On Wednesday, September 20, 2017, along with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, we will be hosting a Forum on Drought Resilience for Small Systems in Sacramento, CA. The Forum will be the finale of a two-year research study to understand small system drought impacts and responses, as well as barriers to long-term drought and climate resilience. In addition to hearing preliminary findings from the research team, attendees at the Forum will discuss and develop policy recommendations that can address barriers to long-term drought and climate change resilience that were identified by small systems through interviews and regional workshops (Clear Lake, Modesto, and Salinas) conducted over the past two years.
Small water systems are defined in our study as those have fewer than 3,000 connections, i.e. those that are not required to file an Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP). A large proportion of small systems serve low-income communities in rural areas. These communities are burdened with high unemployment, crime, and pollution, and their water systems typically have lower technical, managerial, and financial capacity for operations. Of the approximately 13 million people living within disadvantaged communities (DAC), nearly 2 million get their drinking water from a small system. These low income communities are disproportionately exposed to contaminated drinking water, usually from small systems that struggle to comply with regulations.
Small, rural water systems and their frequently disadvantaged residents remain vulnerable to quality and supply concerns (see Water Deeply’s Toxic Taps series for a look at these concerns in the Central Valley). They usually only have one or two different water sources and have few permanent or emergency interties with neighboring systems; this limits their supply flexibility, which is critical during multiple dry years. Small systems account for 71% of systems that faced drought-related supply or quality emergencies and sought financial assistance from the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board).
DWR’s Draft Executive Order Framework gives counties two years to figure out how to ensure drought resilience for households and areas under their jurisdiction that are otherwise not covered by an existing drought contingency plan. Hopefully, this will ensure that during the next severe drought, we won’t see 2800+ households running out of water; they will have long-term solutions in place. The East Porterville project underway in Tulare County shows what’s possible when state financing and local political will align.
A team of UC Davis researchers interviewed a subset of California’s small “self sufficient” water system operators, managers, and board members during Summer 2016 about drought impacts, responses, and barriers to and options for adaptation. Self-sufficient systems do not purchase or import water from the Central Valley Project nor the State Water Project. In Summer 2017, the team organized three regional drought resilience workshops to complement the interview-based findings: Clear Lake, Modesto and Salinas. These workshops served to underscore the ongoing challenges facing smaller systems, the added water supply and quality pressures during extreme dry years and multi-year droughts, and the important role of the state in supporting local drought resilience.
The final phase of the research project will be day-long Forum on Drought Resilience for Small Systems in Sacramento next month. The forum is jointly hosted by the UC Davis Policy Institute and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. It will provide a venue for small system managers, state agency staff, technical assistance providers, and other interested stakeholders to discuss how best to overcome barriers to drought resilience for small systems. For more information on the Drought Forum, contact Meghan Klasic (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Amanda Fencl is a PhD Candidate in Geography at UC Davis. Her dissertation is on California’s complex drinking water system and its adaptation to drought and climate change. Meghan Klasic is a 3rd year PhD student in the UC Davis Geography Graduate Group studying transboundary water quality management and climate change adaptation. Many thanks to Dr. Julia Ekstrom and Dr. Mark Lubell for their review and edits. This research was made possible by funding from an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, California’s 4th Climate Impact Assessment, and EPA STAR.
California’s Central Coast depends on both groundwater and surface water to support its main economic staples: tourism and agriculture. This region faces ongoing water quality challenges including algal blooms, turbidity events, and saltwater intrusion. Our research team held a regional workshop at the Salinas City Hall on July 27th with the support of Gary Petersen from the City of Salinas Public Works. Jan Sweigert of the North Coastal Branch of the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water and Heather Lukacs from the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water helped our team pull together a group of 25 local stakeholders to discuss drought impacts, challenges, and needs for long-term resilience. Workshop attendees represented drinking water utility managers, city, state, regional, county, and local governments, military, nonprofit organizations, research institutions, and agricultural interests. A huge thank you to Gary, Heather, Jan, and all of the workshop participants for attending and sharing their experiences with the most recent California drought.
Stay tuned for information on our upcoming Forum on Drought Resilience for Small Systems in Sacramento, California. This forum is jointly hosted by the UC Davis Policy Institute and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water.
Drinking water utilities in California’s North San Joaquin Valley face continuing groundwater quality and overpumping challenges. On June 20th, our research team, along with 17 workshop attendees representing drinking water utility managers, state, municipality, local government, nonprofit organizations, and a religious institution, gathered in the Modesto City Hall to reflect on and discuss drought impacts, challenges, and needs for long-term resilience. The workshop would not have been possible without the assistance of Jim Alves, Associate Civil Engineer for the City of Modesto. A huge thank you to Jim and all of the workshop attendees for taking time out of their busy schedules to discuss and provide invaluable information on their experiences with the most recent California drought.
Our next Regional Drought Resilience Workshop will be held in Salinas on July 27th.
Algal bloom episodes and wildfires create major ongoing challenges for the drinking water utilities around Clear Lake. With the help of State Water Board engineer Amy Little and the City of Lakeport Department of Public Works, Paul Harris, our UC Davis research team gathered a group of water utility managers, regional state water agencies, tribal community representative, and community members at the City Hall in Lakeport this morning. We gathered to reflect on the drought impacts, the challenges water systems face, and their needs to move forward in becoming more resilient to future droughts.
A huge thank you to the 20+ people who took over half their day to participate in the workshop discussions. People came from all areas around the Lake, including Cobb Mountain and the Mountain of Attention retreat center close to the Valley Fire in 2016. Stayed tuned for our results and next workshops!