Lakes can form in many ways, but most in the Northern Hemisphere fill the impressions left by glaciers 18,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age. The Great Lakes, which form the world’s largest fresh water system, were created this way. They are open lakes, like all other freshwater lakes, meaning that the water leaves the lake by a river or other outlet. Closed lakes become saline like the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake (located in the northern part of Utah and the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere). Only about 0.3% of the Earth’s fresh water is found in the surface water of lakes, rivers, and swamps (with over 68% in ice caps and glaciers and over 30% in ground water).

Lakes and rivers are a vital resource and part of critical ecosystems, but they too are being negatively impacted by climate change. As average temperatures rise globally, so do their temperatures, making them increasingly uninhabitable for cold water species. A warmer upper layer also creates dead zones, because it slows down air exchange and leads to less oxygen in the water. Dead zones can produce toxic algae, foul drinking water, and massive fish kills. Altered streamflow, whether it increases during heavy rains or decreases in drought, is threatening to fish populations, most of which can only survive within a range of conditions.

Many communities will see their food, water, and economic resources destabilized as river flows change dramatically. Globally, river flooding is expected to displace 50 million people a year by 2100. In the US, the average 100-year floodplain is projected to increase 45 percent by the year 2100, while the annual damages from flooding are predicted to increase by $750 million. By reducing stormwater runoff and protecting floodplains, green infrastructure can help manage both localized and riverine floods. In areas impacted by localized flooding, green infrastructure practices absorb rainfall, preventing water from overwhelming pipe networks and pooling in streets or basements. Green infrastructure practices that enhance infiltration include rain gardens, bioswales, and permeable pavements. In areas impacted by riverine flooding, green infrastructure, open space preservation, and floodplain management can all complement gray infrastructure approaches. These practices reduce the volume of stormwater that flows into streams and rivers, protecting the natural function of floodplains, and reducing the damage to infrastructure and property.

Warmer weather will mean more evaporation from reservoirs and lakes causing increased precipitation in other areas. The Colorado River, for example, already loses 1.8 million acre-feet of water to evaporation every year, which is about 13% of its flow.

Not only are rivers’ flows changing dramatically in volume, their actual routes are shifting as a result of climate change. Scientists have dubbed this phenomenon “river piracy”, which refers to one river capturing and redirecting the flow of another. This process would usually take thousands of years, but it happened to the Yukon River (close to 2,000 miles long) over the course of a few months in 2016. While that event was particularly dramatic, scientists predict that such remapping of river routes will become more common as glaciers continue to melt.

Like all other parts of the natural world, climate change will affect rivers and lakes from the micro to the macro levels, destabilizing the plethora of life forms that rely on their once-consistent patterns.

Climate change could poison Earth's lakes and rivers



Klamath countdown: Researchers hustle before largest dam-removal project begins

By Tara Lohan 02/14/23
To anticipate the impacts of a historic river restoration, we need to understand how salmon, bats, insects, algae and other parts of the ecosystem are behaving today....
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The “Law of the River” at the heart of the Colorado River crisis

By Hayley Smith and Ian James 02/03/23
It’s a crisis nearly 100 years in the making: Seven states — all reliant on a single mighty river as a vital source of water — failed to reach an agreement this week on how…
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As the Colorado River shrinks, Washington prepares to spread the pain

By Christopher Flavelle 01/27/23
The seven states that rely on the river for water are not expected to reach a deal on cuts. It appears the Biden administration will have to impose reductions.
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In California’s Imperial Valley, farmers brace for a future with less Colorado River water

By Ian James 01/27/23
Just north of the California-Mexico border, the All-American Canal cuts across 80 miles of barren, dune-swept desert. Up to 200 feet wide and 20 feet deep, the canal delivers the single largest share of Colorado…
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The Colorado River is overused and shrinking. Inside the crisis transforming the Southwest

By Ian James and Molly Hennessy-Fiske 01/26/23
The Colorado River begins as melting snow, trickling from forested peaks and coursing in streams that gather in the meadows and valleys of the Rocky Mountains. Like arteries, its major tributaries take shape across Colorado,…
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A river guide’s view of Lake Powell’s decline and the depths of the Colorado River crisis

