Small Drinking Water Systems and the California Drought: Learning for the Future

Authors: Amanda Fencl*, UC Davis, Mark Lubell, UC Davis, Julia Ekstrom, UC Davis
Topics: Applied Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: drought, environmental justice, water, climate change, adaptation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Studio 7, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


California’s drinking water utilities were and are dealing with the recent extreme drought's impacts (2012-2016). Despite the State’s frequent droughts and dry years, smaller utilities have few requirements for proactive drought planning. This study represents one of the first, statewide assessments of drought responses by the multitude of utility types that supply drinking water in California. Our paper, based on an online survey and utility level case studies built from document review and semi-structured interviews, investigate how utilities are differentially prepared for and adapted to drought and climate impacts. Interviews highlight that the differences and commonalities between drought responses of large and small systems, and the role of reliance on imported versus local water sources. A May 2016 drought-related Executive Order (EO) includes directives aimed at helping utilities “manage and prepare for dry periods” (EO B-37-16). The state hopes to build local and regional drought resilience by updating current planning requirements and directing a state agency to develop a process that better includes small water suppliers and vulnerable rural communities in drought resilience efforts. To be successful in this endeavor, state and local actors implementing and responding to this EO will learn from our study documenting utilities’ experiences of drought responses, barriers, and opportunities for state intervention

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