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Water Quality and Extreme Events in the Face of Climate Change: Does science supply meet demand?

IWRA World Water Congress 2017 - Cancun Mexico
3. Water security in a changing world
Author(s): Meghan Klasic
Julia Ekstrom
Mark Lubell
Louise Bedsworth

Keyword(s): water quality, water resources management, extreme events, climate change, drinking water


As a first line of defense on public health and safety, water resource practitioners must consider water quality in long-term climate change planning. While water is a major factor in discussions around extreme events, focus tends to disproportionately be on the linkage with supply and availability rather than quality. Water quality threats from extreme events, such as drought and wildfire, are becoming more commonplace, globally affecting drinking, domestic use, food production, and ecosystem health. As an added layer of complication in California, there are currently no legal requirements for water utilities to plan for or implement strategies for adopting to climate change impacts on water quality. To begin understanding why water quality and extreme events are not prioritized by state policy, this paper examines whether there is a mismatch in the supply of science for meeting managerial science demands. Science supply is defined as the subset of published literature that addresses water quality and extreme events or water quality and climate change in California. Science demand in this paper is defined using water quality and extreme events data from a 2015 survey of California public drinking water systems with more than 200 service connections. The survey collected information on current water quality threats, the severity of these threats, and specific extreme events that trigger or worsen these threats. To evaluate the degree of fit of science supply with sience demand, survey and published literature results are compared using an alignment/misalignment typology based on the proportion of respondents and articles reporting linkages between different water quality threats and climate change. Results show some level of misfit in 23 of 48 surface water quality -- extreme events linkages. Surface water salinity was linked to drought by 77% survey respondents while only 12% of publications mentioning salinity also mentioned drought. Of eight possible extreme events that could be linked with each surface water quality threat, eutrophication produced the largest number of misfit combinations (5). Every groundwater quality threat examined shows some level of misfit between demand and supply for at least one extreme event. The linkage between agricultural contaminants and extreme storms is the largest misfit. Groundwater contamination from agriculture was linked to extreme storms by 24% of respondents, while 80% of articles mentioning agricultural contamination also mentioned extreme storms. The results of this study help identify how water quality and climate change science supply can better meet the science demand of drinking water practitioners by comparing on-the-ground exposure with available literature. This study contributes to the growing body of literature on fit/misfit between science supply and demand. Furthermore, the results of this study demonstrate a method to more accurately inform the integration of climate change science into water quality research and policy priorities through ground-truthing.

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