County Starts Climate Impact Study

HANFORD – The state was offering a grant to counties to study and prepare for local effects of climate change, and Kings County went for it.

This week, county supervisors accepted $9,900 in federal money funneled through the state to have employees at the Kings County Department of Public Health conduct the study, which should finish up in May.

Although they accepted the grant, Kings County supervisors aren’t necessarily fully on board with California’s aggressive push to reduce human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels that the vast majority of scientists say is contributing to climate change.

“My view is that, if we can look at issues that affect our community that don’t have to have that political term ‘climate’ change attached to it, that’s OK,” said Supervisor Craig Pedersen. “But if we’re going to be told to go out and find climate change, that’s not our [responsibility].”

Pedersen said the county doesn’t have to report results of the study to the state.

“This is just saying, ‘Here’s some money to help you plan for impacts of whatever is happening,'” Pedersen said.

The state Department of Water Resources has warned that climate change is likely to result in shorter, warmer winters with less snow, hotter, longer summers and more intense droughts.

Supervisor Doug Verboon said Kings has to “deal with the possibility of warmer winters.”

“I don’t know that it’s going to happen, [but] I know that the powers that be are talking about it,” Verboon said.

Verboon said the argument that there will be longer, more intense droughts can be used to support the construction of Temperance Flat, a second dam on the San Joaquin River that, if built, would capture more water in wet years.

Supervisor Joe Neves thinks the biggest impact on local climate will come from fallowing cropland and taking it out of production due to lack of water.

Neves predicted that’s what will happen because of two things: the state’s environmental policies keeping more runoff in streams and wetlands (i.e. farmers get less) and the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires farmers to pump out only as much groundwater as they can put back in through recharge.

Neves predicted more dust in the air, more valley fever cases, more asthma and more breathing issues as the San Joaquin Valley rolls back total irrigated acreage.

“You’d have more dust storms, and you’d have a lot of other environmental issues,” Neves said. “The last 40 years, we have artificially made our climate a little bit more moist by introducing more and more water into what is basically a desert environment. Now, we’re going to be going backward.”

Whether or not the severe drought of the last several years can be directly attributed to climate change or not, Darcy Pickens, an environmental health educator at the Kings County Public Health Department, said it has had effects.

She pointed to well failures and declining groundwater quality as the water table has dropped.

“When we have long periods of drought, clean drinking water or access to clean drinking water can be an issue,” she said.

Pickens said this is the first study of its kind done locally by Kings County.

She said the study will focus on things like air pollution, which worsened during the drought.

“The state, they expect air quality to deteriorate,” she said. “They expect us to have long periods of drought followed by periods of heavy rainfall. They do expect fires to get worse.”

“That’s part of what we’ll be looking at in the report,” she said.

Pickens said the study will examine ways to adapt to and mitigate the negative effects.

Kings County Public Health Director Keith Winkler pointed to possible valley fever spikes from a winter coming on the heels of several years of drought.

The fungal spores grow in the soil, which is then stirred up and inhaled into the lungs.

Winkler said more cases have been reported after wet, rainy winters.

“There are indications that when you have a wet year, that promotes the growth of the valley fever fungus,” Winkler said. “Then you have that much more potential for spores to be released in the summer. There does seem to be a correlation.”

Winkler also pointed to the possibility of more extreme local heatwaves like the 2006 episode that killed thousands of livestock.

Kings County residents will have a chance to provide input on the study through public hearings, although none have been scheduled yet, according to Winkler.

County Starts Climate Impact Study, by Seth Nidever, Hanford Sentinel, February 17, 2017.

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