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State just starting to grapple with climate change

An aerial view of the freeway system feeding downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: trekandshoot, via Shutterstock)

California’s vulnerability to climate change — from deadly fires to sea level rise — has been well documented.

But the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal adviser says the state, with rare exceptions, has only just begun to assess the risk climate change poses to roads, dams, parks and schools.

“Consequently, much more work will need to be done before state agencies, their facilities, and the people they serve are adequately protected,” the Legislative Analyst reported.

Wildfires affect the transportation system through landslides that occur after rainfall on newly burned land.

“These state facilities include 50,000 lane miles of highways, 33 university campuses, 25 dams and 280 parks,” LAO said in its Jan. 9 report.

Research finds that climate change effects — including sea-level rise, increased risk of wildfires and more severe heat days — could powerfully impact California in the coming years.

California “owns and operates a wide range of physical assets and infrastructure, including the state highway system, university campuses, parks and historic structures, and prisons,” the LAO noted. “These assets are worth many billions of dollars. Just as importantly, state agencies use these facilities and structures to provide a myriad of services to tens of millions of Californians and to support the state’s robust economy.”

According to the LAO, the threat of wildfire affects the transportation system through landslides that occur after rainfall on newly burned land.

The LAO recommends state agencies do more work to adapt to climate change.

Caltrans has found that increasing temperatures could affect the type of pavement used in some areas, as well as the lifespan of already installed pavement. Road construction costs are expected to increase between 3% and 9% due to rising temperatures.

Levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the vast estuary east of San Francisco and the core of California’s water system, are at risk of no longer meeting federal standards by 2050-2080 because of sea-level rise.

California has an estimated 1,600 miles of levees in the Central Valley.

The LAO recommends state agencies do more work to adapt to climate change.

Conducting a vulnerability assessment is only the first step in a process outlined by the LAO. The goal is to put into effect policies that help state agencies adapt to climate change.

Some major state agencies — including the University of California, California State University and CalFire —  have not yet completed any system-wide studies of their vulnerability to climate change.

Meanwhile, according to the LAO, two departments have completed in-depth vulnerability assessments — Caltrans and the Department of Water Resources.

Ed’s Note: Andrea Esquetini is a Capitol Weekly intern from UC Davis.


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