Climate change is increasing precipitation and snowmelt in late winter and early spring, increasing run-off and flood risk. Increased precipitation, heavy rainfall, and flooding are linked to outbreaks of waterborne disease. Exposure to pathogens like norovirus, rotovirus, adenovirus, Salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia are expected to increase. Increased run-off may expose more people to contaminants like heavy metals, herbicides, and pesticides as they move into freshwater systems used for drinking and recreation. As flood risk increases, so does the risk of storm surges that can contaminate water and food supplies, especially when storms hit aging water and sewage treatment facilities. Droughts can also pose problems with water treatment by increasing concentrations of pathogens in effluent (discharged sewage).
Climate change is also predicted to increase harmful algal blooms. Blue-green algae called cyanobacteria produce neurotoxins, which are poison to people and animals. Harmful algal blooms can occur in standing bodies of water that are exposed to the sun, including lakes, reservoirs, stockponds, and ditches.
People who already struggle to access clean water and sewer infrastructure will be more at risk. People who are at higher risk of becoming sick from contaminated drinking water also include children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems. Contaminated recreational water can be particularly risky for children because they swallow more water than adults while swimming, making them particularly vulnerable to impacts from Cryptosporidium and Giardia exposure.
Learn about climate change as a health opportunity.
Some of the content found on this page is summarized from the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s report, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States“, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ “A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change“, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “When Every Drop Counts” to briefly describe some of the possible health outcomes that are most relevant to Blackfeet Country. This page does not include all possible health impacts and outcomes, nor does it include all possible risks and responses.