Larger and more frequent floods. More severe droughts.
Shrinking snowpack and dwindling water supplies. Increased water pollution. Communities nationwide are already feeling the impacts of climate change.
We are poorly equipped to deal with the challenges climate change is bringing because of how we have managed land and water in the past. We have built houses and planted crops right up to the river’s edge, causing stubborn pollution problems and leaving ourselves vulnerable to floods.
We have wasted water as if it were an infinite resource. We have filled in wetlands and leveled forests that control floods and provide clean water for free. We rely on expensive built infrastructure that consistently fails, has little capacity to adjust to changing conditions, and is designed to serve one narrow purpose.
In short, we have embraced the most expensive and least effective options when building communities, managing landscapes, designing infrastructure, and using water supplies. Many of these practices never made much sense, but in an era of scarce resources and growing volatility, they are even more problematic.
Solutions for clean water and communities
Fortunately, we know how to spend our money more responsibly by planning for the future and building in flexibility that will help us deal with changing conditions.
We can protect and restore the wetlands, forests, and rivers that slow floods and provide clean water. We can use water more efficiently at home, in factories, and on farms. And we can install green roofs, rain gardens, and green streets in our cities to decrease polluted runoff, improve air quality, and lower temperatures. By adopting these approaches, we can save money, solve existing problems, and prepare for the future.
A 21st century approach recognizes “green infrastructure” as the core of our water management system. Green infrastructure is the most cost-effective and flexible way for communities to deal with the impacts of global warming. It has three critical components:
- Protect healthy landscapes like forests and small streams that naturally sustain clean water supplies.
- Restore degraded landscapes like floodplains and wetlands so they can better store flood water and recharge streams and aquifers.
- Replicate natural water systems in urban settings, to capture rainwater for outdoor watering and other uses and prevent stormwater and sewage pollution.
- As more and more communities adopt these approaches, together we will create a path to a sustainable future.
American Rivers offers communities proven approaches to adapting to climate change and gaining many valuable benefits in the effort.
Some communities have taken steps to prepare themselves in four areas where the effects of rising temperatures will be felt most: public health, extreme weather, water supply, and quality of life.
In each case, they built resilience to the projected impacts of climate change in that area and how the communities that have adopted them will continue to thrive in an uncertain future.
Restoring America’s Rivers: Preparing For The Future
Communities across the nation are facing increasingly extreme storms that bring damaging floods. These events can strain outdated infrastructure and endanger public safety. Restoring America’s Rivers tells the story of how community leaders around the country are solving these problems by working with nature, not against it. Dams are being removed and levees are being set back in an effort to restore floodplains and give our rivers room to spread out, while making communities safer and more resilient to weather extremes, and restoring vital habitat for fish and wildlife.
Improving federal policies
Many federal policies still encourage the same backward-looking water management approaches that didn’t work in the past and are even less suited to the future. Federal funding and policies reward wasteful water use and support destructive, inflexible infrastructure projects, while important programs that would help save water or preserve valuable wetlands and floodplains fall woefully short of what is needed.
There is a widespread failure to plan for and address the changing conditions we know are coming. Too many federal policies are moving us in the wrong direction and making communities and wildlife more vulnerable.