Climate change increases drought, severe weather for UConn water systems

Mirror Lake Drone Shots. (Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus)

Water systems near the University of Connecticut are exhibiting some climate-related changes, including more severe dry periods and stronger storms, said UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy Director Rich Miller.

“I would say that we have seen both longer drought periods and more frequent and severe storm events over the past eight or nine years,” Miller said in an email.

Associate extension professor in natural resources and the environment Michael Dietz said he has also noted these increases of intense weather events. He cited the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records, which show increases in precipitation in the Storrs area over recent years.

“[These increases] translate to much more water running off and taxing infrastructure that was designed using older values,” Dietz said.

Dietz said he predicts that drought will become an increasing concern in the UConn area.

“This can have a big impact on our water supplies here at UConn,” Dietz said. “We are less vulnerable now that we have connected in to the Shenipsit reservoir system [near Tolland], which we can access if our demands outpace our supplies.”

Beyond Storrs, changes in lake ice are one of the most prominent observations scientists are making in Connecticut lakes, according to a study from Nature Climate Change. The study links the decrease in ice coverage to the changing climate, a trend which is expected to continue.

Less ice coverage can influence the delicate ecosystems within lakes as well as affecting humans, News Times reported. Ice-related activities are made more difficult and summer swims are bogged-up with algal blooms. In Old Lyme, a man fell through thin ice and died in January.

The OEP has not documented these specific effects at Mirror Lake or Swan Lake, Miller said. Ice coverage in Mirror Lake has actually increased, Miller said, based on more localized conditions. Repairs to underground storm water pipes have kept warm water from leaking into the lake like it has in the past, allowing for thicker ice coverage.

OEP intern and sixth-semester environmental studies major Charlotte Rhodes said there is some action that can be taken in response to these observations of climatic-related change.

“I think the most important thing we can do [would] be in monitoring the lakes on campus and around Connecticut and respond accordingly,” Rhodes said.

Different organizations currently monitor various statistics for the Fenton River, Eagleville Brook and Mirror Lake, some of which are available online, Dietz and Miller said.

Dietz said students should also be aware of their own water usage.

“The main thing students can do is conserve water where possible in the dorms,” Dietz said. “Taking short showers and reporting malfunctioning showers, sinks or toilets to facilities will help.”


Alex Houdeshell is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.