Will Climate Change Cause More Water Crises for Oregon?
SALEM, Ore. – Salem residents are facing a crisis as the second drinking water advisory in two weeks went into effect this week due to a toxic algae bloom in Detroit Lake. Could climate change make emergencies like this more frequent for Oregonians?
Algae blooms like the one in Detroit Lake are fed by warmer temperatures – something the country already is experiencing. Kathie Dello, associate director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, notes May was the hottest on record in the United States, surpassing a 1934 Dust Bowl record.
She says Oregon has been feeling the effects in recent years too.
"If we think back to 2015, which was one of our worst droughts on record,” says Dello, “some of the streams were so low that they got quite warm, and not only did we have fish kills, but we also saw things like algae blooms."
Last week Gov. Kate Brown activated the National Guard to distribute safe drinking water to Salem residents. The latest advisory is more limited in scope, applying to vulnerable populations such as children under six, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems.
Algae blooms have become a growing problem for cities' drinking water supplies across the country. But Dello says it's not just water quality that is suffering under climate change.
Oregon has seen decreased snowpacks and more severe droughts and wildfires. She says the first step to mitigating these effects is reducing carbon emissions – which Oregon has committed itself to doing.
"Also, we have to look at adaptation,” says Dello. “Climate change is happening, it's already impacting Oregonians, so we need to prepare for a rapidly changing future."
Dello says the growing effects of climate change have public health impacts, which will become costly for cities to address. In the case of drinking water, she says it could be low-income families who suffer most when they can no longer rely on their tap water and have to turn to some other, more expensive source.