​Precipitation Whiplash

Thu, Oct 1, 2020

Precipitation Whiplash

The climate of a region has big impacts on water resources like lakes and streams. So, it’s no wonder watershed managers are keeping a close eye on how our climate is changing. At last year’s 50th-anniversary event for the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission, keynote speaker climatologist/meteorologist Dr. Mark Seeley clearly showed how our region is already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Dr. Seeley presented copious data and analyses that show how the climate in our region is getting warmer and wetter and discussed the implications on our water resources. (Seeley's presentation is available at www.bassettcreekwmo.org/learn-participate)

When talking about climate, it is important to note that “climate” is the long-term view of weather events. In other words, climate is like the “personality” of a region, whereas "weather" is more like a person’s mood at a single moment. With increased temperatures and warmer air that holds more water, the pattern of long dry spells interspersed with brief but heavy precipitation often emerges. These back-and-forth precipitation extremes are commonly referred to as “drought and deluge” or “precipitation whiplash.”

Heavy rains are especially challenging in urban areas where streets, parking lots, and rooftops prevent water from soaking into the ground. In the Bassett Creek watershed, the combination of hard surfaces and large areas of clay soils make this problem even worse, setting the stage for increased flooding and water pollution. When the water cannot infiltrate into the soil, it runs off and carries sediment, nutrients, bacteria and other pollution into nearby waters. And, although much work has been done since the Commission was formed to address flooding in 1969, flooding remains a serious issue in some places and will be more challenging to address as precipitation patterns continue to change.

In addition to exacerbating flooding, climate change is also warming our waters. Increased air temperatures bring the potential for more harmful algal blooms as waterbodies warm. Although algal blooms are naturally occurring, they are supercharged by nutrient pollution that worsens with the drought and deluge cycles and warmer waters. Excessive nutrients brought to waters from heavy precipitation act as fuel for toxic algal blooms. These blooms, like blue-green algae, can damage aquatic life and can produce toxins that are dangerous for humans and other animals. These events can harm natural environments, human health, and even the economy by polluting drinking water, hampering water recreation, and degrading habitats.

While organizations like the Bassett Creek Watershed work to mitigate the effects of climate change, the work to reverse course on the changing climate really starts with policies combined with lifestyle choices. Calculate your carbon footprint and learn energy-saving techniques for your home, your mode of transportation, and even your diet! Visit www.globalstewards.org/reduce-carbon-footprint.htm.

Written by Dawn Pape on behalf of the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission (BCWMC), a local unit of government comprised of the nine cities that drain to Bassett Creek, focused on protecting water. BCWMC is a member of the West Metro Water Alliance. www.bassettcreekwmo.org.

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