Collaborating for Success
The handbook is a significant achievement because it is one of the country’s first efforts to integrate climate change and regional water planning, according to Thomas Quasebarth, CDM Smith vice president and project manager. Both funding and developing the handbook were the result of successful collaboration.
“This is a unique partnership of nongovernmental, state and federal agencies coming together and providing an innovative, analytical framework for regional planners to consider climate change impacts,” says Quasebarth. “Though some of the details of the handbook are specific to California’s integrated regional water management planning process, the overall process is consistent with what other areas call watershed management, making it very applicable to other states and regions.”
To ensure the handbook’s content would have practical application, the project team consulted with a range of stakeholders, involving the leadership agencies of regional watershed groups throughout California. Workshops were held to engage participants in writing the handbook, and there were several opportunities for stakeholders to review and provide feedback.
The Climate Change Handbook for Regional Water Planning opens with a discussion on broad issues in water and climate change, and addresses regional vulnerability to climate change. In addition, the handbook provides resources to help users evaluate their vulnerability, including a vulnerability assessment checklist.
“This is a valuable starting point that gives water managers a way to examine risks,” explains Dan Rodrigo, CDM Smith practice leader, who led the process development and provided technical oversight. “For instance, if you’re near the coast, what are the potential impacts of sea level rise? What about inland flooding risks? Could climate change reduce your water supplies, or increase your water demand? Once you know your vulnerability, you can focus your resources where they will have the greatest effect.”
Additional discussion is given to measuring climate change impacts by region, managing resources and implementing projects. Case studies are incorporated throughout the document, giving a user-friendly approach to illustrating relevant work that has been done, various projects that have been implemented and lessons learned.
Planning for Uncertainty
The handbook introduces strategies for implementing projects under uncertain conditions and two guiding approaches for the future of watershed management: climate change mitigation—how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—and climate change adaptation—how to reduce the impacts of climate change.
This is where the handbook will play a critical role, notes Quasebarth. “Here, we are suggesting new methods— tools, modeling, technology—that will really help regional planning entities understand and plan for the uncertainty surrounding water issues that is likely to exist going forward.”
In the past, adds Rodrigo, much of the available guidance discussed mitigation strategies to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. “While reducing emissions in the long term is important, it is very likely that impacts to our water resources will occur within the next 10 to 30 years and therefore, we also need adaptation strategies in place to reduce the effects of climate change.” Reuse of treated wastewater, water conservation, low-impact development, rainwater harvesting and seawater desalination are all examples of adaptation strategies that will reduce the impacts of climate change.