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Small, self-sufficient water systems continue to battle a hidden drought

By Amanda Fencl - Posted on 07 August 2017

[cross posted from the CA Water Blog

By Amanda Fencl, Meghan Klasic

California’s drought appears over, at least above ground. As of April 2017, reservoirs were around 2 million acre feet above normal with record breaking snowpack . This is great news for the 75% of Californians that get their drinking water from large, urban surface water suppliers. Groundwater, however, takes longer to recharge and replenish. What does this mean for the more than 2,000 small community water systems and hundreds of thousands of private well-reliant households that rely on groundwater?

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.

These same small systems were hit hard by the drought, and in many cases are the least prepared. The state knew this headed into the drought: “California also has small, rural water companies or districts with virtually no capacity to respond to drought or other emergencies [… a portion of the small systems]  in the state face running dry in the second or third year of a drought” (p.56, emphasis added). In contrast, urban drinking water suppliers (larger systems) are required to have a water shortage contingency plans (Shortage Plan) since the passage of the Urban Water Management Act in 1983. Aside from lower reservoir levels and toxic algal blooms, the majority of large surface water suppliers weathered the recent drought (2012-2016) without supply disruptions or other negative impacts to their customers. A 2015 survey distributed by the UC Davis Policy Institute shows that more large systems (89%) have written drought contingency plans (Plan) than small systems (63%) (manuscript in prep). When asked whether their Plan was sufficient to mitigate the drought’s impacts on water supply, 22% of large and 28% of small system respondents said it was not sufficient or only somewhat sufficient, which begs the question of how can these be improved before the next drought? 

Cooperation and Crisis in California Water Governance

By Mark Lubell - Posted on 21 October 2015

I recently attended a Princeton conference on global governance, complex adaptive systems, and evolutionary theory.  The conference was hosted by ecologist Simon Levin and political scientist Bob Keohane, and featured some of the world’s top scholars in these areas of research. Simon Levin, who has written extensively about complex adaptive systems and a gazillion other things, offered the analogy of the immune system as a way to think how water governance responds to risk and crises.  Immune systems help maintain the function of biological organisms by responding quickly to invasions from external pathogens, or regulating rogue cells that might otherwise cause cancers.

"We have structure-to-structure ignition": When Climate Change Hits Home

By Mark Lubell - Posted on 26 June 2012

Updating now at 10:26pm Pacific Time. There is only so much you can take before you need a break.

This is climate change.

It is 7:26pm Pacific Time on June 26, 2012. I'm watching a live video feed of the Waldo Canyon Fire barelling towards my parent's house in Colorado Springs, CO. It is quite possible that by the time I finish this blog post, their home could be on fire. They had to endure gridlock to make it to a friend's house. I grew up in this neighborhood, and already several landmarks are gone. This will be the largest natural disaster in Colorado history most likley...unless something worse happens before the fire season is over (it is only June).

So what can we learn about climate change from a disaster like this?

Dispatch: Climate Adaptation in Southern California...oops...I mean Perth, Western Australia

By Mark Lubell - Posted on 24 February 2011

I'm currently staying in Fremantle (Freo), which is a little suburb of Perth in Western Australia. I'm here to work on designing a study of regional climate adaptation in the Swan-Canning watershed (here is a nice link to the Water Corporation's "Water Forever" program focused on the Perth region: http://www.thinking50.com.au/go/water-forever-home). I'm partnering with the CSIRO climate adaptation flagship (http://www.csiro.au/org/ClimateAdaptationFlagship.html), and Garry Robbins from University of Melbourne.

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