Embracing Change to Address Climate Change

Ken JenkinsThe real world impacts of climate change are being felt both here in California and around the globe. Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest climate report, painting a dire picture of the reality we are collectively facing. The IPCC study, which was prepared by 270 authors and approved by 195 member governments, focuses on climate change’s effects on people and nature, documents how climate-driven weather extremes have exposed millions of people to water shortages, and examines vulnerabilities and ways of adapting to ensure the planet’s habitability for future generations. In our own backyard, we feel these effects first-hand, and it’s important to pause and think about the ways we can change course and ensure the future of our limited resources.

In my role as Chief Water Resource Sustainability Officer for Cal Water, I am working with my colleagues to mitigate and adapt to climate change. In this post, I want to provide an update on some of what Cal Water is doing to address this business and societal imperative.

We have long recognized climate change impacts and, back in 2016, completed our first study to understand the impacts of climate change on our water supply. In 2020, we began updating and expanding this work, collaborating with ICF to develop a comprehensive Climate Change Risk Assessment & Adaptation Framework. The report identifies and prioritizes climate-driven risks to Cal Water facilities, operations, and water supply portfolio, and it projects and assesses changes to water supply and demand.

Climate change risks and vulnerabilities include the impact on water supply from longer, more frequent and more severe droughts; decreasing natural snowpack storage; and water quality risks from more intense weather patterns and increased wildfires. More information on these risks can be found in our Climate Change Report Summary.

The good news is that this analysis allows Cal Water to develop adaptation strategies that reduce the impacts of climate change on our business and increase the resiliency of our operations.

In fact, Cal Water has already begun to address climate change risks through continued infrastructure investments. This includes:

Wildfire preparation—Infrastructure projects and upgrades to increase reliability in the event of a wildfire and prevent the loss of power at key facilities, along with protections for worker safety;

Treatment plant analysis—Systematic review of climate change-driven risks driven by fires, droughts, intense rainstorms, or excessive agricultural nutrient loads; and

Long-term demand model update—Improvements in modeling for more effective management of water resources, including the addition of evapotranspiration, and updating climate projection inputs.

As a result of our work with ICF, we have the foundational framework to prioritize risks and determine how to address them.

In addition to this framework, Cal Water has integrated climate change into our planning process. We will re-evaluate climate vulnerability and risk on an ongoing basis, and will consider ways to further integrate district-specific climate projections into supply reliability. With science-based climate projections, an understanding of risks and opportunities, and a thoughtful set of adaptation next steps, Cal Water is well positioned to ensure that we are able to deliver a reliable water supply to the communities we serve well into the future.

To note, we’ve also built flexibility into our analysis. By using two pathways of predicted greenhouse gas emissions, we’re ensuring that Cal Water is prepared for a worst-case scenario and a not-so-worst case scenario. Unfortunately, there truly isn’t a best-case scenario in this instance, and that’s why it’s imperative to act now.

We all have a stake in our planet, and it will take collective action by all stakeholders—governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and individuals—to work together to reduce our collective impact and alter the current trajectory of climate change. Simply put, the health of our communities depends on the health of our planet.