Thirsty for Answers: Preparing for the Water-related Impacts of Climate Change in American Cities

In this report the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has compiled local and regional research findings about the water-related impacts of climate change in 12 U.S. cities. NRDC examined more than 75 scientific studies, as well as data and reports generated by government agencies and nonprofit organizations. The report makes clear that some of the most profound effects of climate change are water-related, such as sea-level rise, increased rain and storms, flooding, and drought, and that these kinds of events are likely to increase in the coming years as a result of climate change. 

The cities analyzed were chosen for their geographic diversity and range in size, and include: New York, Boston, Norfolk (Virginia), Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Homer (Alaska).  Each chapter of the report examines one of these cities in detail.  The chapters provide a thorough summary of the climate change impacts that each of these cities is facing, and an overview of what each city is doing to prepare for these impacts in terms of planning, investments, and new regulations.  

The types of policies and practices for adapting to water-related impacts discussed in the report include the following examples:

  • New York City's efforts to increase the resiliency of the city's wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water systems by encouraging water conservation through rebates and investing in green infrastructure and low-impact development practices.
  • Boston's work to integrate climate change considerations into the city's Water and Sewer Commission's long-range capital planning process.
  • Miami's work to model saltwater intrusion into surface and groundwater supplies to inform regional water management practices.
  • Chicago's adoption of a stormwater management ordinance to decrease impervious surfaces on new development.
  • The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission work to assess how climate change will affect infrastructure and to implement strategies for reducing risks from flooding and water scarcity, including green infrastructure, gray water use, and water recycling.
  • Phoenix, Arizona's work to consider climate change in the city's water resources management plan and to expand best practices like underground water storage and water reuse and recycling.
  • Homer, Alaska's work to consider climate change in the city's comprehensive plan and economic development strategy and to create a Sustainability Fund and a Revolving Energy Fund to support implementation of adaptation and energy-efficiency projects. 

The report concludes with lessons learned and best practices for city in responding to the many water-based threats posed by climate change.





Publication Date: August 2011

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Mark Dorfman
  • Michelle Mehta
  • Ben Chou
  • Steve Fleischli
  • Kirsten Sinclair Rosselot

Related Organizations:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study

States Affected:


Go To Resource