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#SummerScienceFriday | What do Resilient Regions Look Like?

What can climate resilience look like on a regional scale? How can we turn a giant metropolis like Los Angeles into an environmentally sustainable, resilient city, while still maintaining a sense of community?

Here is summary of regional strategies compiled from recent trends in California:

These strategies for regional water and climate resilience have the potential for positive impacts at the regional level. Benefits include (but are not limited to):

  • Improved and reliable water quality and supply

  • Reduced runoff, trash, and pollutants that wind up contaminating the ocean, harming ecosystems, and contributing to the Pacific garbage patch.

  • Habitat corridors for native animals to be able to move around.

  • Cooler temperatures which mitigate the urban heat island effect.

  • Creation of green jobs and equitable access to these jobs.

  • Improved public transportation networks to reduce car use, traffic and carbon emissions. For example, a train that holds 500 people can get 500 single-driver cars off the road while making a much smaller environmental impact!

So, what are some ways that CA is responding to climate change and what are some of the resilience strategies at different levels?

The State of California

What the state faces:

  • Warming climate - CA has warmed 1.1-2℉ in the last century (1).

  • Increasing wildfires! 7 of the 20 largest and deadliest CA wildfires from the last decade occurred in 2017 (2). Wildfires cause property damage, heat up the region, harm residents’ health, and cause mudslides and erosion.

  • Increase in extreme weather events and 3x increase in flooding events (3).

  • If CA were a country, it would rank #14 globally in the level of fossil fuel emissions (4), 50% of these emissions come from the transportation sector (5).

  • The state water supply is extremely taxed and increasing pressure is estimated to cost California $500 million to $1.5 billion each year by 2085 (4).

  • About 20% of CA electricity is used for state water systems. Supplying water to Southern California requires almost 50 times more energy than supplying water to Northern California (6).

Current State-Level Programs & Solutions:

  • The state has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

  • Policies have been implemented to benefit underserved communities. In September of 2012, California became the first state to legislatively recognize access to water as a human right.

  • Various bond measures to fund projects have been recently passed. Prop 1, passed in 2014, provides funds for water projects and restoration (7).

  • Safe Drinking Water Plan - In 2015, the California Waterboard assessed the state of water quality in CA and provided improvement recommendations.

  • The California State Waterboard created the Drought Response Outreach Program for Schools (DROPS) in 2014. DROPS is a statewide effort to conserve water at schools and educate people about water issues. CWH continues to work on the DROPS program to build community capacity, inform green infrastructure projects and educate communities.

  • In May, the California Energy Commission adopted building standards that require solar photovoltaic systems starting in 2020.

  • Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project (MHDP) was initiated in 2007 by the USGS to collect natural-hazard information pertinent to community resilience.

  • The state’s Strategic Fire Plan takes into account the effects of climate change and was revised in April 2016.

  • The state provides information about Statewide Wildfire Recovery Resources and CalEPA has public health resources to keep families safe and aware of fire risks, especially those from air quality hazards.

  • Additionally, the state is planning California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy which can be explored in this 2017 Draft Report.

Los Angeles County

What LA County faces:

  • Last year in LA County, over 107 billion gallons of stormwater was lost as runoff. That’s enough water to meet the needs of more than 2.5 million people for an entire year or almost 1/3 of the County population (11).

  • About ½ of the County is covered in impervious surfaces like asphalt (6).

  • The LA Basin uses about 500 billion gallons of water each year (6).

  • According to the 2015 American Housing Survey, 30% of Hispanic households and 25% of Black households in the LA-Long Beach Metro Area reported having unsafe tap water, compared to 12% of Non-Hispanic White households (8).

  • Rising temperatures will lead to hotter urban centers and lost moisture in the mountainous areas which make up 47% of LA County (9).

  • As LA County’s population grows, and people continue to move to the outskirts of urban life into mountainous brush areas, the risk of wildfire to life and property multiplies (9).

Current County-Level Programs & Solutions:

  • The LA County Department of Public Works is creating a Water Resiliency Plan.

  • Safe, Clean Water (SCW) Program - SCW is a proposed plan that would create a special property tax on non-permeable surfaces for all buildings in LA county, with incentives for homes and industrial sites to increase stormwater collection. The revenue would be used to fund equitable, nature-based multi-benefit stormwater capture projects for the region, and is projected to create 9,436 jobs over the next 30 years (6). If passed by the County Board of Supervisors on July 10th, SCW will be on the ballot in November.

  • OurWaterLA (OWLA) - A coalition of community organizations and stakeholders who advocate for equitable, resilient, safe LA County Water supply. OWLA is a partner developing and promoting the SCW program.

  • Green Buildings Program - An initiative by the Dept. of Planning to make all new buildings after 2009 using green infrastructure guidelines, especially for larger residential and commercial buildings.

