Climate Change

The Commission identifies climate change as a cross-programmatic priority, with implications for many water-quality programs in our member states, from the health of coastal marshes to the design of wastewater treatment plants. In the states, adaptation strategies are coming to the forefront.

The Earth’s climate changes over vast time frames due to natural factors. However, over the past century human greenhouse gas emissions from industry, transportation, agriculture, and other sources have resulted in global climate change far beyond natural climate variability.

The increase in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has caused increases in global average temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, increased annual rainfall, and rising global average sea level.

Some regional consequences will be warmer summers and winters and a continued increase in annual precipitation for the Northeast. As temperatures rise, winter precipitation will increasingly fall as rain rather than snow. Both snow season length and snow depth are likely to decrease.

Cars submerged by flooding

An increase in the frequency and severity of extreme precipitation events are also projected, which would contribute to flooding that is both more frequent and more severe due to increases in runoff. Consequently, increased water demand, altered stream flow, degraded water quality, saltwater intrusion of coastal aquifers, drought, and increased coastal flooding seem likely.

NEIWPCC has established a climate-change workgroup to track these issues and coordinate monitoring and policy responses, largely about adaptation (below). But the change in precipitation also has direct implications for the storm resiliency of wastewater systems, including stormwater systems that must handle runoff.

Increased runoff and elevated temperatures in turn can both contribute to the persistence and prevalence of harmful algal blooms in lakes and ponds and in coastal waters.

Adaptation in the Northeast

Climate change affects our livelihoods through impacts on water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and human health. Communities around the country are beginning to focus their attention and resources towards developing and executing mitigation strategies that plan for sea-level rise, and extreme weather. Each community will be affected differently, so formal planning and concrete actions are needed to address these changes at both the state and local level.

Adaptation will require creativity, compromise, and collaboration across agencies, sectors, and traditional geographic boundaries.

Additional Resources

IPCC Assessment Reports

Regional Collaborations

In the States

Climate Change by State

Climate change responses