People Still Care About Science: California Commits to Using Climate Science in Water Decisions

, Former climate scientist | March 23, 2017, 3:07 pm EDT
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People still care about science even in today’s anti-truth, post-fact political maelstrom. And it’s not just scientists (who will soon be marching in the streets). It’s also the people entrusted with ensuring basic services, like clean drinking water. People like California’s State Water Board members, who passed a resolution this month to embed climate science into all of its existing work.

California represents the cutting-edge on many environmental issues so it often comes as a surprise to people that a significant part of my job is focused on incorporating existing climate science into California’s water policy. Water management is backwards-looking in many ways, using the past to plan the future – even when we know the past will be wrong.

That’s why the adoption of a climate resolution for water management is such a big deal. This resolution is the first commitment by a water-related state agency to use climate science in all permits, plans, policies, and decisions. It doesn’t just apply at the state level but also to the 9 regional boards that make more local decisions.

Federal rollbacks can be resisted by local resolutions

In the coming days, President Trump is expected to announce plans to dismantle the nation’s climate change policy framework, which was created in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. A forthcoming draft executive order gets rid of a requirement that federal agencies take climate change into account in environmental permitting.

California Department of Water Resources employee Bryan Wonderly, left, and members of the California Conservation Corps are unloading bucket loads of road base material along the walkway on the outer edge of the Oroville Dam spillway after it failed in early 2017. Photo: California DWR

This requirement has ensured that plans and infrastructure account for climate impacts – many of which we are already experiencing from more severe flooding, to more intense and destructive wildfires, to longer droughts. Without this requirement, projects are more likely to fail in the future, wasting money and potentially threatening lives. Failures like those documented in our blog series Planning Failures: The Costly Risks of Ignoring Climate Change, including:

Science can help make better decisions. That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists was formed: to use science to help create a healthy planet and safer world. This recent climate resolution is just one example of what can be done at the state level to counter federal rollbacks that threaten science and safety.

Photo: Zack Cunningham / California Department of Water Resources

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  • solodoctor

    The evacuations near the Oroville Dam and in the San Jose area caused by this year’s ‘abnormal’ rainfall are but two examples of the way in which climate change has already affected residents in California. About 200,000 people had to evacuate around Oroville. Of the 12, 000 who had to evacuate in San Jose about 500 are not yet back in their homes one month later!

    I wish Governor Brown would take climate change into account with the so called Twin Delta Tunnel plan. Building two larger tunnels to transfer more water out of the Sacramento Delta flies in the face of the knowledge we now have about how climate change will be affecting this sensitive habitat in the years to come. It also simply fuels the denial that large agribusiness and other farmers are in over their continuing excessive use of water in the Central Valley of California. Although the Governor has claimed to be ‘an environmentalist’ for many years now, this plan calls that into serious question. So does his lack of action when it comes to oil industry dumping billions of gallons of toxic fracking related waste water into the ocean.

    Will UCS help local residents being negatively impacted by these two issues?