Heat, Wildfire, and
Drought—No Time
to Lose

We’re in peak wildfire season again in California, in the midst of a “megadrought” and, even though it’s only early summer, the state (and the West) is experiencing serial, record-breaking heatwaves.

At the same time, a modest winter snowpack in the Sierra Nevada (which in normal years supplies a significant proportion of the state’s water) has already largely melted away and major reservoirs are at levels similar to those seen at the depths of the last drought only a few years ago. There is no imaginable scenario at this point in which California’s water supply will not be stretched beyond its limits.

Addressing the Challenges of Climate Change

All of this is driven, in the most fundamental ways, by climate change. We will be dealing with these issues for a long time to come, even if some years seem to appear within the range of historically normal.

Our leaders are aware of the challenges we face. California lawmakers, for example, are allocating funds from a record budget surplus to address wildfire preparedness and resilience, as we slip into what may be an even worse wildfire season than in 2020, when four million acres burned, more than 10,000 homes and other structures were destroyed, and at least 33 people died. But the unprecedented heatwaves and renewed drought point up other profound impacts of climate change that demand solutions.

Communities need refuges from heat and smoke for residents who lack access to places cool enough to comfortably survive 100-plus degree temperatures that can persist for days. Community resilience hubs would help, as would more parks, trees, and greenspaces where people could escape urban “heat islands.”

As with heat and fire, we need solutions for our stretched water supply. Foremost among them should be increased conservation, and use of recycled water to take some of the pressure off of natural supplies. Recycled water is a cost-effective solution, good for the environment, with lower costs and less negative environmental impact than other water solutions like desalination.

*Purple pipes carry reclaimed wastewater that undergoes filtration and disinfection treatment before being reused.

Actions Taken Now Can Only Be Seen as a Start

Whatever good decisions our elected leaders make this year regarding fire and water, they must be viewed only as the beginning of long-term, ongoing change, of building climate adaptation and resilience into our practices and policies for the long haul, not just when there is a budget windfall. Community climate resilience can only be achieved with sustained, multi-year investments in landscape management, community infrastructure, and public health and safety across all the regions of California, tailored to the biggest threats face by each community.

The challenges created by climate change will only grow, for a long time, before they diminish. It is imperative that California’s leaders continue and expand their efforts to help our communities become resilient in response to heat, wildfire, drought—and other climate impacts—and so move toward a safer and more sustainable way of life.

Take Action: Send a letter to California’s leaders

Dear California Leaders,

The increased frequency and intensity of heat, wildfire, and drought driven by climate change are devastating our state, threatening the safety and livelihoods of residents. As we move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no time to waste in addressing these ongoing critical challenges and helping our communities stay safe through sustainable solutions.

In response to heat, wildfire, and drought, it is imperative that California leaders continue to expand their efforts to help our communities achieve climate resilience by building climate adaptation and resilience into our long-term solutions. This can only be accomplished through sustained, multi-year efforts in landscape management, community infrastructure, and public health and safety across all California regions, tackling the biggest threats faced by each community.

And actions taken in the short term to address the growing challenges created by climate change must be viewed as only the beginning of a long-term, ongoing transformation. That said, the unprecedented heatwaves, deadly wildfires and renewed drought stretching California’s water supply beyond its limits are realities of climate change today and demand solutions now.

People’s lives are at risk.