Posts Tagged: UC Berkeley
Study: Climate impacts widespread across California, fueling worries over water supply
As water system managers across California devise strategies to help secure their water supply, they often face a major obstacle to implementing those measures: a lack of interest or will to act among community members.
“One of the things that the literature has found is that even if water system managers and local decisionmakers are really worried about climate change and water security, a lot of the adaptation strategies that they have in their toolbox actually require support from residents,” said Kristin Dobbin, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist focused on water justice planning and policy.
Because popular support is essential for realizing many water-related adaptations – from changing the rate structure to approving bonds for new infrastructure – Dobbin and her colleagues recently published a paper looking deeper at residents' experiences of, and concern about, climate impacts to household water supply.
Through a drinking water-focused portion of a long-term panel survey administered by California State University, Sacramento, scholars in the Household Water Insecurity Experiences research network had the opportunity to query Californians on how they are experiencing the climate crisis at their taps. Specifically, the researchers sought to analyze respondents' perceptions of future climate risks to water security.
“As a group that studies drinking water access in California, we're often looking at the system level and community level,” said Dobbin, based at the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. “So it was exciting to dive into the household level and understand what's happening at a more individual level.”
Climate impacts seen ‘up and down the state'
The statewide survey, conducted in spring 2021, elicited 704 responses from the panelists, representing every census region in the state and nearly every county. More than one-third (34%) of respondents said that their water supply had been affected by an extreme weather event in the past five years. Given the timing of the survey, drought was unsurprisingly the most frequently mentioned impact. Importantly, these climate impacts were felt across California.
“There is an inclination to assume that drought and other impacts are a geographically bounded issue, but what we really see is that is not the case,” Dobbin said. “These impacts are happening up and down the state, all the way to the Oregon border.”
Overall, 85% of respondents reported that they were concerned about the long-term reliability of their water supply. Crucially, the study also indicated that residents were making the connection between climate impacts and risks to their future water security.
“The more impacts they reported, the more concerned they were about future supply and reliability,” said study co-author Amanda Fencl, a senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Droughts and heat waves, in particular, seem to increase residents' concerns over water supply the most. Dobbin suggests that framing the need for water-security adaptation strategies around those specific weather events could be particularly useful in marshaling community support.
Knowing the level of concern within the community – and understanding the best way to convey the urgency of climate adaptation measures – could be a boon for local managers seeking to gain public backing for more expensive water projects. Such projects might include self-sufficiency measures that reduce reliance on imported water from other parts of the state.
“That could bolster some water managers to have more confidence in using climate change and extreme events as a way to motivate ratepayers to get on board with these bigger investment decisions,” Fencl said.
Study highlights avenues for more research
While flooding barely registered as a climate impact in the 2021 survey results, Dobbin said that the responses would likely be very different today, after atmospheric rivers inundated the state this past winter. Floodwaters can damage water treatment plants – and storms can knock out power to private wells and larger water system treatment and distribution facilities.
In fact, from the 2021 survey, power outages due to utilities' wildfire prevention policies were the climate impact most frequently mentioned in the “other” category, highlighting for researchers the need to consider and plan for the interconnectedness of water and power systems.
“People forget about the interplay between a reliable electric grid and the ability to run water in your house and the ability for water systems to pump and treat water,” Fencl explained. “When we think about disaster response and disaster preparedness, we need to be a bit more holistic.”
The researchers also pointed to significant differences in experiences of climate impacts across gender and racial demographics, with Latino, Asian American Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ respondents reporting higher rates of impacts. Given the relatively small sample sizes, however, Fencl said there needs to be larger – and more inclusive – surveys to get a clearer picture of those disproportionate impacts.
Even still, Dobbin added that their study serves as a reminder for scholars, water managers and policymakers to re-center community members, in all their diversity, as key players in the push for more effective and sustainable climate adaptation strategies.
“One of the takeaways from the paper is that we can't forget about the role of the public in this conversation – and we can't bypass the public,” Dobbin said. “The bottom line is that most of the adaptations that we have available to us require some level of residential involvement.”
In addition to Dobbin and Fencl, authors of the study, published in the journal Climatic Change, include Gregory Pierce, UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Melissa Beresford, San Jose State University; Silvia Gonzalez, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute; and Wendy Jepson, Texas A&M University./h3>/h3>/h3>
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Reducing leaks a cost-effective way to save urban water without draining utilities
Before a drop of treated water in California ever reaches a consumer's faucet, about 8% of it has already been wasted due to leaks in the delivery system. Nationally, the waste is even higher, at 17%. This represents an untapped opportunity for water savings, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first large-scale assessment of utility-level water loss in the United States. It found that leak reduction by utilities can be the most cost-effective tool in an urban water manager's toolkit, provided utility-specific approaches are used.
“When I first heard about ‘leaks' I thought it sounded boring, but leaks are a huge component of our water systems and have a larger opportunity than many other water-saving methods to make an impact,” said lead author Amanda Rupiper, a postdoctoral scholar with the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency. “As the first state to regulate its water losses, a lot of eyes are watching California, and this is an opportunity to impact policy here and elsewhere.”
Amid a multiyear drought, the passage of Senate Bill 555 in 2015 made California the first in the nation and among the first in the world to require water utilities to regulate their water losses.
Using data from more than 800 utilities across California, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, the authors characterized water losses across the country. They developed a model to assess the economically efficient level of losses, and used that model to compare various water loss regulations and modeling approaches.
The study found that one-size-fits-all approaches to leak management are not effective, economical or equitable for utilities, which vary in size and resources. Uniform approaches could lead to the mismanagement of urban water losses. However, applying utility-specific performance standards can deliver a similar amount of water savings at a profit for both utilities and society.
“Regulations that impose a uniform standard across all utilities will result in water reductions that are too stringent in some cases, too relaxed in others, and too costly overall,” the paper concludes.
Saving drips without draining utilities
Ideally, no leaks would occur in a system. However, while some leaks are obvious and accessible, others can be harder and more cost-prohibitive for some utilities to find and repair. The authors' model assessed when utilities could save the most water for their dollar to find and fix leaks in the system.
They found that for the median utility, it is economically efficient to reduce water losses by 34.7%, or 100 acre-feet per year. The median cost of water savings from leak management is $277 per acre-foot — cheaper than most traditional water management tools, including conservation campaigns and rebate programs.
“It's cost-competitive to do this and should be part of the profile of how we manage our water,” Rupiper said. “We tend to think of leaks as being a little drip, but leaks are not inconsequential. Drips add up to big flows, and we can't ignore them anymore.”
The study's co-authors include Frank Loge, Joakim Weill and Katrina Jessoe of UC Davis, and Ellen Bruno of UC Berkeley./h3>/h3>/h2>
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