California Raises the Bar on Climate Change Preparedness Planning

Even though California already is one of the leading states in the country when it comes to planning for the water-related impacts of climate change, the state is not resting on its laurels and risking complacency anytime soon.  Just last week, more than 35 state-sponsored, peer-reviewed research studies on climate change were released as part of the 2012 Vulnerability and Adaptation Study, California’s third major climate change impacts assessment.

Here are a few notable findings from this group of studies:

  • Average statewide temperatures have increased about 1.7°F from 1895 to 2011
  • Temperatures are further projected to warm 2.7°F above 2000 averages by 2050 and 4.1°F to 8.6°F by 2100
  • Central and southern California are expected to become drier towards the mid to late part of the century as rain, snowfall, and soil moisture declines
  • The current 100-year coastal flood could occur as often as once a year by 2050 due to sea level rise
  • Critically dry water years could occur substantially more often during the latter half of the century in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys
  • Most native fishes are likely to face declining populations and some may go extinct, especially coldwater fishes like trout

In addition to risk assessments in those areas, the studies also include information on agricultural risks, growing wildfire risks, ecological impacts, risks to the state’s energy supply, socioeconomic impacts, and case studies focusing on the San Francisco Bay Area.  This research doesn’t only focus on the impacts though; it also identifies opportunities to reduce climate change vulnerabilities.  For example, to address potential water supply shortages, water districts across the state are striving to increase water use efficiency, reduce water losses, promote conservation, and determine drought sensitivity.        

While state-level planning is a necessity, the implementation of preparedness strategies locally will be crucial to effectively reducing climate change vulnerabilities.  To support local adaptation, the state government is in the midst of finalizing an adaptation planning guide for local and regional stakeholders, which will contain a framework for identifying vulnerabilities and developing response strategies.  This comes on the heels of several resources for local and regional decision-makers released last year, including the Climate Change Handbook for Regional Water Planning and the Cal-Adapt website

In addition, California state agencies are working to update by the end of the year the state’s climate adaptation strategy, which was initially released in 2009. While the state is busy developing the new edition of its adaptation strategy, the overwhelming majority of states in the U.S. sadly have not even begun to plan for climate impacts. 

States across the country can learn a thing or two from California when it comes to planning for climate change.  In spite of the economic downturn that has hit state and municipal budgets, the Golden State is still finding ways to provide communities across the state with tools to begin managing the impacts from a changing climate.