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(A Canadian Perspective)
"The sensitivity of a water resource system to climate change is a function of several physical features and, importantly, societal characteristics.”
Numerous reports and workshops involving researchers and stakeholders have identified water resources as one of the highest priority issues with respect to climate change impacts and adaptation in Canada. This reflects both the climatic sensitivity of the resource and the crosscutting nature of water issues, where adaptation decisions in one sector will have significant consequences in several other sectors. Figure 1 illustrates some of these issues as they relate to decreasing water levels in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence basin, and the impacts on sectors such as transportation, fisheries, agriculture and human health.
FIGURE 1: Water resources is a crosscutting issue
In their summary of research as part of the Canada Country Study, Hofmann et al., stated that climate change will have a range of impacts on both the hydrological cycle and water uses. For the nation as a whole, climate change will likely increase precipitation, evaporation, water temperatures and hydrological variability. These changes will combine to negatively impact water quality. Regional projections include declining Great Lakes water levels, decreasing soil moisture in southern Canada, and a reduction of wetlands in the Prairies. Another key concern is increased conflict between water users due to increasing mismatches between supply and demand.
Previous literature suggests infrastructure modification, management adjustment and development of new water policies as methods of adaptation in the water resources sector. Uncertainties in impact projections have led many authors to advocate the implementation of ‘no regrets’ adaptation options. These measures would benefit Canadians, irrespective of climate change, as they address other environmental issues. The engagement of stakeholders, including the general public, is critical to the development of effective adaptation strategies. Perhaps most importantly, the literature notes that water managers must be encouraged to address climate change impacts in their long-term planning activities.
Much of the research on water resources and climate change has concentrated on the physical aspects of the issue, particularly hydrological impacts, and less so on the economic and social aspects. This imbalance and the resulting knowledge gaps have been recognized in the literature, and in the reports and proceedings of numerous workshops and similar forums that have addressed climate change impacts and adaptation in Canada.
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