February 26, 2008 / 9:48 PM / 12 years ago

Top water utilities to study climate change

File photo shows a volunteer giving out bottles of drinking water after flooding in Tewkesbury, central England, July 24, 2007. REUTERS/Darren Staples

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Eight of the top U.S. water utilities are joining forces to study how rising sea levels, droughts and other effects of global warming are taking a toll on supplies of drinking water, they said on Tuesday.

The coalition, known as the Water Utility Climate Alliance, said water agencies need access to the best possible climate change research as they prepare to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure over the next 15 years.

“Our systems are facing risk due to diminishing snowpack, bigger storms, more frequent drought and rising sea levels,” said Susan Leal, general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, a member of the alliance. “We need to be organized to respond to these risks — that’s why we’ve formed this alliance.”

Other members of the coalition include Denver Water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, the Portland Water Bureau, the San Diego County Water Authority, the Seattle Public Utilities and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Altogether, the WUCA members supply drinking water for more than 36 million people, the alliance said.

Last month, scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said a water supply crisis was looming in the western United States thanks to human-caused climate change that has already altered the region’s river flows, snow packs and air temperatures.

Changes over the past half century have meant less snow pack and more rain in the mountains, rivers with greatly reduced flows by summer and overall drier summers in the region, they noted.

In its first official act, the WUCA said it is urging the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and researchers in the climate change field to improve and refine climate models to apply them at the regional or local level and to ensure that water providers have access to consistent climate data.

The coalition also called on scientists to coordinate international research efforts and to develop tools for policy-making and planning for abrupt climate changes.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Andre Grenon

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