Meeting the Moment on Climate Change

Ken JenkinsNovember 5, 2021
by Ken Jenkins, Chief Water Resource Sustainability Officer

World leaders recently gathered in Glasgow for the much anticipated 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. The conference was called the “last chance” to really tackle climate change and secure concrete commitments in emissions reductions.

This crucial gathering occurs against a stark backdrop: A new UN report warns that the global temperature will rise more than 2.7C without further cuts to emissions. Yet, even amidst widespread stay-at-home directives, greenhouse gas build-up reached a new high in 2020.

Here at home, California is in trouble. Nearly the entire state is in severe drought, and, for the first time, state and federal authorities declared a shortage on the Colorado River, a main source of fresh drinking water. Federal regulators have recently warned of troubling outlooks for Lake Mead and Lake Powell, as persistent drought continues.

Severe climate events such as devastating wildfires compound the problem, removing necessary foliage that help prevent runoff from contaminating drinking water sources and contributing to an abnormally dry climate. New wildfires start regularly and have devastating impacts on our environment and communities, burning nearly 2.5 million acres this year alone.

And, while recent storms have been a welcome sight, with California reporting its driest year in a century, they will do little to lessen the negative impacts of the long-term drought. There’s no quick fix.

These extreme events are the result of rising global temperatures caused by human activities, and, as a recent UN report concluded, we have only a short window to avoid a “harrowing future.” We all have a role to play in facing this crisis head-on. From businesses and governments to water utilities such as Cal Water to individuals, there are many ways we can lessen our impact on the planet.

Action from our state leaders has been welcomed, with a $15 billion climate package in the recently passed California Comeback Plan that includes $5.2 billion for water and drought resilience and $3.7 billion for climate resilience. Governor Gavin Newsom has also declared a statewide drought emergency and called on Californians to voluntarily reduce their water consumption. We strongly support this call, as collaborative action is essential to protect this valuable resource. With about 2 million customers in nearly every corner of the state, we take seriously our role in facing the climate crisis and ongoing drought.

In the last 10 years, Cal Water has invested more than $65 million in conservation programs, making it easier than ever to save water at home and work. These programs not only help us mitigate drought conditions, but also save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well. Our efforts prove that every drop counts—programs we have implemented since 2011 will result in lifetime cumulative savings of more than 20 billion gallons.  And, between 2000 and 2020, our customers reduced their water use by 30%.

While conservation is critical, we’re looking beyond to minimize the impact we have on climate change and climate change’s impact on our customers.

In 2021, we completed our Climate Change Water Resources Monitoring and Adaptation Plan, which builds upon the climate change planning work we completed in 2016.  This new Plan includes identifying and prioritizing climate-related risks to our facilities, operations, and water supply portfolio; understanding climate-related impacts to our demand forecasts; and developing mitigation and adaptation strategies.

As drought conditions persist and we continue to feel the impact of climate change in every facet of our lives, it’s crucial that we work together to reduce our collective impact. The health of our communities depends on the health of the planet. The time to act is now.