Key future impacts and vulnerabilities

14.4.1 Freshwater resources

Freshwater resources will be affected by climate change across Canada and the U.S., but the nature of the vulnerabilities varies from region to region (NAST, 2001; Environment Canada, 2004; Lemmen and Warren, 2004). In certain regions including the Colorado River, Columbia River and Ogallala Aquifer, surface and/or groundwater resources are intensively used for often competing agricultural, municipal, industrial and ecological needs, increasing potential vulnerability to future changes in timing and availability of water (see Box 14.2).

Surface water

Simulated annual water yield in basins varies by region, General Circulation Model (GCM) or Regional Climate Model (RCM) scenario (Stonefelt et al., 2000; Fontaine et al., 2001; Stone et al., 2001; Rosenberg et al., 2003; Jha et al., 2004; Shushama et al., 2006 ), and the resolution of the climate model (Stone et al., 2003). Higher evaporation related to warming tends to offset the effects of more precipitation, while magnifying the effects of less precipitation (Stonefelt et al., 2000; Fontaine et al., 2001).

Warming, and changes in the form, timing and amount of precipitation, will very likely lead to earlier melting and significant reductions in snowpack in the western mountains by the middle of the 21st century (high confidence) (Loukas et al., 2002; Leung and Qian, 2003; Miller et al., 2003; Mote et al., 2003; Hayhoe et al., 2004). In projections for mountain snowmelt-dominated watersheds, snowmelt runoff advances, winter and early spring flows increase (raising flooding potential), and summer flows decrease substantially (Kim et al., 2002; Loukas et al., 2002; Snyder et al., 2002; Leung and Qian, 2003; Miller et al., 2003; Mote et al., 2003; Christensen et al., 2004; Merritt et al., 2005). Over-allocated water systems of the western U.S. and Canada, such as the Columbia River, that rely on capturing snowmelt runoff, will be especially vulnerable (see Box 14.2).

Lower water levels in the Great Lakes are likely to influence many sectors, with multi-dimensional, interacting impacts (Figure 14.2) (high confidence). Many, but not all, assessments project lower net basin supplies and water levels for the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Basin (Mortsch et al., 2000; Quinn and Lofgren, 2000; Lofgren et al., 2002; Croley, 2003). In addition

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