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Climate Change and Drinking Water

Use the information below to help integrate climate considerations into your existing public health practice.

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Program Area: Drinking Water and Domestic Wells

Oregon, like much of the pacific northwest is an ecologically diverse region that is reliant on snowpack, precipitation, groundwater, and surface water for its drinking water supply. Despite its reputation for having a surplus of water, Oregon has experienced multiple droughts including prolonged droughts in the Eastern portion of the state and historic statewide drought conditions in 2015. Additionally, changes in our climate can lead to an increase in severe winter weather, changes in precipitation events, flooding and wildfires and many other impacts to our drinking water.

About a quarter of Oregonians rely on small wells for drinking water and many others rely on community water systems, as our state's population grows the number of people reliant on freshwater supplies also increases. As the impacts of climate change increase in severity and frequency, water security for Oregonians and communities in the greater pacific northwest region will become more of an issue for ensuring public health.

Key messages

  • Water Supply

    • Climate change may lead to diminished groundwater recharge and surface water flows which will exacerbate water supply issues for both domestic well users and public water systems.
    • As water demand increases and the water supply decreases, public water systems will face financial capacity issues and Oregonians may experience an increase in water prices.  

    Water Quality

    • The risk of contamination of drinking water could increase during and after flooding events and heavy precipitation events.
    • Parts of Oregon have also experienced, and will continue to experience, extreme drought conditions that can place extra stress on drinking water systems and potentially increase the concentration of pathogens and contaminants in domestic wells.
    • An increase in wildfire frequency and intensity can lead to changes in watersheds and surface water source quality.

What can public health practitioners do?

  • During both flooding events and prolonged drought conditions, encourage domestic well users and water systems to use alternative drinking water (i.e. bottled water or hauled water) while testing the water for bacteria, nitrates, and arsenic and treating the well water if necessary.
  • Public water systems can seek support and technical assistance to integrate more climate and health considerations into their long-term water planning. Possible strategies include: 
  1. Establishing emergency or supplemental water sources,
  2. Providing information for hauling water from approved water suppliers,
  3. Encouraging the development of preparedness strategies for water curtailment and communications,
  4. Taking protective measures in the event of water contamination,
  5. Promoting long-term conservation strategies, and
  6. Encouraging the development of emergency response plans and/or climate adaptation plans.