By Emily Zantow, Courthouse News
(CN) – As the Great Lakes region warms faster than the rest of the country, a new report is warning that climate change may cause extreme storms in the Midwest, lower the quality of drinking water and devastate farmers’ crops.
“Scientific analyses clearly show that climate change has already greatly affected the region and that these impacts will continue and expand as the pace of climate change accelerates. For economic, aesthetic, recreational and ecological reasons, we must reduce the effects of climate change on the Great Lakes,” according to a report released Thursday by the Environmental Law & Policy Center. The group is a nonprofit public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization.
In the 74-page report, scientists say the mean air temperature surrounding the Great Lakes region has increased by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit since the mid-20th Century. This exceeds the average increase of 1.2 degrees F during the same period for the rest of the contiguous United States.
As the temperatures rise, the amount of moisture in the atmosphere does as well, potentially causing heavier rain and snowfall, which can lead to flooding and soil erosion. Moreover, the amount of warm days above 90 degrees F may increase, leading to an increase in heat waves and droughts, according to the report.
The 18 scientists who authored the study say changes in precipitation are already affecting Midwestern farmers who are experiencing planting delays due to spring flooding and wet soil, along with pollination problems due to hot temperatures. The report projects a 10-30 percent decrease in crop yields for soybeans and corn by the end of the century.
More precipitation can also degrade the quality of drinking water by overloading water treatment infrastructure, and escalating sewer overflows and the amount of water-born pathogens. Additionally, beaches, dunes and shorelines could face erosion, along with more toxic algae blooms and bacteria levels that make lakes unsuitable for swimming.
Humans won’t be the only ones feeling the consequences, as wildlife in the Great Lakes region could also be fighting an increase in diseases, non-native species and shifts in habitat conditions.
“Heavy human use over the past two centuries has taken its toll in the forms of habitat loss and fragmentation, influxes of invasive species, and polluted air, water, and sediments,” the report states. “Climatic changes now underway further stress these ecosystems, alternatively raising and lowering lake levels and threatening the region in new ways.”
More than 34 million people live in the region, which includes parts of the Midwest, Northeast and southern Canada.