  • The Metropolitan Water District & the Sanitation Districts of LA Country are developing a Regional Recycled Water Advanced Purification Center demo facility, scheduled to begin operations in late 2018, which would recycle water for groundwater replenishment (12).

  • H2O4LA - A water resiliency program which educates people about water sources and stormwater capture in LA County.

  • To mitigate fire risks associated with higher temperatures, the LA County Fire Department has outlined several approaches in their Fire Hazard Reduction Plan, including the clearing of brush, mapping of hazardous zones (must be viewed in Internet Explorer) and tracking of wildfire trends.

City of Los Angeles

What the City of Los Angeles faces:

  • LA average annual temperatures are expected to rise 4-5℉ by mid century, with a much higher number of heat advisory days (10).

  • LA treats 400,000 acre feet per year (AFY) of wastewater, but the majority of this water is disposed of into the ocean or river after treatment (13).

  • The LA River has been largely paved and channeled throughout the city.

  • About 90% of the City’s water is imported (14). This is a very energy intensive and unreliable source.

Current City-Level Programs & Solutions:

  • LA River Revitalization Plan - Plan developed by the city to create public spaces along the river, restore areas near the river, provide access to recreation, and promote economic opportunities.

  • LADWP Stormwater Capture Plan (2015) developed in response to Mayoral Directive Number 5, called for a 20% reduction in freshwater use by 2017 and for LADWP to reduce purchase of imported potable water 50% by 2024.

  • In 2010, LADWP instigated the Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) as a plan of action for developing a sustainable, local, drought-resilient LA water supply. The goal is to implement projects to increase the recycled water utilized in L.A., from both non-potable reuse (NPR) and groundwater replenishment (GWR) to 59,000 acre-feet per year (AFY) by 2035.

  • Mayor Garcetti’s Sustainability City pLAn is a great step forward toward climate and community resiliency. The City pLAn outlines environmental, economic and equity strategies for sustainable future.

The Missing Link: Non-profits Working Toward Climate Resiliency

There is meaningful work being done in the region by several organizations in response to water issues and climate change. Non-profits, such as CWH and our partners, play a key role in shaping a resilient region by connecting the public to government agencies and providing resources to help meet community needs. Part of CWH’s mission is to foster collaborations among diverse stakeholders including applied-science nonprofits like ourselves, advocacy nonprofits, agencies, and community leaders. These partnerships and unity toward shared goals are a powerful and necessary tool toward building resilient regions and watersheds, especially in the face of climate change.

Here at the Council for Watershed Health, we work to foster healthy, resilient, and sustainable regional watersheds through:

  • Support and participation in regional water management planning bodies and studies.

  • Watershed habitat restoration to protect ecosystem health and wildlife.

  • Improving water quality and human health through a community-driven process that will result in demonstrable and measurable changes.

  • Providing and communicating water quality and watershed health information to communities most in need so that they can make informed decisions on ways to protect their health and the health of their families.

  • Developing green Infrastructure, multi-benefit projects to act as living laboratories and for climate resiliency.

Take a look at Our Work to learn more about our role in the Los Angeles River Watershed Monitoring Program, how we have played a part in bringing living laboratories to neighborhoods and DROPS school campuses, and about our other projects monitoring the watershed. The work we do would not be possible and is most impactful thanks to our collaborations with other organizations and our partners. While this concludes our climate resiliency series, let us be mindful of the work that still needs to be done. By getting in touch with us and our partners, you can also be a part of the movement toward a more resilient region! Please visit our partnerships page to explore the great organizations that we work with and follow the links below to get involved today!

Don’t have the time to volunteer? Donate to support our work!

Stay in the loop! Follow us on social media:

Instagram: @watershedhealth

Twitter: CWH_org


Facts Cited

  1. Western Region Climate Center

  2. California Energy Commission April 2018 Newsletter

  3. Swain, D. L., Langenbrunner, B., Neelin, J. D., & Hall, A. (2018). Increasing precipitation volatility in twenty-first-century California. Nature Climate Change, 8(5), 427–433.

  4. Climate Central The Number of Large Fires Rising in the West

  5. California Energy Commission 2018 Building Standards Adopted News Release

  6. LAANE Liquid Assets Stormwater Report

  7. LA Times: Proposition 1, a water bond measure, passes

  8. Prevention Institute Report on Water Health and Equity in LA Executive Summary

  9. County of LA Fire Department Fire Hazard Reduction Programs

  10. The Climate Change in the Los Angeles Region Project

  11. LA Department of Public Works- Safe, Clean Water for Los Angeles County Residents

  12. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Advanced Purification Center

  13. Recycled water - Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

  14. The Water LA River Project 2018 Report

Programs, Plans and Resources Cited

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