Climate change and its effect on water | As It Turns Out

With its oceans and glaciers, the Earth seems to be made of mostly water. Water covers about 70 percent of the surface, but only 1 percent of that is available for our use.

We share this 1 percent with every other human in the world. This amount remains constant, but our exponentially growing population continues to increase demand.

Whether one agrees with the validity of climate change or not, many believe it’s a more crucial threat to our water supply than even a rapidly growing population.

How does climate change affect our seemingly never-ending water supply here in the Pacific Northwest? Here’s a very general look at the situation.

Water supply. Most of Washington’s water supply is stored in snow pack and glaciers that run off into rivers. But here in Kitsap, 80 percent of our water supply comes from groundwater from wells. Simply put, our groundwater comes from rain-fed aquifers.

Higher temperatures. The average annual temperature over this past century in Washington rose by 1.5 degrees. Doesn’t seem like much, but even slightly warmer temperatures change weather patterns. For Washington, it means warmer winters with more rain and less snow and hotter summers with less rain. The impact to non-replenishing glaciers means — among many things — dwindling water supplies during summer.

Coastal erosion. Increased winter rains also increase storms and their frequency, and the risk of floods and landslides on rain-soaked coastal bluffs. This not only threatens private properties, but threatens our essential infrastructure around the Puget Sound and Hood Canal.

Water pollution. Warmer winter weather brings heavier rains which carry pollutants left on the ground like car oils, animal waste, fertilizers and pesticides with it. Wetlands and the benefits they provide (like absorbing storm water and carbon dioxide, recharging aquifers) are also at risk should they be lost to sea level rise.

Sea level rise. As temperatures rise, so do ocean temperatures — particularly so for Puget Sound and Hood Canal. Kitsap County’s more than 200 miles of coastline exposes it to risk by warming ocean waters and melting glaciers and ice caps.

Antarctica. Now we are told that the melting ice sheet of West Antarctica appears to be irreversible and is likely to continue to the rest of that continent. The resulting sea level rise will be considerable and no one can foresee a truly accurate measure or timeline for this. The warming ocean appears to be the culprit, causing westerly winds to change around Antarctica. The ever-strengthening westerlies are forcing “subsurface warm waters poleward to melt the glaciers, and push surface waters northward,” according to Eric Rignot, a glaciologist and lead author of the recent study on West Antarctica. Significant rise in sea level is inevitable.

Wells. Rising sea levels mean the increasing possibility of our water wells being contaminated with saltwater. Kitsap’s ground water aquifers are directly connected to rainfall, but aquifers for coastal communities near or below sea level could be in serious trouble.

Food. The state’s agriculture will continue to be adversely affected by decreasing water for irrigation. Think of Washington without its apples or Walla Walla onions.

Salmon. Rising water temperatures bring a multitude of survival problems to the Northwest salmon. River flows affect salmon migration and spawning by increased winter flooding and decreased summer flows. A warming Puget Sound and Hood Canal will decrease food for all fish, making them less able to deal with other changes due to changing temperatures.

Gov. Jay Inslee has pledged to work toward the state’s adherence to greenhouse gas emission goals on gradual steps and more use of clean energy over the next few decades. Partisan tension prevents common grounds for progress.

President Obama’s administration has launched the National Climate Assessment, observing the nation’s current rising temperatures, but with too few solutions. Political gridlock thrives there as well.

It’s a shame for the Earth that we’re living in a time where every aspect of our lives is taken over by politicians. Yet, arguments abound from accepting the reality of climate change to sharing responsibility in its creation, and to agreeing on what can be done about it.

Is there something you do about it?

— Marylin Olds is now in her 10th year of writing for the Kingston Community News. She may be reached at marylin.olds@gmail.com.


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