Climate Change Puts the World’s Water Infrastructure In Danger


The effects of climate change put water infrastructure in danger, particularly in the developing world, according to a paper published in the scientific journal PLoS Biology. Not just water infrastructure is in danger, either. Two of the effects of climate change are droughts and floods which, in addition to harming water infrastructure, can disrupt food supplies and even the global economy. Two examples from last year are the floods in Pakistan which ruined crops, and the drought in Russia which caused a grain embargo.

The paper uses several examples to illustrate how climate change effects can extend from the developed world to the developing world, including the 2008 intensification of the drought in Australia. According to the paper, the intensification of the Australian drought contributed to the increase in food prices in India.

Old dams could be in trouble. The Hoover dam in the Colorado River basin is cited as an example. The Hoover dam’s design, created in the 1930s, is based on a 30-year period with some of the highest precipitation rates of the past millennium. Lake Mead now stores only about 30 percent of its designed capacity, which puts the region’s cities, agriculture and energy production in danger. Lake Mead supplies water for Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Hydropower projects are in a boon cycle in the developing world, which puts governments at risk for defaulting on loans from development investors. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) projects that 40 percent of all development investments are at risk from climate change.

Developing countries are not the only ones whose water infrastructure is at risk from climate change. Lead author of the paper, John Matthews, Director of Freshwater Climate Change at Conservation International, said that the policies of Colorado River, which supplies part of Southern California’s water, influence the the infrastructure of much of the western U.S. Those policies, according to Matthews, “were based on an enormous hydrological error about the amount of water that would available in the future – in the time we are living now.”

“The infrastructure we’re building worldwide right now is based on the same assumptions that we made back then,” Matthews added. “We run a huge risk of making poor nations poorer and accelerating the decline of species and ecosystems through bad development investments.”

The authors of paper recommend a three-step process for conservation science to provide practical decision making tools for funding, designing and operating water infrastructure:

  1. Consider alternatives to building new infrastructure
  2. Explicitly integrate ecosystems into infrastructure development
  3. Reduce the vulnerability of the infrastructure and its impacted ecosystems over the operational lifetime of the project

The conservation community should make “climate-sustainable water resource management” part of its long-term strategy to help regions adjust to the future effects of climate change, the paper concludes. “Given the risks for human communities and ecosystems from climate change, ecologists working in the developing world need to think more like development economists, and economists need to think more like ecologists,” the paper states.

In other words, climate change (and its very real effects) calls for paradigm shifts. Whether both developing and developed countries will make those shifts remains to be seen.


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Photo credit: d_herrera96


W. C
W. C4 months ago

Thanks for caring.

William C
William C4 months ago

Terrible, thank you.

paul grabenstein
paul grabenstein6 years ago

This is civilization's greatest threat.

Colin Guest
Colin Guest6 years ago

I was shocked to read a recent scientific report re the worlds water resources, which clearly show what a terrible situation we are in. China has over 60percent of its rivers polluted so badly that the water in them is unfit for human consumption. With the worlds population continuing to grow at its present rate most of the countries in the world will not have enough water for its people. The next world war is most likely to be over water . We have to do far more than what we are presently doing to rectify this approaching disaster. One simple thing that would save a lot of water is to stop the present situation of using running water to wash dishes that is considered normal in some countries.

Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Chris M.
Chris M6 years ago

Astounding to me that politician's still deny the existence of man made climate change.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 6 years ago

I find it strange that when scientific factors are presented and explained, climate change deniers do not respond ie David. Whether you believe in anthropomorphic change or not, why not try to maintain this small orb on which we live in as pristine a condition as possible, or do you not like drinking clean water and breathing clean air?

paul g.
paul grabenstein6 years ago

To put it succinctly:
"anyone arguing that climate change can be proven or disproven by weather events is simply trying to mislead you or is completely ignorant of the subject. Either way they should be ignored." Source

Anthropomorphic global warming will probably cause great variations in somewhat stable local weather conditions and meteorology. Any unusual weather conditions MAY be caused by gw, but are not proof or disproof of such.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 6 years ago

David J. Might I ask your explanation of why the Arctic ice covering has reduced by @ 40% in an unprecidented period of time when compared to previous natural climatological epochs?
Why has the snow cap of Mount Kilimanjaro decreased by 90% in a decade? Is that because we had a cold winter last year? Yep,everything melts when it gets colder.The reflective ice shield in the Arctic, Antarctic & mountains are responsible for reducing the amount of heat absorbed by oceans due to their reflective properties.Higher ocean temperatures increase both atmospheric & oceanic convection resulting in more severe & frequent storms & droughts. Too bad this is all imagination. Overpopulation results in deforestation with resultant erosion, drought & overuse of water.Too many people, too much degradation of the planet.Industrialization does create greenhouse heating in the atmosphere.This is called science.
Even if you cosider this hocus pocus, please explain why conservation & a clean environment is so repulsive to you!

Cristian Prisacariu
Past Member 6 years ago

My personal opinion is the David J. is wrong, and after so many years of personal observations on the world. Strange how wrong man can be.