Glacial retreat has been occurring since 1850 around the world, affecting the availability of fresh water for irrigation and domestic use, mountain recreation, animals and plants. These all depend on glacier-melt, and in the long term so does the level of the oceans.
The retreat of glaciers has a number of different impacts. In areas that are heavily dependent on water runoff from glaciers that melt during the warmer summer months, a continuation of the current retreat will eventually deplete the glacial ice and substantially reduce or eliminate runoff. A reduction in runoff will affect the ability to irrigate crops and will reduce summer stream flows necessary to keep dams and reservoirs replenished. Many species of freshwater and saltwater plants and animals are dependent on glacier-fed waters to ensure the cold water habitat to which they have adapted. Some species of freshwater fish (salmon and cutthroat trout) need cold water to survive and to reproduce and reduced glacial runoff can lead to insufficient stream flow to allow these species to thrive.
Some of this retreat has resulted in efforts to slow down the loss of glaciers. To retard melting of the glaciers in Alps used by certain Austrian and Swiss ski resorts, portions of glaciers were partially covered with plastic. While covering glaciers with plastic sheeting may prove advantageous to ski resorts on a small scale, this practice is not expected to be economically practical on a much larger scale.