California water managers vary in use of climate science

August 14, 2018, UC Davis
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Historically, water managers throughout the thirsty state of California have relied on hydrology and water engineering—both technical necessities—as well as existing drought and flood patterns to plan for future water needs.

Now, is projected to shift as winters become warmer, spring snowmelt arrives earlier, and extreme weather-related events increase. Some water utilities have started to consider these risks in their management, but many do not. Lack of change adaptation among water utilities can put water supplies and the people dependent on them at risk, especially in marginalized communities, a new University of California, Davis, paper suggests.

The paper, which analyzes various approaches to climate science by drinking water utility managers in California, was presented along with new research at the American Sociology Association Conference in Philadelphia on Aug. 11. The paper, "Climate Information? Embedding Climate Futures within Social Temporalities of California Water Management," was published this spring in the journal Environmental Sociology.

Timely study

"Recent events and political conversation around water management and climate change in California makes this study especially timely," said Zeke Baker, a UC Davis doctoral candidate and lead author of the study.To conduct the study, Baker worked with co-authors and additional researchers in 2016 to interview 60 water managers. These managers were selected as a sample of the more than 3,000 in California.

Some look closely at climate change, others disregard

"We found significant variation in how water managers engage with climate information," Baker said. "A finding we didn't expect is that perspectives and experiences of water utility managers clustered in cultural terms, regarding how they understand the future." The authors label these "social temporalities" in order to bring attention to alternative ways that water managers view climate change and the future generally. Based on the interviews, the researchers found three types of manager's temporalities, or philosophies.

One type were those who "modeled futures," or looked closely at climate change to anticipate and plan for needs. Those were generally large metropolitan utilities with multiple resources and access to expertise, researchers noted. For them, envisioning uncertain futures 30 years out is a matter of course.

Explore further: How California Water Supply Could Survive Warming, Growth

More information: Zeke Baker et al. Climate information? Embedding climate futures within temporalities of California water management, Environmental Sociology (2018). DOI: 10.1080/23251042.2018.1455123

Related Stories

How California Water Supply Could Survive Warming, Growth

June 15, 2006

In a new report, the UC Davis authors of the most sophisticated analysis of California's water management system say the system should be able to adapt to a warmer climate and a larger population, albeit at a significant ...

New model to assess urban water security

December 2, 2010

University of Adelaide water engineering researchers have developed a model to estimate potential urban water supply shortfalls under a range of climate change scenarios.

How will climate change impact water resources?

June 7, 2017

Access to adequate fresh water supplies is a critically important societal challenge posed by climate change. With rising heat and shifting rainfall patterns, and reduced water storage resilience, fresh water supplies are ...

Recommended for you

Japan to make crater on asteroid to get underground samples

March 18, 2019

Japan's space agency said Monday that its Hayabusa2 spacecraft will follow up last month's touchdown on a distant asteroid with another risky mission—dropping an explosive on the asteroid to make a crater and then collect ...

Bright X-ray galactic nuclei

March 18, 2019

All massive galaxies are believed to host supermassive black holes (SMBH) at their centers that grow by accreting mass from their environment. The current picture also imagines that the black holes grow in size as their host ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 14, 2018
California's water management problems have nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with allowing politics and environmentalism to override sensible policies.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.