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Adaptation in the country, for the city

Authors: Patrick Bigger*, Lancaster University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Economic Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: Adaptation, watersheds, justice, finance, wate
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

One of the most pressing issues for urban climate adaptation is securing predictable, high quality volumes of water, particularly in water-stressed cities across the US West. Adaptation may take the form of building desalination plants, more ambitious repair schedules to reduce leakage, and demand management campaigns. But for most cities, water supplies are not a purely local phenomenon- watersheds that feed the reservoirs sprawl across hundreds of square miles, encompassing far more rural space than urban. Much of the forest land that comprises these watersheds in the West is spectacularly degraded as a result of historical fire suppression, derelict land management policy, and ecological change happening in tandem with climate change. This degradation is the proximate cause for increasingly catastrophic wildfires in the West, which have significant ramifications for urban water supplies – including increased run off and sedimentation that reduces the quality and predictability of water, raising maintenance and operations costs for urban utilities. In this paper we examine a pilot project underway in California that brings together municipal utilities, public land managers, NGOs, and financiers to rethink watersheds as critical infrastructure, and make those watersheds investable. We emphasize the socio-environmental justice dimensions of new approaches to public lands management that rescale urban climate adaptation from the city to the watershed and how thinking urban adaptation as a relational process that involves re-making rural lands and economies presents possibilities for solidarity across economically, politically, and culturally divergent spaces.

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