather than gently soaking water into the soil, heavier rains can cause flooding, which is then run off into rivers quickly.

While the rate of evaporation is increasing, it is not growing as much or as quickly as the atmospheric water holding capacity. This translates into a longer time for water to recharge in the atmosphere after a downpour. Early research suggests globally, the rate of water loss in plants and soil has declined, which could contribute to a global plant growth slowdown.

The severity or occurrence of a particular flood or drought in a particular location will depend on a number of factors including natural climate patterns. Extreme weather has always been a thing, and it will always occur, but climate change is playing a role in shifting patterns, which is having devastating effects on our water resources.

Water Conservation

The largest takeaway for this topic has to be the importance of water conservation. Conservation is vital and finding more ways to save water has become even more important. This issue is not restricted to certain areas, but it is a global problem. Even areas that are drought free should be aware of the impact of climate change, as they may be required to step in and provide water to affected areas. As climate shift continues, we will need to create action plans to improve water collection and storage to protect this vital resource.

On a smaller scale, everyone can make a difference. There are a number of water conservation methods and techniques that can add up to significant water savings. Turning off the tap when we brush our teeth, collecting water used when we run the tap to water our gardens and other simple steps can reduce your water usage and contribute to global water savings. Additionally, investing in a water treatment system will transform your tap water into delicious drinking water, so you don’t need to buy costly plastic bottles of water that are contributing to climate change.