As California droughts intensify, ecosystems and rural communities will bear the brunt, warns a new study, but a growing number of communities are moving beyond the drought of the past by building resilient systems that can withstand long-term droughts.
“At its core, resilience is learning how to manage the natural system that we have,” said Jennifer O’Toole from the University of California, Berkeley, who led the new study, published in Climatic Change. “But it’s also understanding the system we’re creating and how it interacts with the natural system.”
As a drought threatens nearly half of Californians, O’Toole found, natural systems that can survive drought are already being built.
One example is the San Francisco Bay Area, which was hit with record-breaking wildfires, but with resilient ecosystems like the Coast Ranges still standing, the region is on its way back.
Others, like the Central Valley of California, are already seeing benefits from their existing systems.
”We’re starting to see these systems evolve,” O’Toole said.
This isn’t a new theme.
Just a few decades ago, the idea of “natural systems” – that ecosystems were a closed system managed by humans – was new and radical.
But as humanity continues to encroach on the natural world, O’Toole said, we’re starting to understand ecosystems.
In the next decade or so, she said, humanity is going to learn the most important lessons it can about the environment. Those lessons could include the role that human development plays in climate change, the need to protect water systems, and the need to build resilient ecosystems that can withstand changing climate, particularly severe droughts.
O’Toole is now working on a book with Harvard professor and colleague James Renwick on building resilient ecosystems in California.
So where are these ecosystems?
California’s Central Valley,