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Degrading Water Quality

Increased precipitation and warmer waters degrade water quality. As a result, it decreases access to freshwater and affects health, compounding the global water crisis.

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Kids Fight Climate Change Team

Toxic Green Algae in Copco Reservoir, Northern California

There are many ways that climate change can impact water quality. Often the effects occur at the source of drinking water, namely in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. First, increased precipitation can increase nutrient runoff. Nutrient runoff sparks severe algal blooms in bodies of water. Algal blooms can make water supply dangerous to drink while decreasing oxygen levels and killing fish. This decreasing oxygen level primes the body of water for more algal growth, continuing in a dangerous cycle. Furthermore, low-oxygen water is more corrosive and can damage water pipes and other water infrastructure, which only decreases water supply. Similarly, nutrient and contaminant runoff from the precipitation pollutes groundwater, the largest source of drinking water. The same thing can also happen with fertilizer runoff, polluting surface water. Additionally, rising sea levels result in saltwater contaminating freshwater supplies.

All of these effects compound to contribute to the global water crisis, which affects billions of people. Water quality also is a major factor in human health, compounding climate change's effects on human health.


“Harmful Algal Blooms: Great Lake Region.” NOAA Regional Collaboration. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. Accessed January 31, 2021.

Filippelli, Gabriel, and Joseph D. Ortiz. “Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality across the Great Lakes.” The Conversation. The Conversation US, Inc., April 29, 2020.

Denchak, Melissa. “Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know.” Natural Resources Defense Council, May 14, 2018.

“The Impacts of Climate Change on Rivers.” American Rivers. Accessed January 31, 2021.

“Water Quality and Why It's Important to Humans.” Rhodes Pumps Service, June 10, 2018.

Arnell, Nigel W., Sarah J. Halliday, Richard W. Battarbee, Richard A. Skeffington, and Andrew J. Wade. “The Implications of Climate Change for the Water Environment in England.” Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment 39, no. 1 (February 2015): 93–120.

Image: Denchak, Melissa. Toxic Green Algae in Copco Reservoir, Northern California. May 14, 2018. Natural Resources Defense Council.

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