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Drinking Water Governance for Climate Change: Learning from a California Drought

Authors: Amanda Fencl*, Texas A & M University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Urban Geography, Applied Geography
Keywords: drought; climate adaptation; drinking water; California
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


California is one of the world’s largest economies and leads on climate change, yet grapples with uneven exposure and risk in its drinking water system. In this project, I explore aspects of local level drought adaptation decisions, nested within California’s complex and polycentric water governance regime, during the 2012-2016 drought. Climate change already exacerbates longstanding disparities in water security. Drinking water systems are both vulnerable to drought and are critical features of their community’s drought resilience. They are responsible for supplying reliable and safe potable water and mitigating climate and drought impacts, both of which require investments in preparedness and planning. As the state’s population grows and climate change continues to produce local impacts through drought, floods and fires, many drinking water systems will continue to adapt to climate change and others will need to start. This project relies on water system managers’ experiences during the drought, through an online survey and semi-structured interviews, to better inform what is needed for drinking water governance for climate change as different levels of water management take action to adapt and transform. California already plans to invest in a climate-resilient water system, to be successful in this endeavor, research suggests that agencies will need to pay more attention to drought-related impacts on water quality. Many small systems defied expectations and invested in long-term, adaptation actions; however, the suite of identified aspirational actions-- means an opportunity remains for local and state efforts to enable small systems’ adaptive capacity by supporting locally-identified solutions.

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