Climate report issues bleak warning for Valley communities

Without action to address increasing temperature, water insecurity, poor air quality, San Joaquin Valley towns like Ivanhoe remain the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change

In early January, the State of California released its San Joaquin Valley Region Report as part of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment.

Beginning in 2006, the state began its Climate Change Assessment initiative to better understand the impacts of climate change. Nearly 14 years later, the focus of the report has shifted from understanding the impacts of climate change to regional “adaptation” strategies – a term used to describe the range of actions that can be taken to prepare for and adjust to new climate conditions, thereby reducing harm or taking advantage of new opportunities. 

The San Joaquin Valley report is part of a series of 12 assessments to support climate action by providing an overview of climate-related risks and strategies tailored to specific regions and themes.

The stated intent of this document is to “directly inform State policies, plans, programs, and guidance to promote effective and integrated action to safeguard California from Climate Change.”

Research informaning the document was sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the California Energy Commission, and the California Natural Resource Agency and contains research from many local academics San Joaquin Valley colleges contributed to its authorship. 

Anticipated Climate Impacts 

In order to develop recommendations for strategies, the report establishes several projects of the various impacts of a changing climate. Many projected impacts relate to the scarcity of water and extreme heat in the region.

The report concludes that multi-year climate extremes like drought and high temperatures have become more frequent. In the drought that lasted from 2012 to 2016 Tulare County was one of the regions most severely impacted by lack of water and increased heat-related illness. 

Frequency of extreme heat days are also expected to increase. The average for every county in the San Joaquin Valley will include an increase from 4 to 5 extreme heat days to an estimated 24 to 68 extreme heat days by the year 2100. 

Water quality will also be threatened by drought and pressure from agricultural and urban development. Water usage for agriculture and urban areas competes with water usage for habitat and wildlife leading the report to claim continued imbalance “May lead to ecological collapse because of the extnese habitat loss for naitve species and the establishment of invasive species “ 

Urban areas will face unique climate challenges. Expanding impervious surfaces in cities will increase heat retention, leading to higher temperatures. When the built environment overlaps with rural and wild environments the likelihood of human-animal disease transmission also increases. 

Impact for Ivanhoe 

As reported in previous issues of the Ivanhoe Sol, our team has begun to document some of the ways climate change is expected to affect Ivanhoe.

Last year we confirmed a trend of increasing electric bills due to air conditioning during the warmer parts of the year. Many residents reported double or triple their normal bill rates totaling over $400 per month. Warmer months also coincided with increased wildfires leading to poor indoor air quality as community members operated their air conditioning. The poor air quality indoors and outdoors additionally limited the ability of residents to practice social distancing to limit the spread of COVID. 

As increased temperatures continue to lead to drought and increased demand for water, the groundwater aquifer in tulare county will continue to decline. This means that as water levels decline there could be a point where Ivanhoe’s community water infrastructure can no longer reach the water supply the community needs. 

In order to reduce the negative impact on groundwater levels, the East Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency issued an order for farmers in its jurisdiction to immediately reduce their groundwater pumping.  This order impacts groundwater users in the Woodlake, Exeter, Strathmore, and Linsday area but has direct impacts on Ivanhoe’s water supplies. 

To some degree it can also be anticipated that increasing temperatures will lead to increased hospitalizations from heat-related illness. With the reduced hospital capacity from the increase of COVID-related hospitalizations, this places a long-term strain on the ability to treat vulnerable communities most likely to be affected by extreme heat. This includes farmworkers, children, and the elderly. 

Temperatures are also expected to be warmer earlier on in the year which will extend the timespan that pests and invasive insects can thrive in the region. This can potentially increase the likelihood of transmission of West Nile Virus through mosquitos or the increase of pesticide use to protect agricultural land from pests. Increased use of pesticides can have negative impacts on water quality and also direct exposure to Ivanhoe residents. 

Adapting to Change

The local impacts of global climate trends will vary according to many factors like geography, population characteristics, and time of year. However three broad themes emerged as a framework to minimize the negative impacts of climate change on the San Joaquin Valley.

The first broad recommendation is Inclusion of communities in local decision-making. 

Community inclusion would result in identification of local needs, provide increased education, promote local hiring, and to address environmental issues in ways that do not cause unintended consequences.  

Specifically, the report also recommends the establishment of buffer zones – physical separation areas – that create barriers to certain forms of pollution. Buffers can be used for new economic activities with positive environmental and social externalities, including renewable energy, management of aquifer recharge, green corridors to preserve habitat, and nonpolluting industries. 

The Establishment of buffer zones is also a policy that was adopted by Tulare County Supervisors in the 2019 Ivanhoe Community Plan. It is yet to be enforced. 

The second broad theme includes using physical infrastructure and nature to increase effective water usage. 

This would include increasing aquifer recharge projects that can capture water as rain patterns change. Additionally this could mean increasing use of agricultural crops that are not highly water intensive. For riparian regions, this could mean restoring wetlands to protect communities from flooding. 

The third broad recommendation is to establish more balance with the needs of the ecosystem.

For example, this means managing farmland with less pesticide application and other farming methods that support increased soil health, which pulls carbon pollution from the atmosphere. For regions in the valley where oil drilling occurs this could mean transitioning to energy sources that provide good jobs and do not cause pollution in their operation. Restoring strategic natural areas can also provide habitat for threatened or endangered species.

While many solutions are proposed, ultimately local decision makers and community members must work together to ensure the San Joaquin Valley can support our public health and environmental needs. 

In the upcoming months, the Ivanhoe Sol will launch an initiative to expand research and coverage pertaining to specific impacts and efforts to address climate change in Tulare County. For story suggestions please email us at “[email protected]”. 

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