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The changes brought about by climate change will affect the availability, quality, and quantity of water for human needs and will complicate sustainable management of water resources.
Rising sea levels and melting glaciers are two of the consequences of global warming that possibly best exemplify this relationship between water and climate change. But they aren’t the only ones. According to the European Environment Agency, precipitation patterns are changing. European regions that are already wet are becoming wetter, and dry regions more arid. At the same time, climate change has also increased the average temperature of water in rivers and lakes and intensified the frequency and virulence of extreme weather phenomena, such as heatwaves, intense precipitation, and drought. These changes, along with increased river flows in winter and reduced flows in summer, have huge repercussions on the quality of water and freshwater ecosystems. What is more, in Spain, this increased temperature entails greater transpiration and evapotranspiration, which leads to more arid or degraded surfaces.
The UN World Water Development Report 2020 concludes that, if we wish to reduce the impact of climate change on the water cycle, it is necessary and essential to implement adaptation measures to offset both the negative effects of flooding caused by extreme weather phenomena and the effects caused to agriculture and industry by prolonged periods of drought. It also sets forth the need to use adaptation measures related to specific actions to protect marshes and other nature-based solutions, as well as measures related to wastewater processing.
There are many different kinds of strategies to adapt to climate change as far as water is concerned, all different in scope. These range from infrastructures to increase water storage capacity and dikes to protect against flooding, to insurance against flooding and drought and using IT and communications technologies to create predictive early-warning systems.
Additionally, it is important to remember how important nature-based solutions are in adaptation to climate change, like rain gardens, to reduce the effects of flooding on urban settings. In this regard, it is also important to mention that there are several innovative measures and focuses that have already been tested and applied all around Europe that can be viewed on the European adaptation site Climate-ADAPT and on the Spanish site Adaptecca.
The Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge’s report “Impactos y riesgos derivados del cambio climático en España. 2021 (Impacts and Risks Stemming from Climate Change in Spain. 2021)” states that reduced volume flow in the Iberian Peninsula’s main rivers was observed in the second half of the 20th century. This report also states that changing availability and quality in water resources could lead to systemic vulnerability with possible cascade effects.
The challenge lies before us.