Is Your State Prepared: Water Threats to Economy, Health?

WASHINGTON – Only nine states have taken comprehensive steps to address their vulnerabilities to the water-related impacts of climate change, while 29 states are unprepared for growing water threats to their economies and public health, according to a first ever detailed state-by-state analysis of water readiness released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report ranks all 50 states on their climate preparedness planning, and is accompanied by an interactive online map at www.nrdc.org/water/readiness showing the threats every state faces from climate change.

The new NRDC report, “Ready or Not: An Evaluation of State Climate and Water Preparedness Planning, outlines four preparedness categories to differentiate between the nine best-prepared and most engaged states with comprehensive adaptation plans (including California, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), from those states that are least prepared and lagging farthest behind (including Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia, and Texas).

“Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events are impacting our families, our health and our pocketbooks. Water is a matter of survival. It powers our lives and industries, and it keeps our natural systems healthy,” said NRDC Water & Climate Program director Steve Fleischli. “This report is both a wake-up call and a roadmap for all communities to understand how vital it is to prepare for climate change so we can effectively safeguard our most valuable resources. Preparing for the impacts of a changing climate requires that states confront reality, and prioritize climate change adaptation to reduce local water risks and create healthier communities.”

NRDC’s report focuses on how state governments across the nation are planning and preparing for the water-related impacts of climate change. These impacts include more severe and frequent storms, intense rainfall, sea-level rise, warmer water temperatures, and drought events.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly nine out of 10 states are poised for more frequent and intense storm events and/or increased flooding.
  • While at least 36 states are facing possible water supply challenges, only six of those have comprehensive adaptation plans.
  • The majority of states – 29 or nearly 60 percent – have done either nothing at all or very little to prepare for water-related climate impacts.  (See full list below.)
  • Six states – Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Dakota – have done virtually nothing to address climate pollution or prepare for climate change in the face of growing water risks.
  • Water preparedness activities appear to have “slowed or stalled” in four of the nine best prepared states – Alaska, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
  • Only 22 states have developed plans and formally adopted targets or goals to cut the pollution that causes climate change, which comes mainly from power plants and vehicles.

The 29 states that have done either nothing at all or very little to prepare for water-related climate impacts are broken into two groups: The least prepared or “Category 4” (Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah); and the second least prepared or “Category 3” (Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming).

The full list of the nine most prepared states (“Category 1”) consists of:  Alaska, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The climate crisis poses far-reaching implications for water supply, quality, accessibility, and use. More intense rainfall events increase flooding risks to property and health, and can cause devastating economic damages. They also overwhelm often-antiquated infrastructure, leading to increased discharges of untreated sewage in waterways and potentially contaminating drinking water supplies and closing beaches. Drought conditions and warmer temperatures threaten supply for municipalities, agriculture, and industries, and could increase water demand for irrigation, hydropower production and power plant cooling.

“A handful of state governments should be recognized as climate leaders for developing robust comprehensive adaptation plans while taking steps to cut global warming pollution,” said NRDC water policy analyst and report author Ben Chou. “On the flip side, there is tremendous potential for so many more states to follow suit. The first step is understanding how your state will be impacted by climate change. With an ever-growing body of research, new adaptation tools, and guidance resources, there’s no excuse not to tackle this challenge.”

There are proactive steps states can take to minimize the impact on communities increasingly vulnerable to climate-induced changes. NRDC encourages all states to undertake the following key actions:

  • Enact plans to cut emissions from power plants, vehicles and other major sources of heat-trapping pollution; coupled with increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  • Conduct a statewide vulnerability assessment to determine potential climate change impacts.
  • Develop a comprehensive adaptation plan to address climate risks in all relevant sectors.
  • Prioritize and support implementation of the adaptation plan.
  • Measure progress regularly and update the adaptation plan as needed.

For more information about NRDC’s Ready or Not and to find out how your state ranks, go tohttp://www.nrdc.org/water/readiness. For state-by-state sound bites (SOTs) and b-roll videos, visitReady or Not “Press Materials”.

NRDC’s blog series detailing select state findings:

[Photo by Sam Bald]

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