Why Water is a Crucial Pathway for Addressing the Climate Crisis

From droughts, fires, floods, rising sea levels, and extreme storms, climate stress is often experienced as water stress. Climate change is already impacting watersheds and water systems across the country—with Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color; low-income communities; and other historically underserved populations being hit the hardest. Without urgent collective action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, these impacts will intensify. Yet, for too long, water has been overlooked as a key pathway to solving our climate crisis.

Water utilities account for about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions—a number that is equivalent to the world’s shipping industry.

Water utilities account for about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions—a number that is equivalent to the world’s shipping industry. Since the US Water Alliance’s Imagination Team issued a bold call to action to achieve a net zero water sector future by 2050, many water leaders seek resources, tools, and incentives to implement solutions and scale interventions. The water sector can play a key role in protecting communities, taking action to address our own emissions, and deploying One Water approaches to reach the ambitious climate goals across our communities. And water leaders have plenty of reasons to take action…watch how sector-wide peers are meeting the moment and getting involved.

Consider the following:  

  • Urgency: Climate action is an urgent issue. While many climate impacts are already occurring or inevitable, is not too late to prevent further impacts if we act now, together.
  • Cost of Inaction: For over a decade, water managers have responded to increasing numbers of billion-dollar disasters that continue to break historical records for flood, drought, and heat. Preventing the worst climate impacts is a resilience strategy for water managers.
  • Accountability: Calls for accountability and transparency about emissions are growing. Water leaders would benefit from tracking, lowering, and reporting on their emissions proactively, before any future mandates come into place.
  • Available Solutions: Solutions are already emerging that demonstrate how water leaders can reduce their emissions and reach for net zero! While more solutions are still needed, water leaders can access the knowledge to start taking action now.
  • Force for Greater Good: By acting on climate, water leaders can partner in ways that help achieve community climate goals and help other sectors, like land managers and agriculture, meet their greenhouse gas mitigation goals. 
  • Funding: Historic funding is available for climate mitigation incentives. Because many utilities were not prepared to access it, they are being left out. Water leaders can ensure they aren’t leaving money on the table in the future by exploring their climate mitigation opportunities and beginning to take action. 

How leaders in the water space are making progress toward net zero:

Nature-based solutions for GHG reduction: Ecosystems’ carbon sequestration is a key nature-based solution. Strategies that restore or replicate ecosystems like green infrastructure, source water protection, and land stewardship often provide multiple benefits to people as well. 

Energy/Resource Recovery: Whether it’s through water efficiency and reducing water loss, conversion to renewable energy, or reduction of process emissions and energy recovery, there are many paths to net zero. Find out more about how water utilities can contribute.

Climate Action Planning: Accounting for GHG emissions in water operations allows water managers to identify and select projects with lower energy requirements than the status quo. 

  • See how Valley Water, an urban water provider, is establishing a district-wide internal carbon offset methodology to facilitate emission reduction, including crediting emission reductions from water conservation programs, watershed and habitat restoration or enhancements, renewable energy production, and contributions to countywide emission reduction efforts.

Wastewater Compliance and Land Management Practices: What’s good for land is often good for the climate and water!  

  • See how Clean Water Services, a water resources management utility in Oregon, works with agricultural landowners, urban community members, environmental organizations, and government agency representatives to develop a volunteer streamside planting program to reduce water temperatures from wastewater treatment plants. Coordinated together and deployed for a single purpose, these efforts provided the shade necessary to cool 50 million gallons of wastewater effluent released each day by wastewater plants. This approach generates multiple ecosystem services such as improved carbon sequestration, increased water quality, as well as wildlife habitat.

Interested in Continuing the Conversation?

The US Water Alliance is working on multiple efforts to support the One Water movement align and act on climate mitigation. If you are interested in this work, connect with us!

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