As we look ahead to a new year, we asked some of our team to forecast what trends and issues they think will impact water in 2022. Here’s what they had to say.
Western Water Scarcity
by Kate Hudson, Advocacy Coordinator Western United States, and Bart Mihailovich, Organizing Manager United States
Conversations in December in the rocky mountain west never center around wildfires, unless it’s a conversation about how snowpack and winter precipitation may factor into the upcoming wildfire season. But not actual, real-time wildfires. Until this past year, when on December 30, 2021, the most destructive wildfire in the state of Colorado’s history raged through Boulder County. Showing the world that the west is subject to different rules now.
The December Boulder wildfire comes on the heels of a scary October report that concluded, “Anthropogenic climate change is decreasing seasonal snowpacks globally, with potentially catastrophic consequences on water resources, given the long-held reliance on snowpack in water management.” Which is but another massive strain on an already strained western water resource situation. Decreased input to an already depleted water system being dramatically impacted by climate change—combined with the mismanagement and allocation of water resources in the west—is a disaster unfolding before our eyes. One driven by mother nature that us humans and in particular our political leaders have no plan for or idea how to address. One very consequential water trend we’ll be tracking in 2022.
by Chris Wilke, Global Advocacy Manager
The second and third IPCC reports in this “6th Assessment cycle” are due out in February and April this year. These reports will be on Adaptation and Mitigation strategies and scenarios respectively and will build on the first report from last August. I would expect these reports to dominate climate discussions in early 2022, and the Synthesis Report coming out in September could frame discussions going into COP27 in November. These IPCC Assessment Cycles are fairly infrequent—the last reports (the 5th Cycle) were issued in 2014.
The biggest and most obvious water connections I see coming in the IPCC reports will probably be in the February report on “Adaptation and Vulnerability.” In that report, I expect to see lengthy discussions on changes to precipitation patterns (i.e. droughts and flooding), and sea-level rise (i.e. coastal erosion, salinity impacts to inland aquifers, and flooding), with emphasis on global triggers like polar ice sheet collapse. We will probably also see discussion on impacts to ocean acidification and fisheries.
Looking ahead to the March/April report on Mitigation, we anticipate some discussion on hydropower, though I am not sure yet if it will be favorable to river protection. I expect to see a lot of discussion on the importance of methane reduction in that report, which should point us to necessary reductions in oil and gas production, improving animal agriculture practices, and calculating emissions from proposed hydropower dams and reservoirs.
Water Quality and Fisheries: Commercial and Recreational
By Larry Baldwin, Campaign Coordinator, Pure Farms, Pure Waters North Carolina
The commercial and recreational fishing industries are multi-million-dollar assets in some way to every state in the United States. An issue that is not discussed near enough is the impact that water quality is and can have on both types of fishing. Agriculture and factory farm pollution, stormwater runoff, industrial pollutants, plastics pollution are all key factors in the degradation of our fisheries. Water quality is one thing that all fishermen, commercial or recreational, understand as having an ever-increasing impact on the numbers and the quality of the fish that are being caught. And this is a worldwide issue. Certainly, it can be argued that there are other factors involved such as by-catch or catch quotas or methods by which fish are being caught. But if the waters that are supposed to be sustaining our fisheries were cleaner and healthier, these other issues would be minimized because the fish stocks would improve.
For our fisheries to survive, it is imperative that we do a much better job at keeping the waters clean. This is where Waterkeepers around the world are working tirelessly to protect these water resources.
Water supply in relation to sewage treatments
by Laura Giannini, Organizing Director
At a global level, much has been done to collect and treat urban wastewater, but increasing challenges such as developing resilience to climate change, providing facilities in urban and rural areas, and tackling pollutants all require major investments and policy changes.
Despite significant improvements in recent years, millions of people are still not connected to wastewater treatment plants. Nevertheless, the collection and treatment of wastewater and sewage sludge management are essential to protect human health and the environment.
The sewage sludge that is formed by bacteria after consumption of organic pollution is a by-product of wastewater treatment. Proper investment in sewage sludge treatments and smart policy regulations are key to the safe disposal of the sludge. Sludge can contain high concentrations of metals, pathogens, and trace organic pollutants, thus its use on land must be regulated to protect the environment. Nature has the ability to cope with small amounts of water wastes and pollution, but it can be overwhelmed if we don’t treat the billions of gallons of wastewater produced every day before releasing it back to the environment.
Rethinking Stormwater Management
by Thomas Hynes, Staff Writer
As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and other extreme wet weather events, antiquated sewer systems often become overwhelmed, leading to combined sewer overflow (CSO) events. Pavement, concrete, and other impermeable surfaces further exacerbate the problem. CSO events send human waste and other pollutants into waterways, where it can endanger recreational contact, drinking supplies, as well as cause algal blooms and fish kills.
In light of these circumstances, cities and towns everywhere must adapt to how they manage both stormwater and CSOs. Luckily, a relatively cheap and resilient solution exists by way of green infrastructure. Replacing hard surfaces with rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bioswales allows stormwater to be naturally absorbed before it reaches sewer drains. Reintroducing buried streams and brooks aboveground, or ‘daylighting’, allows water to take a more natural course, away from the CSO equation entirely. These types of projects, which are gaining in popularity and consideration, can help municipalities better deal with climate change without becoming completely inundated.