Clean Water Challenges in a Changing Climate

American Rivers’ Clean Water program is at the forefront of the movement to create a new approach to water management, an approach that values the clean water benefits provided by natural landscapes and innovative stormwater management techniques. Our goal is to ensure enough clean water for communities and ecosystems by implementing green infrastructure solutions and protecting small streams and wetlands.

We are at a crossroads. Clean water is vital to our communities, but despite great advances, ensuring a clean and consistent water supply for all Americans is increasingly more challenging. Decades of poorly planned development have caused a rapid expansion of impervious surfaces such as roofs and parking lots, destroying small streams and wetlands. Rainfall carries pollution from these hard surfaces into nearby rivers and streams rather than soaking into the ground and recharging water supplies, while the loss of small streams increases flooding and pollution downstream. Failure to maintain aging pipes and wastewater treatment plants and reinvest in smarter solutions causes frequent sewage spills, threatening public health.

These problems are compounded by global warming that threatens clean water through stronger storms, droughts and warmer water temperatures. Heavier rainstorms increase polluted stormwater runoff and sewer overflows, while droughts are leaving less water in river channels, concentrating pollution. Warmer water enhances algal blooms and dead zones and decreases critical habitat. Despite these challenges, we have an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and ensure clean water for future generations.