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Climate Change Planning in San Luis Obispo

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Climate change is a global phenomenon that has the potential for severe local impacts to agriculture, human health, natural resources, infrastructure, emergency response needs, tourism, and many other facets of society. Climate change impacts are expected to exacerbate the vulnerability of certain populations and sectors of society. By identifying and addressing underlying vulnerabilities early, decision makers in San Luis Obispo can increase the resilience of both the community and the resources it depends on to climate change.

This report provides a suite of adaptation strategies that was developed by local leaders and experts during a series of workshops in 2009‐2010. We view these strategies as a critical first step in what will need to be an ongoing process as the climate, other stressors, and the scientific understanding of the earth’s processes 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 (provided by Geos Institute), as well as peer‐reviewed scientific publications, local experts and leaders identified the following as changes that could occur in San Luis Obispo County by the end of this century:

  • Hotter, drier, and longer summers
  • More severe storms
  • Accelerating sea level rise
  • Increase in wildfire
  • Loss of many oak and pine forests
  • Eroding coastal bluffs; declining wetlands, marshes, and estuaries
  • Declines in water quality and flow in streams and rivers
  • Increase in erosion and sediment
  • 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
  • Increase in mental illness
  • Increase in natural disasters (floods, droughts, fires)
  • Stress to water and flood infrastructure
  • Changes to agriculture

Workshop participants considered both climate change impacts and on-the‐ground vulnerabilities as they developed a suite of recommendations for reducing the impacts of climate change, including:


  • Drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to limit the magnitude of climate change

Socioeconomic Systems

Health and Emergency Preparedness

  • Expand outreach and education on emergency preparedness
  • Identify and target vulnerable populations for outreach
  • Bolster wildfire management planning in the region
  • Increase local food production and independence
  • Reduce vehicle miles associated with food delivery
  • Promote healthy lifestyle practices

Agriculture and Related Tourism

  • Make water conservation a top priority
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural activities and increase carbon sequestration in agricultural soils
  • Conserve agricultural land through the development of new tools and economic incentives
  • Provide additional support for farm workers and employees of the agricultural tourism industry

Water Resources and Infrastructure

  • Work with water agencies, mutual water companies and regional planning agencies to monitor and reduce agricultural water use
  • Collaborate across jurisdictions for cooperative basin planning
  • Enforce the Clean Water Act
  • Encourage low impact development, natural filtration, and urban runoff catchments


  • Work with the private sector to achieve smart growth policies and avoid building in areas at risk of floods and fire
  • Encourage alternative transportation
  • Encourage energy conservation and alternative energy development in areas with low ecological impacts
  • Increase the amount of renewable energy available to residents
  • Coastal and Marine Resources and Tourism
  • Identify high‐risk areas and map failing infrastructure to prioritize repairs and improvements
  • Reassess coastal land use policies with climate change in mind
  • Protect species migration corridors, new habitats and adjacent habitat (buffers)
  • Consider ecotourism and other strategies to draw visitors and boost local business while minimizing the impacts to natural resources

Species and Ecosystems

Coastal and Nearshore Marine

  • Protect areas neighboring dunes, coastal marshes and wetlands to allow shifts as the sea level rises
  • Protect habitat for sensitive species more aggressively and effectively to maintain resilient populations
  • Institute a county‐ or state‐wide policy on coastal structures, allowing for dynamic coastlines

Freshwater Aquatic and Riparian

  • Reduce groundwater use by communities and agriculture
  • Research groundwater availability and develop a sustainable master groundwater plan
  • Improve upland land management practices to reduce sediment inputs to streams and rivers

Woodlands and Forests

  • Target oak woodlands on private ranches for improved management
  • Reform grazing practices to improve oak recruitment, riparian vegetation, and water quality
  • Identify and conserve areas especially important for wildlife under climate change
  • Develop drought resistant varieties of oak
  • Conduct research to identify effective management options

Grasslands and Shrublands

  • Reduce fire risk in salt bush
  • Map and conserve corridors that allow species to move to new areas as the climate changes
  • Increase monitoring of populations of many species
  • Identify new opportunities for restoration of native habitats
  • Limit new development, especially of renewable energy, to previously disturbed sites

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