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Climate Change Adaptation Planning in Fresno County

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fresno fieldReports:

Fresno County’s vibrant agricultural economy, scenic slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada range, and dramatic rivers beginning at the highest elevations and extending across the valley floor make the Fresno region a special place. Many future changes are expected, however, and many challenges already affect the quality of life in Fresno County and the surrounding region.

Climate change is a global phenomenon that has the potential for severe local impacts to natural systems in Fresno County. These impacts in turn will affect agriculture, human health, infrastructure, forestry, emergency response, tourism, and many other facets of society. Climate change impacts are expected to exacerbate existing problems while also imposing new ones. By identifying and addressing underlying vulnerabilities early, decision makers in Fresno County can increase the resilience of both the community and the resources it depends on not only to climate change, but also to other changes such as population growth and water scarcity.

This report provides a suite of strategies that was developed by local leaders and experts during a series of workshops in 2009-2010. Workshop participants developed strategies for “climate change adaptation” – the process of preparing for climate change to reduce overall impacts to natural and human communities. We view these strategies as a critical first step in what will need to be an ongoing process as the climate, the scientific understanding of the earth’s processes, and other stressors such as population growth, continue to change over time. By integrating adaptation strategies across the different sectors of society, county leaders will reduce conflict among diverse interests for limited resources, such as water, while increasing communication and lowering overall costs.

Based on climate change model projections from three global climate models, as well as peer-reviewed scientific publications, local experts and leaders identified the following as changes that are likely to occur in Fresno County by the end of this century: 

  • Hotter, drier, and longer summers
  • More severe storms
  • 80% decline in snowpack
  • Increase in wildfire
  • Increase in erosion and sediment
  • Declines in water quality and flow in streams and rivers
  • Lower groundwater recharge rates
  • Loss of some native species and functioning ecosystems
  • Less productive range for cattle
  • Increase in invasive species
  • Increase in severe heat days that cause illness and death
  • Further declines in air quality
  • Increase in stress that impacts mental health
  • Increase in natural disasters (floods, droughts, fires)
  • Stress to water and flood infrastructure
  • Reduced number of “chill hours”
  • Changes to agricultural production

Workshop participants considered both climate change impacts and on-the-ground vulnerabilities as they developed a suite of recommendations for increasing local resilience across sectors and communities. These were:

Socioeconomic Systems

  • Health and Emergency Preparedness
  • Promote “smart growth” programs and policies
  • Provide education on the positive impacts of smart growth on air quality and health
  • Provide energy and conservation financing
  • Establish cooling centers
  • Restore and protect flood zones to prevent flood emergencies
  • Control disease vectors
  • Increase water conservation
  • Increase food safety and security


  • Promote irrigation efficiency and technology
  • Promote soil management practices that lead to water and soil conservation
  • Provide education to the agricultural industry on climate change impacts, crop diseases, sustainability, best practices, and new technology
  • Increase crop diversity
  • Increase renewable energy production on farms
  • Increase information sharing on food-borne illness
  • Restore natural systems to provide shade and cooling for livestock
  • Provide incentives for restoration of wetlands, riparian areas, and meadows on farms to increase water quality
  • Build capacity for increased readiness and adaptability
  • Increase support for local food production and distribution

Water Resources and Infrastructure

  • Improve natural flood protection and water filtration by restoring/creating floodplains and wetlands
  • Restore natural areas that provide groundwater recharge during high intensity storms
  • Construct new basins for groundwater recharge
  • Increase water conservation through landscaping, water storage, and pricing
  • Flood control efforts should partner with conservation efforts focused on protecting and restoring key ecosystems and wildlife corridors
  • Improve wastewater treatment
  • Improve management of groundwater through local programs that encourage or require sustainable use
  • Due to the uncertainty associated with precipitation projections, high cost, and impacts to natural systems, construction of new reservoirs was not recommended at this time


  • Increase maintenance and improvement of infrastructure to withstand severe weather events
  • Conserve water through efficiency measures
  • Install water meters so water rates reflect the true cost
  • Coordinate land use decisions with public transit design
  • Preserve open space through conservation easements and the Williamson Act
  • Retrofit existing buildings to meet green standards

Species and Ecosystems

  • Freshwater Aquatic and Riparian
  • Reduce water use by communities and agriculture through metering and recycling
  • Establish and restore natural retention ponds and storage that benefit wildlife and agriculture
  • Restore natural function to floodplains and stream channels
  • Restore and greatly expand riparian areas along all waterways
  • Restore montane meadows and wetlands to store more water at higher elevations
  • Preserve cold water aquatic systems through strategic management of water release and storage

Woodlands and Forests

  • Manage forests for heterogeneity, employing different management approaches depending on local conditions and scientific support
  • Use controlled burns or ecologically sound thinning to reduce the chance of high severity wildfire
  • Implement rapid detection and response to invasive species
  • Identify and protect future climate refuges and linkages

Valley Floor Grasslands and Semi-desert

  • Map and conserve corridors that allow species to move northward along the valley floor and into the foothills
  • Develop Best Management Practices (BMPs) for federal lands, with incentives for private landowners to follow BMPs.
  • Improve agricultural practices to support fish and wildlife habitat
  • Restore fallow farmland to native habitat

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