Scientists Share Coping Strategies for San Joaquin Valley Households at Risk of Extreme Climate Impacts

Published Oct 29, 2020

OAKLAND, Calif. (October 29, 2020)—The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has published an educational guide for people living in California’s San Joaquin Valley to better understand how climate change threatens their communities and what they can do to prepare for worsening living conditions.

Rural communities throughout the state will bear the burden of the state’s slow action on climate change, according to a recent UCS report, which pointed out that communities in the San Joaquin Valley have fewer water supply options, are located in areas more likely to flood and experience extreme heat, suffer the worst air and water quality in the state, and have less capacity to do their own climate risk planning.

“As temperatures rise, climate change compounds the already difficult circumstances of vulnerable communities, increasing inequities related to access to clean water, clean air and socioeconomic opportunities” said J. Pablo Ortiz-Partida, climate scientist at UCS and co-author of the guide.

The guide says that as of today, collective actions by cities, states and countries fall short of what is needed for already-vulnerable communities.

“Even with rapid reductions in heat-trapping emissions, rural California communities will still experience considerable climate impacts,” said Adrienne Alvord, Western States director at UCS. “Californians need community-level adaptation strategies to ensure their roads, power grid and water systems are able to withstand extreme heat and shifting precipitation patterns. Households also need individual-level strategies like the ones in this guide to cope with the impacts of failing infrastructure.”

The guide’s coping strategies for addressing extreme heat, water scarcity and worsening pollution include:

  • Worsening Water Quality: Learn how to read your provider’s water quality report and get involved in local water issues, especially those pertaining to groundwater sustainability.
  • Recurrent Drought: Advocate for the reduction of acreage of water intensive and less-essential crops grown for export to preserve community water supply for drinking, cooking and hygiene in future drought.
  • Increased Flooding Risk: Push local government leaders to improve and invest in community drainage, and in the short-term, make a plan for how your family will cope with future flooding. Decide how to travel on rainy days to avoid the most flood-prone areas.
  • Economic Challenges: Find out if the industry you work in is at risk of shrinking or collapsing because of climate change’s impacts on the economy. Look for careers that will flourish in the future in fields like carbon sequestration, energy efficiency, solar installation and aquifer recharge.

“One of the main lessons we have learned in our close work with communities of the Central Valley is that they are full of resilient members who fight every day for the well-being of their families and neighbors,” said Angel S. Fernández-Bou, researcher at the University of California, Merced and co-author. “They inspire us with their efforts to overcome historical, environmental and social injustice that emanates from the racism and discrimination of a century ago. Vulnerable communities do not need extra help—they need the same opportunities as the rest of Californians, opportunities which have been denied to them so far.”

The guide was written with input from dozens of community members in the San Joaquin Valley who are affected by poor water quality, water scarcity and pollution.

“Our leaders in Sacramento and Washington DC would be well served by listening directly to the people who are dealing with the compounding problems of dirty air, bad water, poor housing, insufficient transit options, lack of green space and underpaid jobs,” said Ortiz-Partida. “California’s most vulnerable communities are ill-equipped for the worsening conditions climate change is bringing while leaders fail to pay enough attention to the growing inequities.”