Climate Change and Water Quality - Minnesota Department of Health

Water Quality and Quantity

Climate change may impact Minnesota’s water quality and quantity by increasing precipitation, decreasing precipitation, and increasing water temperatures of lakes and streams.

Increased Precipitation

Increased precipitation, especially in large storm events, can cause river flooding and flash flooding. Flooding results from changes in land use, undersized sewer and stormwater pipes, and extreme precipitation or rapid snowmelt. The Midwest has seen an increase in very heavy precipitation in the last 50 years and more winter precipitation is falling as rain rather than snow.

image of lake The impacts of flooding include the following:
  • Physical injuries and drowning
  • Mold allergies
  • Food and water-borne illnesses
  • Damage or dramatic changes to crops and farmland, affecting food security and access
  • Temporary or permanent displacement from home
  • Stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Damage to infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, that may interrupt or delay emergency services
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Decreased Precipitation

Some areas of the state will experience decreased precipitation. This is a result of localized large storm events, which leave some areas of the state drenched and others without any precipitation. An extended period of below-average precipitation can cause a drought, and it can be worsened by high temperatures or short, intense rainfalls that do not allow rainwater to soak into the ground.

image of dry crops The impacts of drought include the following:
  • Potential concentration of pollutants
  • Decreased water supply for drinking water and agriculture
  • Damage to crop progress and soil moisture, affecting food security and access
  • Wildfire dangers
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Increased Water Temperature

Minnesota will likely experience higher winter and summer temperatures as a result of climate change. The warmer weather causes bodies of water to absorb more heat in the summer and release less heat in the winter, resulting in overall warmer waters.

image of blue-green algae in Fish Lake, 2004 - Mora, MN The impacts of warmer water include the following:
  • Changes in fish populations and a potential increase in mercury concentrations in fish
  • Harmful algal blooms
  • Reduced dissolved oxygen, which is harmful to aquatic animals and may more readily mobilize persistent pollutants and mercury
  • Incomplete water mixing of lakes, which can have harmful effects on fish populations and the biological activities that maintain the health of water systems
  • Potential habitat for mosquitoes that may carry harmful diseases such as West Nile virus

Photo courtesy of MPCA
Harmful Algal Bloom in Fish Lake - 2004, Mora, MN

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Water, Climate & Health Training Module

cover of water module MDH developed the Water Quality and Quantity, Climate Change and Public Health Training Module as a part of a series of Climate and Health trainings. This training module provides an overview of the importance of water in Minnesota, the public health issues related to climate change and water, and public health strategies to prevent injury and illness due to changing water conditions. This module can be used as an educational tool for interested persons or as a “train the trainer” module for local public health departments. The training has been fully scripted for that purpose.

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Water Quality and Health Resources

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Updated Friday, March 24, 2017 at 10:23AM