Climate change is not a vague concept about some future event. It is here, now. The impacts are felt across the globe, but the effects are not equally distributed. Access to clean, potable water is a human right. In the U.S., it is often one we take for granted, as water reliably pours from our taps with the twist of the wrist; that is, unless you live in Flint, MI. In many regions around the world, water is not so easy to come by, and climate change will exacerbate already challenging conditions.

Global Water Distribution

Our blue planet is covered in water, but only 2% is fresh water, and a majority of that is locked up in ice or snow. Just under 30% of Earth’s freshwater is groundwater and only 0.5% is found on the surface in lakes and rivers. Approximately 2 billion people rely on snowmelt as a major source of water.

Climate Change Impacts on Water Distribution

Water distribution, availability and quality are climate change indicators. On a warming planet, the reliability of water sources is diminished. One of the major impacts of warming temperatures is faster evaporation rates and an increase in the atmosphere’s capability to hold water. More ocean and surface water become atmospheric H2O. As that extra atmospheric H2O cools, it precipitates. It results in leading to increased rain and snowfall in certain areas.

Precipitation patterns will also change as temperatures continue to rise. Some areas will see more droughts, while others will see increased amounts of rain and snow. While it can be said that, in general, dry areas will get drier and wet areas wetter. There will be variations in how, when, and where precipitation falls. In addition, the places that see an increase in rainfall are likely to experience more intense, short-lived rainfall events. This type of weather leads to increased flooding and runoff, which does little to replenish groundwater sources.

As the mercury climbs, the cryosphere shrinks. Warming weather patterns are already having an impact on mountain snow and glacier levels. While some places will see more snow, there are regions particularly at risk for severe depletion of the snowpack, and three of those are in the U.S. Reduced snowpack and increased rainfall alter the timing of freshwater distribution in those regions that rely on melting snow for the water supply for socio-ecological systems.

Water Access Challenges

Water security will become more tenuous as climate change continues to alter Earth’s water cycle in sometimes unpredictable ways. Currently, a billion people are without a safe drinking water supply. And 2.5 times that many do not have adequate sanitation systems. Moreover, In regions where basic human water rights have not yet been met, climate change poses a formidable challenge.

The changing availability of water will stress already vulnerable regions and increase the demand for scarce water. Even in those areas where issues are only now beginning to arise. All of this will lead to water conflicts unless strong, decisive action is taken now. As the UN suggests, any action taken needs to operate from a human rights framework to ensure equality in access to globally distributed water supplies.

How important is access to clean water to you faithful reader? Drop us your thoughts below