Rising Sea Levels Threaten Drinking Water Supplies for 15 Million East Coast Residents

The problem of sea level rise is usually discussed in terms of the dislocation of people away from coastlines, or even whole islands. But sea level rise has another dire impact: the loss of freshwater drinking supplies. The Delaware estuary is unfortunately a perfect example of how higher sea levels due to warmer global temperatures will endanger water supplies for millions of people -- around 15 million in this particular area.According to Blue Living Ideas, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary has completed a study on the impacts higher sea levels will have on drinking water, as well as tidal wetlands and shellfish. The report, titled "Climate Change and the Delaware Estuary," details the findings and ways people can help protect threatened resources.

The study shows the threat to the ecosystem and the economy as the water in the estuary rises, warms, and becomes saltier. Drinking water treatment plants will likely be damaged by flooding and storm surge, and the wetlands that separate the sea water from the fresh water is threatened by rising salinity. The sea level could rise anywhere from 1.5 feet to nearly 5 feet by 2100, and higher, as long as we continue to pump carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Even a 1.5-foot rise is enough to seriously threaten water supplies for millions, and potentially devastate a shellfish industry that brought nearly $20 million to the state last year alone.

What will happen in the Delaware estuary is not isolated -- similar impacts can be expected all along the eastern seaboard and worldwide. Even the best-case scenarios are not promising. We're already running short on fresh water supplies, and having more sources run out due to an influx of sea water spells serious trouble.

The importance of planning ahead with water processing infrastructure, water recycling and conservation measures, and habitat conservation couldn't be more apparent here, and for other coastal areas bound to be impacted by the warming we've already committed ourselves to thus far.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this

More on Sea Level Rise
Rising Greenhouse Gases Amplify Sea Level Rise in Indian Ocean
Sea Level Rise Forces Panama Islanders to Relocate
Two Meter Sea Level Rise Now Inevitable - But How Fast Will It Happen?
Get Ready for 7 Foot Sea Level Rise by 2100 + Antarctic Glacier Past Tipping Point

Related Content on Treehugger.com