Photograph by Bradley E. Clift
As the planet experiences global warming, climate changes will express themselves most obviously through water—with scientists predicting increased periods of drought and flooding, melting glaciers, and changing rain and snowfall patterns.
We are already seeing large-scale changes in places such as the Andes and the Himalaya, where glaciers are disappearing, taking with them the source of drinking and irrigation water for thousands of people. Floods, droughts, storms, and other climate-related natural disasters forced 20 million people from their homes in 2008.
That same year, India faced the dislocation of some three million people when the Kosi River breached a dam and roared out of the Himalaya, causing the worst flooding of that river in 50 years. Then, ten months later, India witnessed its driest June in 80 years with millions of farmers unable to plant their crops, illustrating the increased unpredictability and extreme nature of severe weather and climate-related events in an era of global warming.
The solution? Some experts point to better planning and water resource use, sometimes in the form of building dams and flood control structures, while others tackle the less tangible issue of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Australia remains locked in a decade-long drought deemed the worst in the country’s 117 years of recordkeeping.
- In 2009, famine stalked millions in the Horn of Africa, as failed rains led to the worst food crisis in Ethiopia and Kenya in a quarter century.
- In November 2007, Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue stood outside the State Capitol and led a prayer for rain, beseeching the heavens to turn a spigot on for his parched state.
Did You Know?Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at UC-San Diego, estimate there is a 50 percent chance that Lake Mead—the vast reservoir that delivers Colorado River water to tens of millions of people and one million acres (404,686 hectares) of irrigated land—will dry up by 2021.
More About Climate Change and Water
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What will happen when the climate starts to change and the rivers dry up? The people of the Murray-Darling Basin are finding out right now.
Severe droughts have drained a reservoir in Venezuela, exposing a church that's been "missing" since 1985.
Climate change dominated the environmental discourse this decade. What will explode on the scene from 2010 on? Water and food issues, and China's continued economic growth, according to experts.
Help Save the Colorado River
You can help restore freshwater ecosystems by pledging to cut your water footprint. For every pledge, Change the Course will restore 1,000 gallons back to the Colorado River.
Sandra is a leading authority on international freshwater issues and is spearheading our global freshwater efforts.
He's paddled the Colorado River from its headwaters to the delta, in an effort to bring awareness to this mighty river at risk.
For more than 15 years, Osvel Hinojosa Huerta has been resurrecting Mexico's Colorado River Delta wetlands.
Change the Course Infographic
Check out this infographic and learn how you can conserve water and save the Colorado River, as well as other freshwater ecosystems.
Water Currents, by Sandra Postel and Others
Arizona's Verde River gets a boost from an innovative partnership.
Farmers in the Verde River Basin employ new technology to benefit a desert environment.
Funny new viral video series hopes to get people thinking about the importance of water.