Kathy Jacobs warns climate extremes will change water access

Jacobs told EarthSky that we’ll all have to adapt to climate extremes by using water more sustainably. But sustainable water use will mean different things in different places.

Kathy Jacobs, water researcher at the University of Arizona, said that climate change will have a major impact on water systems in the U.S. and around the world.

Kathy Jacobs: We are expecting to see significantly more extremes, more floods and more droughts.

Jacobs is a member of America’s Climate Choices, a National Academy of Sciences panel on the effects of climate change. She told EarthSky that we’ll all have to adapt to those climate extremes by using water more sustainably. But, she added, sustainable water use will mean different things, in different places.

Kathy Jacobs: There are many cities in developing countries where the water is only turned on for several hours a day, or several hours a week, and it’s held in tanks. And in those cases, people’s water use is actually very low.

She added that, in the U.S., where water isn’t viewed as a luxury, getting people to curb their use of the resource will require more effort.

Kathy Jacobs: Part of the solution involves thinking over a longer time frame than the next two to ten years, thinking about the next generations. This is a paradigm shift for Americans – to reframe their relationship with the environment – and that’s not an easy thing to ask.

Kathy Jacobs explained what she sees as part of the difficulty in dealing with sustainability issues across all resources – not just water.

Kathy Jacobs: Trying to understand what the basic right to access water should be, and whether we can protect that right at the same that we provide for business and industry in a fair way.

She said that sustainable use of water is not just about the availability of water,

Kathy Jacobs: Part of this has to do with a quality of life and a lifestyle issue. We have a lot of wealth and we have a lot of choices, and a lot of parts of the world don’t have those choices.

Jacobs said poor countries will likely expect to increase their water use, as they get richer. She also said that, when it comes to dealing with climate change, there are a lot of options available.

Kathy Jacobs: They range from behavioral options such as conservation which always comes first and is clearly the most efficient and effective to the use of technology.

She also thinks we must act now on climate change, rather than wait:

Kathy Jacobs: Many people have really focused on the uncertainties associated with climate change and concluded that it’s too soon to act. We will never have perfect knowledge, we will never have the ability to project specific conditions in specific places tens or hundreds of years in the future.

Beth Lebwohl