World’s drinking water and climate change are intrinsically intertwined, not mutually exclusive


By Aqua Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Christopher Crockett 

In a recent interview with CBS News, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler argued that the agency’s time would be better spent cleaning drinking water across the globe rather than focusing on climate change. According to Wheeler, “Unsafe drinking water – not climate change – poses the greatest and most immediate global threat to the environment.” While Aqua America applauds the EPA for shining a spotlight on the critical importance of water safety and reliability, the reality is that water safety and climate change are intrinsically intertwined – and how the world addresses these problems will have a global impact for generations to come.

Safe drinking water is already an immediate concern to millions of people across the globe without access to potable water. But if countries ignore climate change, water-stressed countries, and even water-rich countries like the United States, will be in serious trouble. Climate change models predict warmer weather and changing precipitation patterns, where droughts will have a profound effect on river and groundwater levels, and extreme rain may result in flooding of developed areas. Lower river levels will require additional energy for water treatment, while lower groundwater levels will require more energy to extract water deeper from the Earth. Reduced water quantity is already forcing more communities to consider wastewater reuse, e.g. toilet to top. Climate change might also force fresh water sources to become more salty, reduce the quality of existing sources and force water systems to use lower-quality sources, which would increase treatment needs. A growing number of extreme-weather events, like hurricanes and super storms, combined with more urbanization, are likely to result in increased flooding, which can threaten our existing water and wastewater infrastructure. The World Water Resources Institute has many helpful maps that show the projected impacts of climate change on the nation’s water resources, and these effects cover large areas of the country.

To ensure Aqua can continue to make water even safer and more reliable in the future, these changes will require innovative solutions and a better infrastructure to carry new sources of water greater distances, and provide water-reuse options including small home-scale solutions like using rain water or gray water during extreme-stress periods. Climate change will likely require more energy to build this infrastructure and to process and distribute water. We must choose to invest equally in both water safety and climate change, with an eye towards the future. 

Serving more than 3 million people across eight states, Aqua America is an environmental steward for water resources. We know it is a great responsibility to deliver safe and reliable water efficiently and sustainably. And with more than 130 years of investment in water safety in the communities we serve, we aim to protect Earth’s most essential resource. Each year, we spend millions of dollars to repair and replace infrastructure, including leaking pipes and aging water mains, and we focus on conservation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. In fact, earlier this year, Aqua joined the CDP ranking for environmental stewardship, reinforcing its commitment to continued improvement in climate change governance and best practices.

Aqua employees and Villanova University students working on water infrastructure projects in Panama.

While we are continuously focused on improving service and reliability for our customers, Aqua understands that safe drinking water affects the global community. This is why Aqua partners with Villanova University to assist with vital infrastructure rehabilitation and water management projects in Central and South America. Aqua volunteers help build and repair water storage tanks and pipes, and transfer necessary water engineering knowledge to local workers. These projects help bring reliable water to communities that have done without, while also strengthening the vitality of agriculture and vegetation that off-set carbon emissions.

Aqua takes these efforts toward climate change mitigation seriously because, to us, the connection to safe, reliable water is obvious. Protecting the environment means protecting the vital, life-giving resource the world needs for generations to come.

For more information about Aqua’s commitment to sustainable business practices and environmental performance, visit our corporate social responsibility report

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