Climate change presents a new range of threats, drivers, and uncertainties in how we interact with freshwater ecosystems, but recently developed approaches to cope with climate impacts will ensure that source waters can survive — and thrive — into the future, according to a new report published by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), in collaboration with the Global Resilience Partnership and the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA).
“Water is our connector — linking cities, businesses, infrastructure, energy, agriculture, and disaster prevention. If we can make our water choices resilient, we can prepare all these sectors for future impacts,” says John Matthews, Executive Director of AGWA and lead author of Wellspring. “Assumptions that future climate and hydrological conditions will be similar to the past no longer apply. Actions that represented best practices five year ago we now know could lock us into bad decisions that could hurt our economies and ecosystems for decades.”
“We’ve talked about climate change as something we need to survive — that climate adaptation is about coping with impacts. New water-centric approaches are about thriving as the climate continues to evolve. We need to think about how to manage water sustainably over centuries rather than just a few years. After all, our infrastructure and ecosystems last for centuries. And that means we need to manage for change itself.” says co-author Nathanial Matthews, Program Director for the Global Resilience Partnership and co-author on Wellspring.
Critical new insights to manage for change include the use of “bottom-up risk assessment approaches” that analyze how shifts in the water cycle can affect whole systems of water decisions, and the use of resilient nature-based solutions — sometimes called green infrastructure — to ensure both flexibility and robustness to future impacts.
“Nature-based solutions can help provide communities with reliable access to clean freshwater, create sustainable jobs and livelihoods, and dampen the shocks from climate change-related disasters. They’re a win-win-win approach. We hope that the success different cities and water authorities have had with these approaches can serve as models for others to follow,” said Andrea Erickson-Quiroz, the Global Water Managing Director for TNC.
Source water protection activities like reforestation and soil conservation can help lessen the risk of droughts, which are predicted to be more frequent and severe as the climate changes. In the San Juan River basin, which supplies water for the 5 million residents of Monterrey, Mexico, these practices are helping increase ground water retention following storms and reducing runoff, meaning the city has a steadier supply of water to draw on during droughts.
Some of these new insights described in the report are going to scale. In May 2019, the Netherlands issued a 5 billion euro green bond for ecosystem-based flood control climate adaptation that was certified using resilience criteria described in Wellspring.
The report calls on the public and private sector, as well as financiers and the environmental community to work together to push for the wider use of these solutions, as city planners and utility companies consider how to adapt to climate change.