In early April 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council
("NRDC") issued what it calls the first comprehensive and
comparative review of each state's preparedness for the
potential risks associated with
climate change impacts on water resources. The report, entitled "Ready or Not: An
Evaluation of State Climate and Water Preparedness Planning,"
explores the various measures each state is taking to identify,
analyze, and address these water-related risks and concludes that
while many states have developed comprehensive and integrated
strategies, their research suggests that many states have not even
begun to identify, much less plan for, these risks. (For a summary
Issue Brief, click here.
NRDC premised the study on a finding by the U.S. Global Change
Research Program that warmer climatic temperatures are causing
changes to the water cycle, which include changes in precipitation
and drought patterns, loss of lake and river ice, and untimely and
altered patterns of snow accumulation and melting. These changes,
they report, result in impacts to the nation's water resources
that include increased risk of pollution to or limitation of water
supply, impaired hydropower development, expanded flooding and
erosion, saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater aquifers, and
even changes to the pH of the ocean.
Figure ES-1 of the report summarizes the analysis and breaks
these risks down further to the state level, providing a summary of
the study's findings insofar as the specific risks faced by
each. According to the report, every state faces at least two
material threats to water resources, and most states face many
The report ranks each state on its progress in identifying and
planning for these risks and presents a summary of priority
planning tools for those states that rank lowest in the study. In
reviewing the actions already taken by each state, the report
evaluates two components of each state's planning: reduction of
greenhouse gas pollution and preparation for climate change
impacts on water resources.
Not surprisingly, California is among the nine states that
achieved the highest ranking by NRDC. According to the report,
California, along with several New England states, is a leader with
respect to both components.
Trailing behind, according to NRDC's evaluation, are the
Midwestern states together with Texas and Alabama. The report
identifies these states as either lacking or having inadequate
greenhouse gas reduction plans and as having no
preparedness/adaptation plan in place for addressing anticipated
water resource risks. The latter issue could be of critical
importance to business leaders seeking reliable infrastructure,
such as a clean and sufficient water supply.
Finally, the report recommends a number of strategies for states
to consider in developing their climate change risk management
plans. In particular, the following are presented as among the top
priority planning tools, according to NRDC, many of which are
focused on addressing climate change itself rather than planning
for the risks should they manifest themselves:
Set greenhouse gas pollution reduction targets or goals and
develop a plan for meeting these reduction levels;
Foster partnerships to stay current on climate science and
Conduct a statewide vulnerability assessment to determine
potential climate change impacts; and
Develop a comprehensive adaptation plan to address climate
risks in all relevant sectors and integrate climate change
preparedness into existing planning processes.
NRDC also includes "federal action" as another element
of this toolbox, using the report as an opportunity to press for
federal climate change legislation. From a business perspective,
the vulnerability assessment and adaptation plan elements would
enable states to address the water supply and other water risks
potentially associated with climate change in a comprehensive,
proactive manner, rather than risking impacts with no system for
protecting valuable, critical water resources.
Depending on the receptiveness of the audience, the NRDC report
could encourage state government officials to increase efforts at
greenhouse gas regulation and long-term climate change planning,
although it comes at a time when even the most aggressive states
are, at best, holding steady and in some cases scaling back their
climate change-related regulatory efforts.
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