In July 2019, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board held one of many agency listening sessions on the Water Resilience Portfolio. I told the Flood Board, “For climate adaptation, the first priority for the state must be increasing resiliency of the existing built environment, and protecting vulnerable populations from catastrophic effects of climate change.” I described some of the investments the state needed to make in rehabilitating and upgrading the state’s aging dams and levees, and concluded, “Whether people are displaced in 2050, or whether they even survive, will depend on the investments we make now.”
In August 2019 I worked with a network of environmental groups to put the recommendation into a one page manifesto titled, “Principles for State Investment in Climate Adaptation,” which we submitted to the Secretary of Natural Resources. Later we found that the Office of Planning and Research’s Technical Advisory Council on Climate Adaptation had made similar recommendations in 2017. They urged the state to
Prioritize actions that promote equity, foster community resilience, and protect the most vulnerable. Explicitly include communities that are disproportionately vulnerable to climate impacts.
But no one foresaw that one year later wildfires would burn 4 million acres in California, with hundreds of thousands displaced, and some who did not survive. Climate change is accelerating, and impacts that we thought we would see in mid-century are happening now.
It is clear from the Governor Newsom’s proposed 2021-22 budget that he grasps the urgency of the situation. The 2021-22 budget proposes billions in investments for climate mitigation and adaptation. Newsom proposes $1 billion to support the Forest Management Task Force’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan, with investments in community hardening, wildfire fuel breaks, and resilient forests and landscapes.
There is also $183 million for flood management, including funding for the Delta Levees System Integrity Program, the American River Common Features Project, collaborative flood risk management, and emergency response in the Delta.
Funding for agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley prioritizes pro-adaptive approaches, such as “grants to support economic mitigation planning and groundwater implementation projects across critically over-drafted basins” and grants for the “incentives that help farmers reduce irrigation water use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture pumping.”
Largely absent from the Governor’s budget are subsidies for unsustainable patterns of water use, which many powerful interests in the state have been seeking.
As California begins to make major investments in climate adaptation, this is a good start.