Tipping Points: How 2016 Will Shape California’s Water Future

, Former climate scientist | January 29, 2016, 11:55 am EDT
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Today, draft regulations were posted for public comment that will determine how billions of dollars from the water bond (Proposition 1) will be given out to fund new water infrastructure projects.

The requirements for vetting these projects should include using the best available climate science, but right now, they don’t.

In fact, the regulations state that climate change impacts will not even be considered after 2050, which models indicate is about the time that those impacts could become much more severe. These regulations are now open for public comment and it’s important for experts, concerned citizens, and taxpayers alike to ensure that public money is spent wisely – and that the infrastructure that we build today will be able to deliver tomorrow.

This blog is the first in a series called “Tipping Points” that will profile key water planning decisions that will be made this year that will determine California’s water management and infrastructure for decades to come.

A tipping point is the critical point in a situation or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place. The Union of Concerned Scientists is working to shine a light on forthcoming water policy decisions that will have large public impacts. We want to help scientists and the public get involved in the critical deliberations that will chart the course for California’s water future. You can automatically receive tipping points blogs that will keep you up-to-date on what’s happening, when, and how you can be involved.

Four reasons why 2016 is a tipping point

A couple days ago, we held a webinar that presented a few reasons why 2016 is a pivotal year for water:

  • The governor’s commitment to improving water management. Earlier this month, Governor Brown released his California Water Action Plan 2016 Update. The Brown administration describes the Water Action Plan as a roadmap to put California on a path to sustainable water management and updated it at the beginning of the Governor’s second term, indicating continued commitment to its implementation.
  • The impact of climate change. After four years of exceptional drought, we are entering into what is projected to be an exceptionally wet year. Climate change impacts are being felt in real-time, as we experience greater extremes. And groundwater is key to ensuring water security in California’s changing climate.
  • The regulation of groundwater. After a century of treating groundwater like an unlimited resource, the consequences of massive groundwater depletion are being seen across the state: from land sinking in the Central Valley, to valuable coastal aquifers becoming saline due to seawater intrusion. A new law requires more sustainable groundwater management, and this year, state water regulators are writing critical regulations that will set the bar for what sustainability means in practice.
  • The $7.5 billion water bond. After years of political wrangling, we finally have new financial resources to update California’s water system to make it more resilient and reliable. This year, state water regulators are writing the rules that govern how a large chunk of the money will be spent.

It’s going to be a busy year – are you ready to tip the scales in the favor of science and democracy? We are, and we’d love to partner with you.

Sign up here to get updates about the big water decisions coming this year.

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  • Mark Rossi

    California: Good luck with that sustainable water plan of yours; with unrelenting population growth, sustainability = impossibility.

  • Droughts have always happened. The Medieval Mega-droughts, each lasting about 200 years proved far deeper than California’s current drought (E.R. Cook, Earth Science Reviews).

    It seems to be popular these days to talk of “extremes,” but that sounds more political than scientific. Modern anecdotal events are nothing extraordinary. For instance, EF3-EF5 tornadoes are on a 60-year down trend (NOAA). Count increases in the weakest tornadoes may well be a function of greater population and better technology for detection and reporting. Hurricane counts and total cyclone energy are also on a down trend.

    It’s simple atmospheric physics. Wind is caused by differences in thermal potential. Eliminate the difference and you kill storm formation. Melt the polar ice (end the current Ice Age) and you may well stop all strong, violent storms. Venus’s thermal homogeneity drives home this point. Zero thermal potential and meteor craters millions of years old without any noticeable wind erosion.

    And rain is also a relatively simple matter. Cool down the planet and you reduce evaporation and water vapor content, increasing droughts. Increase global warmth, you increase evaporation, water vapor content, clouds and rain. During the far warmer Holocene Optimum, the Sahara was green.

    Would embracing global warming, rather than fearing it, produce more rain for California? That’s where it gets complicated. But all other things being equal, increase water vapor content will tend to increase the chances of rain worldwide.

    I’ve been appalled by the NOAA scientists keeping their data secret. That’s not how science is done. As a concerned scientist, we need to shine a light on secrets for they remain anti-science.

    • VooDude

      I agree, but not all of NOAA refuses to admit. NOAA says the drought is not caused by “Climate Change”

      ”The [2011-2014] drought is not part of a long-term change in California precipitation, which exhibits no appreciable trend since 1895. …”


      NOAA again: ”The current drought, though extreme, is not outside the range of California hydro-climate variability and similar events have occurred before. Although there has been a drying trend in California since the late 1970s, when considering the full observational record since 1895, there is no appreciable trend to either wetter or drier California winters.”

      ”Determining human-induced climate change from the observational record is difficult. Across North America there is strong interannual to decadal and multidecadal variability of precipitation which means that observed trends, even over very long time periods, could arise from natural variability.”

      ”The CMIP5 models project that rising greenhouse gases should increase California winter precipitation, but that changes, to date, are small compared to the recent drought anomalies. As such, the recent drought was dominated by natural variability, a conclusion framed by a discussion of the differences between observed and modeled tropical SST trends over the past decades.”

      ”…models found no substantial effect of human-induced climate change on the severe precipitation deficits over California (Herring et al. 2014).”