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San Diego Climate Scientists Strive To Better Impact Public Policy

This undated file photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows water making its way south through the Central Valley by way of the California Aqueduct.
California Department of Water Resources
This undated file photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows water making its way south through the Central Valley by way of the California Aqueduct.

San Diego Climate Scientists Strive To Better Impact Public Policy
San Diego Climate Scientists Strive To Better Impact Public Policy GUESTS: Marty Ralph, director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes Jennifer Burney, assistant professor, UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy

Researchers are expanding their understanding of the natural world all the time. Do those breakthroughs filter down to the way we handle our natural resources? The kinds of public policy we pursue. That is a connection of a panel discussion at UC San Diego. The subject is Water in the West. Scientist and executive from the county water Authority will talk about the sources of the states water supply and how best to regulate the use. Joining me is Marty Ralph, director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes . Welcome to the program. Thank you. Jennifer Burney , assistant professor, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy . Jennifer, welcome to the show. Thank you. We all know about the drop but are we still learning things about why California's rainfall varies so much from year-to-year? Yes, we are learning a lot as we go forward.. The storms that make most of the rain wears trying to understand the much better. You talk about atmospheric rivers. Are those the kind of storms we are talking about quick Yes, we came to learn that these type of storms are the ones that generate about half of the water supply for Northern California, which ends up benefiting Southern California. So we can trace them now and you can see them coming in the atmosphere? Yes, we can both understand them when they are happening so we can tell if an individual storm is going to be wanted these big rainmakers are not and we are starting to figure out how to see them in the forecast so that we can anticipate their rival. Should water districts be paying attention to the atmospheric rivers? That is really up to them but I would like to say that we did have a chance to share our work at the recent Association of California water agency meeting in Anaheim last weekend with over 1000 water managers across the state providing water to 90% of the states population they found it was quite interesting. So Jennifer, what is another example of something really important that climate scientists have learned that hasn't yet been acted on by policymakers? A big portion of our rainfall comes from these large events in these atmospheric river events. That's really important because on a year-to-year basis, California has a lot of variability in how much water we get. At the same time, for example, the agricultural sector in California has moved away from annual crops towards perennial crops and fixed orchards and things that require a constant supply of water. So when you have this large hydrological ability complied with the fixed set of assets on the ground, it opens a potential conflict over resources. I think that something that we are seeing play out right now with ground and surface water allocations, transfers, and you policy. What would you say are the stumbling blocks that prevent this kind of science from informing policy? That is an excellent question. I feel like in California we have a very a group of legislators who are very open to science. I think we are in a privileged position as scientist compared to other regions in the country. I do think policymakers are open to it. One thing is there's a gap between what we know scientifically and what should be done on the ground. I think the biggest place were we like an understanding is connecting the scientific reality to the rulemaking process on the policymaking process on the ground. Are the people making the decisions ask how do Daschle makes those decisions? Who are their stakeholders? Who are they responding to? I think understanding how all of these things work in a very detailed way is the main stumbling block. Marty's work is a great example of trying to bridge over into the actual mechanics of how things get done. You said that you spoke to a group of policymakers earlier this month. Do you feel that you can make recommendations to them about how California can better regulate the want to use? Yes, they are asking for such information in many cases and we are really working closely with Sonoma County water agency up in Northern California. They operate the water system from the Russian river and they provide water to 600 water to 600,000 people and support a very vibrant agricultural industry with grapes and wine being so popular. And they have two reservoirs that help them buffer the natural runoff and one has a chronic problem with reliability. And other words, the water levels are often quite low. We are working closely with them with the chief engineer for Sonoma County water agency and we formed this planning group and we are investigating options for bringing the atmospheric river information into reservoir operation decision as to enhance water supply reliability. Jennifer, you alluded to sometimes it does seem like science and public policy especially on the national level aren't two parallel tracks so how do you think that could be changed quite I think the work that Marty is talking about engaging with the actual stakeholders on the ground and understanding what matters and the actual mechanics of decision-making and really thinking about where the technical and scientific details matter for those specific processes. I've been speaking with Jennifer Burney. She is a professor at center for Western weather and water extremes. The panel Water in the West is tonight at 5:30 at UC San Diego. Thank you both. Thank you. Thank you.

Researchers are expanding their understanding of the natural world all the time. But do those breakthroughs filter down to the policies that dictate how we handle our natural resources?

UC San Diego is hosting a panel Thursday to help make those connections stronger. It's called "Water in the West" and will feature climate scientists and a County Water Authority executive to discuss the source of the state's water supply and how best to regulate its use.

"Often technical scope and the management structure for how decisions get made stymies the implementation of any policy that deals with the physical world," said Jennifer Burney, an assistant professor at UCSD's School of Global Policy and Strategy. "Maybe we learn something about how the world works, but then to get that rolled into the rule-making process is very complicated. That’s often the sticking point."

Burney is also the faculty director of the school's Science Policy Fellows program, which pairs science graduate students with policy professors to learn about the impact of their research. One biochemistry student was interested in how his work could better inform San Diego's cloud seeding policy, for example, which uses an aerosol spray to try and induce more rainfall. During his fellowship, the student studied who has legal right to the rain before it falls from clouds and how it impacts California's water supply.

Marty Ralph, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, will moderate the panel. He and Burney joins KPBS Midday Edition to share their research and how it could help better manage the state's reservoir system.