Image: California Department of Water Resources

The vulnerability of the water sector to climate change is due to changing hydrologic processes that affect the frequency, magnitude, and duration of extreme events, which in turn affect water quantity, quality, and infrastructure. It has been shown that California’s hydrology is already changing due to global climate shifts. Changes in hydrology include declining snowpack, earlier snow melt, more precipitation as rain than snow, more frequent and longer droughts, more frequent and more severe flooding, changes in the timing and volume of peak runoff, and consequent impacts on water quality and water availability.[1] Anticipated and observed vulnerabilities of critical water resources include changing water supplies, land subsidence, increased water pollution, erosion, flooding, and related risks to water infrastructure and operations, degradation of watersheds, alteration of ecosystems and loss of habitat, multiple impacts in coastal areas, and ocean acidification.

California is preparing for and addressing impacts of climate change comprehensively across all components of the water cycle, from protecting and restoring upper watersheds, to resource recovery from wastewater (renewable energy, nutrients, and water). One area of focus is supporting regional groundwater management for drought resiliency, which requires the formation of sustainability plans and coordination with other flood and water management plans. Other priority action areas include diversifying local water supply portfolios, maximizing water conservation and water use efficiency, and improving storm water management for groundwater recharge. Communities must identify priorities and goals around conservation, efficiency, and alternative sources that are commensurate with their local needs and goals. Finally, many disadvantaged communities already have problems securing safe water and sanitation, and they are unlikely to have the capacity to deal with additional challenges to water quality and availability in the face of climate change. Prioritizing aid and planning for these communities is critical for public health and the overall well-being of California’s communities.

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