By Ian James 01/26/23
Muddy water whizzed past as John Weisheit steered a motorboat upstream in the Colorado River. He revved the engine as the boat sped around a bend and up a riffle.
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How Pinal County farmers are dealing with historic cuts to Arizona’s Colorado River water supply

By Whitney Clark 01/18/23
Farming thousands of acres of alfalfa, Bermuda grass, and more, isn’t just a job for Jace Miller: it’s in his blood. “My great-great-grandfather came and homesteaded in gilbert in 1919 and began farming,” Miller said.…
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Amid drought, Arizona contemplates a fraught idea: Piping in water from Mexico

By Joshua Partlow 12/23/22
As Arizona's water supply from the Colorado River dwindles, it is studying a $5 billion project to desalinate ocean water in Mexico and pump it 200 miles across the border....
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Disaster scenarios raise the stakes for Colorado River negotiations

By Joshua Partlow 12/17/22
Those responsible for divvying up the Colorado River's dwindling supply are warning that unprecedented shortages could be coming to farms and cities in the West....
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Eight states, 30 cities team up to reduce flooding threat along the Mississippi River

By YCC Team 12/15/22
They’ve partnered with Ducks Unlimited to restore more than 60 wetlands that will hold floodwaters during storms. The post Eight states, 30 cities team up to reduce flooding threat along the Mississippi River appeared first…
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In a New Book, Annie Proulx Shows Us How to Fall in Love with Wetlands – Inside Climate News

By Kiley Bense 12/03/22
In a quiet corner of the oldest botanic garden in North America grows a tree with long, graceful branches and leaves that curl like rust-colored tongues. When it’s blooming, the tree’s snow-white flowers are said…
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Long stretches of the Mississippi River have run dry. What’s next?

By Laurence C. Smith 11/27/22
Last month, record low water levels in the Mississippi River backed up nearly 3,000 barges — the equivalent of 210,000 container trucks — on America’s most important inland waterway. Despite frantic dredging, farmers could move…
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Colorado River: Serving as the “lifeline of the Southwest”

Serving as the “lifeline of the Southwest,” and one of the most heavily regulated rivers in the world, the Colorado River provides water to 35 million people and more than 4 million acres of farmland…

Climate Change Indicators: Great Lakes Water Levels and Temperatures

This indicator measures water levels and surface water temperatures in the Great Lakes

In a First, U.S. Declares Shortage on Colorado River, Forcing Water Cuts

With climate change and long-term drought continuing to take a toll on the Colorado River, the federal government on Monday for the first time declared a water shortage at Lake Mead, one of the river’s…

NOAA Reserve Hosts First-Ever Carbon-Offset Initiative by U.S. Pro Football Team

The Takeaway: The Philadelphia Eagles football team will expand mangrove and seagrass restoration efforts at Puerto Rico’s Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in order to offset travel-related emissions, in a partnership with the Ocean…

Climate Hot Map Global: Warming Effects Around the World

Climate change is already beginning to affect plants and animals that live in freshwater lakes and rivers, altering their habitat and bringing life-threatening stress and disease.

Climate Implications – Lakes, Rivers and Streams

Climate changes such as rising temperatures, more frequent extreme storms and changes in season preciptation rates will impact lakes, rivers and streams.

Humans a more immediate threat to large river systems than climate change

Climate change promises to disrupt a variety of natural systems across the globe, but new research suggests human activities pose a more immediate threat to the planet's largest river systems.

Climate change is slowly drying up the Colorado River

Climate change is threatening to dry up the Colorado River — jeopardizing a water supply that serves some 40 million people from Denver to Phoenix to Las Vegas and irrigates farmlands across the U.S. Southwest.

The Impacts of Climate Change on Rivers

Water resources in the u.S. Face a range of threats in a warming climate.

Human activity on rivers outpaces, compounds effects of climate change

The livelihoods of millions of people living along the world's biggest river systems are under threat by a range of stressors caused by the daily economic, societal and political activity of humans -- in addition…

When it Comes to Water, You Have to Think Global

While Earth is so wet that it looks blue from space, most of that water is saltwater. Only 2.5% of water on Earth is fresh water, and nearly all of that water is frozen—locked up…

Climate Change & Water Use

Water supply disruptions will particularly affect the nation’s agriculture and energy sectors. That’s because these groups account for three-fourths of U.S. water use, according to the USGS National Water Census. Irrigation is the thirstiest sector…

