California Continues to Prepare for a Changing Climate

Urban watercyle

In a new report California is taking the lead to tackle climate change at the local and state levels | California Climate Change Center

With one of the worst droughts in the last 50 years parching over 50% of the country, and record breaking temperatures scorching communities nationwide, it is a relief to see that some states are taking action to respond to a changing climate. Last week, California released its third assessment of the effects of climate change on the state.

Our Changing Climate 2012 – Vulnerability & Adaptation to the Increasing Risks from Climate Change in California [PDF] takes a closer look at local and statewide vulnerabilities to climate change – identifying opportunities where California can take concrete actions to reduce climate change impacts.  

Identifying vulnerabilities and risks within different sectors: health, water resources, energy, coasts, ecosystems and agriculture is an important step towards increasing resiliency to climate change in California. It is critical to first understand potential changes and their impacts in order to identify and implement the most effective preparedness strategies. In order to best understand their vulnerabilities, California used detailed climate projections and information about land use, topography and demographics to determine the specific risks and vulnerabilities to the seven different sectors.

One of the many studies conducted highlighted the problems associated with California’s allocation of water. Currently, water management allocations are based on a “wet,” “normal,” “dry,” or “critically dry” classification system which determines how much and where water is to be distributed. However, stream flow in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys is projected to be critically dry with much more frequency.  Increasingly frequent critically dry years will force ever more difficult decisions about distribution of limited supply, affecting agriculture, industry, and other economic sectors across the state. 

These tough choices will have serious implications for the environment as well.   In light of these changing conditions, California’s decision-making model for water allocation and management may be obsolete, and a new, more adaptive approach is required. 

Some of the other significant findings of the different climate analyses include:

  • The state’s electricity system is more vulnerable than was previously understood because of increasing extreme heat events and new residential development.
  • As soon as 2050, California could see today’s 100-year coastal storm occurring yearly –which could worsen coastal damage through increased wind, waves and floods.
  • Animals and plants need connected “migration corridors” to allow them to move to more suitable habitats to avoid serious impacts.
  • Native freshwater fish are particularly threatened by climate change because of increasing water temperatures and invasive species.
  • There are effective ways to prepare for and manage climate change risks, but local governments’ face many barriers to adapting to climate change – like proper funding to prepare for changes and these must addressed so that California can continue to prosper.

As we see more extreme weather, increasing temperatures and drought plague the U.S. it is essential that more states take a proactive role in combating climate change. Undertaking comprehensive climate preparedness plans, and integrating climate adaptation strategies into existing management plans are critical steps in making states and communities more resilient. And we can’t just let these plans sit on the shelf. States like California are leading the way on preparedness planning, and its time the rest of the country caught up with them.