UC Santa Cruz workshop on climate change and water resources brings together scientists and water agencies

Representatives of state and regional water agencies joined climate researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, last week to discuss "Climate Change and Water Resources Planning." The meeting was the first of a series of workshops being organized by UCSC's STEPS Institute for Innovation in Environmental Research. The workshops will address a variety of issues where there is a need to integrate science, technology, engineering, policy, and society (the "STEPS" approach).

The main purpose of last week's meeting was to establish a dialogue between scientists who study regional climate change and the agencies that manage California's water resources, said Brent Haddad, associate professor of environmental studies and associate director of the STEPS Institute.

"The time has come to have this discussion, and UC Santa Cruz is uniquely qualified to lead it," Haddad said. "We have the leading scientists in a number of areas related to regional climate change impacts, as well as a campuswide research commitment in this area."

Almost all of the major state and regional water agencies in California were represented at the meeting, including the State Department of Water Resources, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the Imperial Irrigation District. Representatives of federal agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey also attended.

"The purpose of this meeting is to take the results of climate change research from the university and make it available to water resource managers in a way that they can use," Haddad said. "That requires a dialogue, because we need to understand how their decisions are made, and they need to get a feel for what's happening in climate science."

Research by Lisa Sloan, associate professor of Earth sciences, indicates that global warming will lead to significant changes in rainfall and snowfall patterns in California over the next 50 to 100 years. Sloan recently received a major grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a computational laboratory--the Climate Change and Impacts Laboratory--for multidisciplinary research on regional climate change. She and her colleagues presented their latest findings at the meeting.

Other UCSC researchers who gave presentations include Michael Loik, a researcher in environmental studies who heads PrecipNet, an international network of researchers focusing on the impacts of climate change on precipitation; Weixin Cheng, associate professor of environmental studies, who studies the effects of rising carbon dioxide concentrations on plants, soils, and ecosystems; and Bruno Sanso, a visiting associate professor in applied mathematics and statistics, who studies statistical modeling of precipitation and climate change. The workshop also included presentations from various state agencies.

The STEPS Institute was established earlier this year with a $500,000 gift from UCSC alumnus Gordon Ringold. The institute is working to link environmental research efforts campuswide, bringing together expertise from a wide range of departments in the natural sciences, social sciences, and engineering. Core technical facilities on the campus, such as Sloan's climate change lab, provide a good base for making those links between faculty in different departments and divisions, said STEPS director John Thompson, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

In addition, the institute is working to open up communications between scientists and policy makers through forums such as last week's climate change workshop, Thompson said.

"This workshop and the others we are planning are attempts to bring people together in a way that has been talked about a lot but doesn't actually happen very often," he said. "I'm very pleased at how fast this has come together."


Note to reporters: You may contact Haddad at (831) 459-4149 or bhaddad@ucsc.edu.