In a quest to change the ongoing dialogue from “Is climate changing?” to “Can society manage unavoidable changes and avoid unmanageable changes due to climate change?” the White House released the National Climate Assessment report released earlier this week.
Unlike other government reports that are sleep-inducing tomes, the National Climate Assessment is an interactive website that features a descriptive narrative laced with multimedia in an almost too web-savvy manner that makes you wonder why the government didn’t use the same web designers for healthcare.gov. This multimedia report on climate change displays images of floods, droughts, sea level rise, and wildfires to emphasize their message: Human-induced climate change is happening now and here in the US.
I’ll admit - the report findings are daunting. Leaving me with the question - How can I possibly do anything about this? And, I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt this, especially since out of the 12 sections in the report, only one is dedicated to loosely discussing adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Although it is important to build consensus that climate change is a reality and for us to understand its impact on America’s national security – trying to change the mindsets of climate science skeptics might be a lost cause. Especially with some conservative voices claiming that the report findings was using “scare tactics”. Despite the public controversy, there are plenty of people that are already convinced, are willing to act, but lacking the tools to do so.
In the section of the report dedicated to Water Supply, a map shows a water supply stress index based on observations across the country. The water supply stress index is based on a ratio of water demand to available water supply (groundwater and surface water) with a critical threshold of water stress at 40%. According to the map, the majority of the water stress is in the western US. However, what the index fails to account for is water supply engineering that moves water from where it flows to where it does not.
This year, as California experiences its second to worse drought ever, the impacts are experienced by some more than others. Here is San Francisco Bay, we do our part to adhere to Governor Jerry Brown’s 20% voluntary reduction, but it’s an afterthought. With imported water from Hetch Hetchy to fill our toilets and water our lawns nothing has really changed. We’ve engineered our security.
Sure it's drier than usual, but it's only really a drought when it affects you directly. Similar to it’s only a recession when your neighbor looses their job and a depression when you loose your job. But how do we assist other counties in California to increase their water security. After all, we are all brothers and sisters of the Republic of California!
In California, there are several agencies that are true innovators for water management in the state. Last summer, I attended a conference hosted by the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) and was interested to hear how some smaller water utilities agencies were looking to improve their water management strategies to better combat decreasing groundwater, coastal seawater intrusion and poor groundwater quality, but were in need of direction and a toolbox to execute best management practices. Local control is certainly the mantra here in the state of California, due to the diversity in its landscape, communities, and water needs. Although there are no silver-bullet solutions for combating water stress, there are ways that we can offer a more centralized source for disseminating best management practices and decision-support tools that can help guide local decisions to move in the right direction.
This is low-hanging fruit and something that we should work together to achieve.