National Water Program Strategy: Response to Climate Change

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013



For the past forty years, federal, state, tribal, and local governments have worked diligently to identify and address water pollution problems. As a result, our drinking water is safer, our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters are cleaner, and the health of our wetlands and watersheds is improved.

In 2008, the EPA National Water Program Strategy: Response to Climate Change described the emerging scientific consensus on the potential impacts of climate change on water resources. Increasingly, impacts are being observed in communities across the nation and are expected to continue, including:Figure 1: Global Surface Temperature Change—1880 to 2010 (degrees Celsius)—Compared to Base Period 1951 to 1980

  • Increases in water pollution problems due to warmer air and water temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns;
  • Impacts on water infrastructure and aquatic systems due to more extreme weather events;
  • Changes to the availability of drinking water supplies;
  • Waterbody boundary movement and displacement;
  • Changing aquatic biology;
  • Collective impacts on coastal areas; and
  • Indirect impacts due to unintended consequences of human response to climate change.

Despite increasing understanding of climate change, there still remain questions about the scope and timing of climate change impacts, especially at the local scale where most water-related decisions are made. These challenges require us all to come together to find the tools needed to understand and manage risks and to build resilience of both the built and natural environments.

This National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change builds on the momentum gained while implementing the 2008 Strategy. It provides a road map for where we need to go over the long term and articulates a set of mid-term building blocks, i.e., strategic actions that need to be taken to be a “climate ready” national water program. This 2012 Strategy emphasizes working collaboratively, developing tools, managing risk, and incorporating adaptation into core programs. Many programs and activities already underway become even more important in light of climate change – including strengthening preparedness for extreme weather events, protecting healthy watersheds and wetlands, managing stormwater with green infrastructure, and improving the sustainability of water infrastructure through energy and water efficiency.

The wider context of climate change-related activity that is underway throughout the nation provides an opportunity to work with partners and stakeholders to achieve the goals of the EPA National Water Program while contributing to broader national goals to sustain the natural resources that support our vibrant economy and our quality of life for current and future generations.

-Nancy Stoner
Acting Assistant Administrator for Water

I. Executive Summary

Climate change poses significant challenges to water resources and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Water Program (NWP). The NWP 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change addresses climate change in the context of our water programs. It emphasizes assessing and managing risk and incorporating adaptation into core programs. Many of the programs and activities already underway throughout the NWP—such as protecting healthy watersheds and wetlands; managing stormwater with green infrastructure; and improving the efficiency and sustainability of water infrastructure, including promoting energy and water efficiency, reducing pollutants, and protecting drinking water and public health—are even more important to do in light of climate change. However, climate change poses such significant challenges to the nation’s water resources that more transformative approaches will be necessary. These include critical reflection on programmatic assumptions and development and implementation of plans to address climate change’s challenges.

This 2012 Strategy articulates such an approach. The reader is advised not to interpret the framing of individual strategic actions that use terms such as “encourage” or “consider” to mean that the NWP doesn’t recognize the urgency of action. Rather, we recognize that adaptation is itself transformative and requires a collaborative, problem-solving approach, especially in a resource-constrained environment. Further, “adaptive management” doesn’t imply a go-slow or a wait-and-see approach; rather, it is an active approach to understand vulnerability, reduce risk, and prepare for consequences while incorporating new science and lessons learned along the way.

 Response to Climate Change Goal 1

View full report (PDF):  National Water Program Strategy 2012

About the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
“The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment. EPA’s purpose is to ensure that: all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work; national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information; federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively…”


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