Lessons on Climate Change and Poverty From the California Drought

This report describes how climate-related extreme weather events exacerbate existing socioeconomic inequalities. In this case, the report highlights the disproportionate challenges experienced by frontline communities during the California drought that began in 2012, which includes communities of color and low-income people living in tribal, rural, and farming communities. The report discusses the following topics: the causes and severity of California’s drought; the drought’s impacts on the national food system; demographics, water rights, and drought impacts in agricultural communities; and policy recommendations.

Consider how to manage natural resources to prepare for sustained periods of drought, with an eye towards social impacts. 

For decades, mismanagement and over-consumption of water by multiple sectors, inadequate tracking of underground aquifers, and poisoned water sources have burdened agricultural land and laborers. Simultaneously, frontline communities face high unemployment rates, income volatility, lack of access to clean and affordable water, drought-related health complications, food insecurity, and rising utility bills, among other pressures.

In order to support the well being of communities with historical underinvestment and high drought burden, the author recommends:

  • Mandating that the agricultural sector be included in statewide greenhouse gas reduction standards
  • Developing water reduction standards for riparian water rights holders
  • Lifting the 15-service-connection minimum for water systems to receive financial support in order to help residents who rely on small, private wells
  • Supporting and incentivizing climate-resilient resource planning, management, and green water infrastructure

Overall, the report argues that federal, state, and local decisionmaking about water management must have a central focus on the the lives of the people most affected by the drought.

Publication Date: August 19. 2015

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Wendy Ortiz

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Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Policy analysis/recommendations

States Affected:


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