Water Quality and Public Health

  • Model anticipated climate changes to better understand expected climate vulnerabilities to water quality conditions
  • Work with water utilities and water resource managers to better assess the expected performance of infrastructure and natural systems under changing climate conditions
  • Identify populations and communities that may be more vulnerable
    • Some groups that are more vulnerable are populations with pre-existing health concerns and/or in sensitive life stages, or communities close to locations used for swimming or fishing.
  • Monitor current conditions to better evaluate baselines and inform future projections.

  • Develop models to understand potential water quality changes  
  • Increase treatment capabilities 
    • Existing water treatment systems may be inadequate to process water of significantly reduced quality. Significant improvement to existing treatment processes or implementation of additional treatment technologies may be necessary to ensure that quality of water supply (or effluent) continues to meet standards as climate change impacts source or receiving water quality. 
  • Install effluent cooling systems  
    • Higher surface temperatures may make meeting water quality standards and temperature criteria more difficult. Therefore, to reduce the temperature of treated wastewater discharges, additional effluent cooling systems may be needed. 
  • Manage reservoir water quality  
    • Changes in precipitation and runoff timing, coupled with higher temperatures due to climate change, may lead to diminished reservoir water quality. Reservoir water quality can be maintained or improved by a combination of watershed management, to reduce pollutant runoff and promote groundwater recharge and reservoir management methods, such as lake aeration. 
  • Monitor surface water conditions
    • Understanding surface water conditions and the factors that alter quantity and quality is an important part of projecting how climate change may impact water resources. Monitoring data for discharge, snowmelt, reservoir or stream level, upstream runoff, streamflow, in-stream temperature, and overall water quality can be incorporated into models of projected supply or receiving water quality. 
  • Retrofit intakes to accommodate lower flow or water levels  
    • In areas where streamflow declines due to climate change, water levels may fall below intakes for water treatment plants. 

  • Conduct extreme precipitation events analyses 
    • An increase in the magnitude or frequency of extreme events can severely challenge water utility systems that were not designed to withstand intense events. Extreme event analyses or modeling can help develop a better understanding of the risks and consequences associated with these types of events.
  • Develop models to understand potential water quality changes  
    • In many areas, increased water temperatures will cause eutrophication and excess algal growth, which will reduce drinking water quality. The quality of drinking water sources may also be compromised by increased sediment or nutrient inputs due to extreme storm events. These impacts may be addressed with targeted watershed management plans. 

Public health officials may benefit from collaborating with water utilities, water resource managers and public health officials to better assess public health needs and vulnerability. After identifying and assessing potential vulnerability, officials can collaborate with these partners to properly project the disease burden, assess public health intervention strategies and develop a climate and health adaptation plan. In order to adapt to changing conditions, public health officials may want to work with water quality managers and other officials to explore potential water management strategies that can help reduce the effect climate change has on public health.


The following resources are provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn more about the BRACE framework.

  1. Anticipate Climate Impacts and Assessing Vulnerabilities
    Identify the scope of climate impacts, associated potential health outcomes, and populations and locations vulnerable to these health impacts.
  2. Project the Disease Burden
    Estimate or quantify the additional burden of health outcomes associated with climate change.
  3. Assess Public Health Interventions
    Identify the most suitable health interventions for the identified health impacts of greatest concern.
  4. Develop and Implement a Climate and Health Adaptation Plan
    Develop a written adaptation plan that is regularly updated. Disseminate and oversee implementation of the plan.
  5. Evaluate Impact and Improve Quality of Activities
    Evaluate the process. Determine the value of information attained and activities undertaken.

Source Documents

These strategies are adapted from existing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal resources. Please view these strategies in the context provided by the primary source document: