California has long been a leader in battling the causes of climate change. Today, Governor Newsom takes the helm of leadership in another critical battle: preparing the state for the inevitable impacts of a changing climate on its water resources.
Water is where many Californians experience the impacts of climate change. Our most recent drought broke records for its severity, and the response to drought led to drinking water wells for entire communities drying up, massive mortality of native fish and wildlife, farmers’ fields lying fallow, and reduced water supplies for urban communities across the state. Climate scientists tell us to expect more intense and frequent droughts in the future.
Warming temperatures are causing the Sierra snowpack, which has long served as the state’s largest “reservoir” of water, to decline over time and become far less dependable as a source of spring snowmelt. Temperature increases are also raising water temperatures, stressing cold-water species like Chinook salmon, increasing water-quality threats like toxic algae outbreaks, and accelerating evaporation from surface water reservoirs thereby increasing the relative effectiveness of groundwater storage.
The winter storms we can expect in the future are likely to be far more concentrated and intense than in the past, increasing the risk and frequency of flood events like those being experienced along the Missouri River this year.
All this means that we must transform the way that we manage our water resources if we are going to maintain a healthy economy and restore a thriving environment.
The good news is, the solutions exist. NRDC and Pacific Institute calculated that California has the potential to massively increase our state’s water reliability by investing in sustainable, climate-resilient solutions. But it will take strong leadership and smart, proactive strategies to reform our policies, incentives, and systems of water management in order to get these solutions in place.
That’s why Governor Newsom’s executive order is such good news. It lays out the imperative, the vision, and the pathway for transforming California’s water future to sustain cities, farms, and the environment in our changing climate. We look forward to working with him to turn this promise into reality.