Water and climate change

There is much at stake. The World Economic Forum ranked water crises as number one in its 2015 assessment of global risks, with potential to cause damaging economic and social impacts across entire countries and…

How Climate Change Impacts Our Water

Climate change impacts the world’s water in complex ways. Consider a water cycle diagram, like the one below; global warming is altering nearly every stage in the diagram. These changes will put pressure on drinking…

Water and Climate Change

In some regions, droughts are exacerbating water scarcity and thereby negatively impacting people’s health and productivity. Ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable water and sanitation services is a critical climate change mitigation strategy for…

Water and Climate Change

Water in its various forms is always on the move, in a complex process known as the water cycle. Global warming is already having a measurable effect on this cycle, altering the amount, distribution, timing,…

Climate Ready Estuaries

The Climate Ready Estuaries program works with the National Estuary Programs and the coastal management community to:


One-Third of the World’s Freshwater Fish Face Extinction

By Mary Jo DiLonardo   03/01/21  
They may not get as many headlines as pandas, polar bears, and big cats, but freshwater fish deserve their moment in the spotlight, say conservationists. They’re critical for human survival, yet one-third of them are…
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Fracking Banned in the Delaware River Basin

Marisa Guerrero Kimberly Ong   02/25/21  
In an historic move, the Delaware River Basin Commission—the body responsible for safeguarding  the water quality of the Delaware River Basin—voted to outlaw fracking in the region. Four of the five Commissioners, including the governors…
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NOAA projects 30-percent maximum Great Lakes ice cover for 2021 winter

NOAA scientists project the maximum Great Lakes ice cover for 2021 will be 30 percent, higher than last year’s maximum of 19.5 percent, but part of a long-term pattern of declining ice cover likely driven…
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A river used to run through it: how New Mexico handles a dwindling Rio Grande

By Di Minardi   01/12/21  
The Rio Grande used to flow freely, but now in Las Cruces, humans, fish and plants are vying for water in the arid landscape
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A Third of the United States’ Rivers Have Changed Color Since 1984, Satellite Images Reveal

Rasha Aridi   01/04/21  
The transformation from blue to shades of yellow and green raises concerns that waterways have been increasingly imperiled since 1984
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Mississippi River already seeing impact on industry, recreation from climate change

By John Kruse   10/11/20  
The Mississippi River is changing, and it’s only making towboat captain Jeremy Runde’s job all the harder. For 28-day stretches, Runde, a resident of Dubuque, is responsible for navigating a craft the size of three…
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Great Aspirations: Great Lakes states grapple with climate change and carbon

By Gary Wilson   10/07/20  
In June 2017, when President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, three states had an immediate reaction and plan. New York, California and Washington announced formation of the…
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Rising waters threaten Great Lakes communities

By Alex Brown   10/03/20  
Along a shoreline that stretches farther than the combined length of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, waters driven by climate change have risen as much as 6 feet in less than a decade, washing away…
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WESTERN WATER Managers warn that Rio Grande could go dry in Albuquerque

Federal managers are warning that if hot and dry conditions persist, it's possible the stretch of the Rio Grande flowing through Albuquerque, N.M., could dry up this fall.
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Federal plan for Columbia River system dams sees opposition

By Katy Nesbitt   09/07/20  
A final plan impacting the Columbia River system released earlier this month has some anglers and conservationists still looking for more answers. The Preferred Alternative in the Columbia River System Operational Final Environmental Impact Statement…
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Melting Glaciers Are Filling Unstable Lakes. And They’re Growing.

By Katherine Kornei   09/02/20  
Nearly freezing and often an otherworldly shade of blue, glacial lakes form as glaciers melt and retreat. These lakes are a source of drinking and irrigation water for many communities. But they can turn deadly…
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Health of Lake Huron currently ‘average’ among all five Great Lakes

By Lori Thompson   07/08/20  
Assessments help governments identify current and emerging threats and challenges to the Great Lakes and aid the evaluation of environmental policies and programs. These assessments also educate and engage the public and support continuing efforts…
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Algae Blooms ‘Without Historical Precedent’ Are Turning US Lakes Green, Study Warns

By Phineas Rueckert   07/08/20  
The team of scientists led by Oleksy examined algae concentrations in lakes in a mountain range about 100 kilometres (65 miles) from Denver, using a tool called a gravity corer to collect sediment cores without…
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Mapping Vegetation Health Around the World

