California Report Plots Path for Climate-Safe Infrastructure

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Paying it Forward: The Path Toward Climate-Safe Infrastructure in California, released on Wednesday, offers comprehensive recommendations on how the state can move forward to ready its infrastructure for a changing climate. California is a leader in this area, understandably so given the droughts, wildfires, and mudslides the state endures.

The report is a direct result of AB 2800 Climate-Safe Infrastructure Bill, a law passed in 2016 requiring the Natural Resources Agency “to update the state’s climate adaptation strategy to identify vulnerabilities to climate change by sectors and priority actions needed to reduce the risks in those sectors.” The bill created the Climate-Safe Infrastructure Working Group (CSIWG), with the charge to offer recommendations to the legislature on how to better prepare infrastructure for greater climate extremes.

The report explores how California’s infrastructure is already in a compromised position because it requires more maintenance than available funding allows. In the chapter dedicated to exploring the current state of California’s infrastructure the authors conclude “California stands at a critical juncture: to either risk the very foundation of its economy and its communities’ safety and well-being or to make the necessary sustained investment in its infrastructure as if California’s future depended on it. It does.”

It then calls upon California’s lawmakers to “strengthen adaptation as a political priority,” and outlines steps to do so through 10 recommendations, along with steps to implement each of them.

Among the recommendations:

  • The State Legislature should provide a permanent source of funding for the State’s mandated Climate Change Assessment process, the State’s ongoing Climate Change Research Program as well as decision-support tools and other assistance that disseminate their findings, so as to meet needs for improved understanding and forward-looking science information.
  • The State budget should provide full funding to State infrastructure agencies so they can dedicate time and support to their engineers and architects to substantively and collaboratively interact with climate scientists and other relevant experts in the creation of useful advice, guidance and tools on a regular and ongoing basis, in a way and at a level appropriate to their needs.
  • The true costs over the full life-cycle of infrastructure projects should be assessed broadly, and the State should make efforts to help policymakers and the public better understand the necessity of bearing these costs.

The title of “Paying it Forward” is the overarching call to action of the recommendations. CSIWG concludes that by making investments into more resilient infrastructure today, California’s future safety and prosperity will be ensured.

This report is an example of the vision and leadership ASCE encourages in Public Policy Statement 360 –Impact of Climate Change, which recommends “government policies that encourage anticipation of and preparation for impacts of climate change on the built environment” because civil engineers are the stewards of infrastructure that will be “exposed to and often are vulnerable to the effects of extreme climate and weather events.”

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