Rising oceans bring more than high tides and nuisance flooding to coastal zones. They also carry salt water into inland aquifers where dissolved salts can spoil drinking water.

A new research effort at the University of Pennsylvania aims to identify vulnerable water systems along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts where rising seas pose water quality risks and develop strategies that can make utilities more resilient to saltwater intrusion.

“I think when people typically consider sea-level rise, they have visions of coastal erosion or coastal roads going underwater, or maybe things like the weakening of structural supports of buildings like the Surfside condominium that collapsed in Miami,” Allison Lassiter, assistant professor of city and regional planning at Penn and the principal investigator behind the research effort, said in a telephone interview.

“People are less often considering the potential impacts on drinking water,” she said.

Coastal communities are often in the fastest-growing areas of the country, where rising seas are already damaging homes, businesses and infrastructure, mostly from street flooding.

There are also human costs.

“Besides being unpleasant to drink, salinized water can harm vulnerable populations, including people with hypertension and pregnant women,” Lassiter said.