By Christine M. Lee, Joshua B. Fisher, and Simon J. Hook   07/08/20  
For example, in boreal (northern) forests in North America and Eurasia, warmer temperatures may facilitate better growing conditions and new environmental niches in some cases [Bonan et al., 1995]. Warmer temperatures may also in
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Mason Hosts NASA-Sponsored Program to Improve Understanding of Global Water Cycle

By John Hollis George   07/08/20  
“We’re very happy that the IGPO is now at Mason,” said Jim Kinter, the chair of Mason’s Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences within the College of Science and the director of COLA. “It…
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Texas will face driest conditions of the last 1,000 years

By Keith Randall   07/08/20  
Regents Professor John Nielsen-Gammon, director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies and the Texas State Climatologist, said data shows Texas was much wetter 10-15,000 years ago coming out of the last Ice Age. Since…
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In Parched Southwest, Warm Spring Renews Threat of ‘Megadrought’

By Henry Fountain   07/08/20  
“We had a really warm spring,” said Graham Sexstone, a hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey. “Everything this year has melted really fast.”
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Climate change may cause extreme waves in Arctic

In addition, extreme wave events that used to occur once every 20 years might increase to occur once every two to five years on average, according to the study. In other words, the frequency of…
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Fish worldwide are shockingly vulnerable to climate change

By Chrissy Sexton   07/02/20  
Climate change will impact the reproductive success of fish worldwide, according to an alarming new study. The researchers estimate that rising water temperatures will limit the reproductive ability of up to 60 percent of all…
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Rising water temperatures could endanger the mating of many fish species

Because fish that are ready to mate and their young are especially sensitive to changes in temperature, in the future up to 60 percent of all species may be forced to leave their traditional spawning…
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To Boost Renewable Energy, Australia Looks to Water and Gravity

By Nathanial Gronewold   06/18/20  
The concept itself is simple—use excess renewable electricity generated during low demand cycles to pump water uphill, and then release that water downhill through turbines when electricity demand is high, to both satisfy additional demand…
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Lawsuit: Endangered species (sea turtles, sawfish) harmed by Lake Okeechobee discharges

By Ed Killer   04/23/20  
Florida's inshore estuaries are vitally important cradles for marine wildlife and plants. Tidal action balanced with rainfall runoff creates habitat utilized by hundreds of species in Charlotte Harbor, the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie…
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Report: As EPA pulls back under Trump, serious pollution rises on Great Lakes

By Keith Matheny   04/20/20  
President Donald Trump's administration has scaled back enforcement of environmental regulations in the Great Lakes region — and it's having a noticeable, negative impact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's own data. So states…
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Add to list Climate change has stolen more than a billion tons of water from the West’s most vital river

By Juliet Eilperin   02/21/20  
The Colorado River’s average annual flow has declined by nearly 20 percent compared to the last century, and researchers have identified one of the main culprits: climate change is causing mountain snowpack to disappear, leading…
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Flooding is predicted to displace 50 million people a year by 2100. What’s being done?

By Megan Rowling   12/13/19  
Population growth, more intense rainfall and melting ice are likely to cause more frequent and severe floods. The number of people at risk of being forced from their homes by river flooding could surge to…
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Toxic Algal Blooms Are Worsening with Climate Change

By Kate Wheeling   11/13/19  
Every summer, vast blooms of harmful algae erupt in freshwater lakes across the United States. This year, blue-green mats of algae blanketed more than 1,500 square kilometers of Lake Erie’s surface by August; toxic algae…
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Acid rain, explained

By Christina Nunez   02/28/19  
Acid rain describes any form of precipitation that contains high levels of nitric and sulfuric acids. It can also occur in the form of snow, fog, and tiny bits of dry material that settle to…
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Climate Change Reroutes a Yukon River in a Geological Instant

By John Schwartz   04/17/17  
In the blink of a geological eye, climate change has helped reverse the flow of water melting from a glacier in Canada’s Yukon, a hijacking that scientists call “river piracy.”
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Carbon storage in US wetlands

By A.M. Nahlik and Others   12/13/16  
Wetland soils contain some of the highest stores of soil carbon in the biosphere. However, there is little understanding of the quantity and distribution of carbon stored in our remaining wetlands or of the potential…
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