Water uses, and alternations in water quality and quantity

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Water uses, and alterations in water quality and quantity, may be complemented and aggravated by seasonal shifts and changes in temperature and precipitation due to climate change. Many water uses in coastal communities, particularly water uses for tourism developments, are currently unsustainable. These water uses may reduce river flows and drain existing ground water aquifers. Climate change may further reduce these river flows, and impede the replenishment of these aquifers, even if more sustainable withdrawals are attempted. Additionally, saltwater intrusion of these aquifers and estuaries will become an increasing risk as the sea level rises. This risk of saltwater intrusion is particularly great for groundwater aquifers on islands and coasts where these aquifers are already depleted.

Water availability

Availability of water is already an issue in some tourist destinations. Water is already imported to some islands in the Mediterranean, while desalination is a water source for some of the Canaries Islands, located in the south Atlantic off the coast of western Africa. In parts of the Algarve region of Portugal, there are unsustainable water uses and varying seasonal and annual precipitation. This is combined with extensive coastal developments and roads, which varies the drainage and water retention patterns. In the future, climate change is predicted to result in higher summer temperatures and less and changing precipitation patterns. So many existing water shortages may increase.

Water quality

Changes in water quality due to pollution, nutrient flows, and the disposal of storm water and sewage and other urban wastes (particularly in estuaries, bays and shallow enclosed seas) maybe augmented by climate change and changing sea surface temperature, stratification, precipitation, and circulatory patterns. This is especially true for the Mediterranean and south Atlantic regions of Europe.

For example, much of the sewage and storm water from the larger settlements located on the Mediterranean Sea flows untreated or minimally treated into the sea. Additionally, nutrients and chemicals from agricultural production also enter rivers that enter the sea. For Adriatic Sea, this combination of inputs results in a eutrophic sea during parts of the year. Climate change, including increasing sea temperatures and stratification may increase the impact and extent of this eutrophication in the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas, as well as other enclosed seas like the Baltic and Black Seas.

Water uses and alterations in quality and quantity are also relevant for the Baltic Sea and largely tidal rivers like the Thames River and estuary. Significant cleanup is underway in the Baltic, and measures are underway to combat the influx of nutrients and pollutants arising from the countries that share this shallow enclosed sea. The impacts of nutrient and pollutants will increase as the temperature warms. Due to antiquated storm water systems in London, routine flushing of combined storm waters and sewage occurs into the Thames River, with deleterious effects on water quality, fish populations, recreational uses, and tourism within that estuary. It can result in pollution that extends to the English Channel and the French coast.

Coast and beach management

Water quantity and quality is a key issue for coast and beach management throughout Europe. Many beaches can have unsafe levels of bacteria and can be unsafe for swimming, due to improper treatment of sewage and storm water, or after rainstorms due to releases of combined storm water and sewage. It will be important to consider a means to stabilize and minimize freshwater use for these developments, particularly if current uses and practices are unsustainable.

Tourist developments

The overall design of sustainable tourist developments must consider local water sources, and the potential reduction of that water in the future due to climate change. This could affect the range and type of amenities offered (pools, golf courses, gardens) and the overall design of the facilities. For example, saltwater could be used to supply pools, and certain types of wastewater could be segregated and re-used for watering gardens and cleaning.

Given the size of tourist developments, the disposition of wastewater and pollutants must also be considered to minimize adverse impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems. This could include proper sewage treatment facilities being constructed for larger tourist developments, even if they previously had not been as necessary for the local communities. An added concern specific to tourist developments may be controlling the use of fertilizers, nutrients and pesticides that are used to maintain gardens and hotel facilities. Otherwise, these substances could find their way into fresh and coastal waters, and increase pollution and eutrophication.


Case Study: Climate Change and European Coast and Beach Management, 2006, Completed by M.A.K.Muir for EU-funded Coastal Practise Network (CoPraNet)
The main author of this article is Magdalena Muir
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Magdalena Muir (2008): Water uses, and alternations in water quality and quantity. Available from http://www.coastalwiki.org/wiki/Water_uses,_and_alternations_in_water_quality_and_quantity [accessed on 15-02-2019]