On March 22, 2012, the Drylands Design Conference challenged architects and planners to become leaders in designing the built environment within the constraints of water, energy, and climate change. The conference, co-sponsored by the California Architectural Foundation and the Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University, was the result of a shared vision for a future in which the landscapes and communities of the West are environmentally, culturally, and economically resilient in the face of climate change. Attendees included architects, landscape architects, and engineers with leading policy analysts, scientists, and environmental leaders to debate a range of design strategies for the future.
One of the presenters, JT Reager, Senior Research Assistant at the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling at UC Irvine presented findings on what current climate models suggest for the future of water in California and the results are alarming. He gave an overview of climatological forces which impact water production and a historical perspective on water in the West. While scientists agree it is difficult to measure groundwater, recent modeling at UC Irvine estimates we have lost the equivalent of the size of Lake Mead in terms of groundwater from the Central Valley reservoir. This is further coupled by the fact we are getting less groundwater recharge; this is the akin to taking withdrawals from a bank that has a finite capacity. JT estimated that within 70-100 years the groundwater will be depleted.
He then proceeded to discuss the impact of climate change on water supplies in the future.
- Climate change is evidenced in increases in surface temperature. Heat means more evaporation and less rainfall. To put it in perspective: 1% decline in precipitation = 32% decline in reservoir storage
- We are likely to be more dry and the droughts will be longer.
- Snow mass is decreasing 30-50% in the sierras and snow provides 75% of our freshwater supply. Snow melts are happening earlier and too much water too early fills the reservoirs too quickly and those reservoirs are unable to accommodate the water and maximize the potential.
The conference also presented selected entries from the award winners chosen from the CAF William Turnbull Drylands Design Competition. The award-winning teams presented their design proposals and discussed the policy implications they suggested. These design case studies and the panel discussions they inform raise important questions about de-coupling energy and water, localizing resources, restructuring watershed governance, the scalability of small systems, the relationship between water infrastructure and public architectures, and the role of the arts and design in shaping a working public landscape. This was a common thread woven throughout the day; the need for the statewide water policy and the role the design community can play in the development of our future.
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