In accordance with the requirements of SB 379 (2015), codified in Government Code section 65302(g)(4), climate change adaptation and resilience must be addressed in the safety element of all general plans in California. This portion of the Climate Change Appendix to the General Plan policy document serves to summarize the vulnerability assessment and climate adaptation strategy prepared for the County’s General Plan. Chapter 12, “Climate Change,” of the General Plan Background Report, released in January of 2018, summarizes the County’s vulnerabilities to the effects of climate change over the coming century. The key findings of Chapter 12 of the General Plan Background Report include:
- a rise of three to six degrees Fahrenheit (°F) by 2090 in Ventura County;
- coastal erosion of up to 1.36 meters by 2100 due to sea-level rise;
- more frequent flooding events and more extensive and longer duration of flooding;
- elevated groundwater levels and salinity intrusion due to sea-level rise;
- the exposure of approximately 23,300 people countywide to inundation from a 100-year flood event combined with a 1.4-meter (4.6-foot) rise in sea level, many of which are low income or especially vulnerable;
- the exposure of approximately 170 miles of roads and railways, hospitals, schools, emergency facilities, wastewater treatment plants, three power plants, and a naval base from a 100-year flood event combined with a 1.4-meter (4.6-foot) rise in sea level;
- habitat fragmentation due to changes in precipitation, increased temperatures, and rising sea levels;
- an increase of up to 79 extreme heat days per year by 2099; and
- a 15 percent increase countywide in the potential amount of area burned by wildfire between 2020 and 2085 as compared to historical trends.
This background information is further summarized in Section B.2.1, along with the specific goals, policies and implementation programs contained in the General Plan elements in the main body of the Policy Document that address climate vulnerability and adaptation.
B.2.1 Existing Adaptation Efforts
2015 Ventura County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan
The 2015 Ventura County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP) classifies climate change as a hazard facing the ounty and identifies mitigation measures that could be implemented to improve resilience to climate change effects. Notably, the LHMP also contains mitigation to reduce the severity of other hazards (i.e., wildfire, flood, landslide, drought), which could be exacerbated by climate change. The following mitigation measures, identified as potential overarching mitigation actions (OA) in the LHMP, would be implemented within the County in combination with the additional adaptation strategies in the General Plan (County of Ventura 2015):
- OA 4: Relocate or reinforce bike trails, parking lots, and other beach access amenities away from the shoreline to restore the beach/shoreline in sea-level rise/coastal erosion areas.
- OA 5: Restore habitat and improve flood protection for low-lying areas by employing innovative techniques such as constructing levees coupled with gently sloping tidal marshes to help protect from storm wave action and tidal surge.
- OA 7: Develop a water conservation public outreach program to increase awareness about the drought, fines, and penalties for overuse and solutions for conserving water.
- OA 8: Adopt emergency water conservation measures and/or water conservation ordinance to limit irrigation.
- OA 13: Reinforce roads/bridges from flooding through protection activities, including elevating the roads/bridges and installing/widening culverts beneath the roads/bridges or upgrading storm drains.
- OA 14: Acquire, relocate, or elevate residential structures, particularly those that have been identified as repetitive loss properties, within the 100-year floodplain.
- OA 16: Implement landslide stabilization and/or protection measures. Stabilization measures include grading the unstable portion of the slope to a lower gradient, construction of rock buttresses and retaining walls, and drainage improvements. Protection measures include containment and/or diversion of the moving debris, such as walls, berms, ditches and catchment basins.
- OA 19: Create a new vegetation management program that provides vegetation management services to elderly, disables, or low-income property owners who lack the sources to remove flammable vegetation from around their homes.
- OA 20: Implement a fuel modification program for new construction by requiring builders and developers to submit their plans, complete with proposed fuel modification zones, to the local fire department for review and approval prior to beginning construction.
- OA 21: Develop a hazards fuel treatment program for areas that have been identified as overgrown or contain dead brush and trees to reduce the potential for tree-to-tree ignition. Ensure that the program includes a “maintenance now” component to provide continued fire resistance.
Coastal Resilience Ventura
The Coastal Resilience is a global program led by The Nature Conservancy that is developing a web-based mapping tool designed to help communities understand their vulnerability to coastal hazards, reduce their risk, and determine the value of nature-based solutions. The Coastal Resilience Ventura project provides coastal managers and planners with the science, support, and technical tools to reduce community and ecological vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Coastal Resilience has developed a mapping tool that provides the location of coastal areas susceptible to various coastal climate change impacts such as erosion, storm and fluvial flooding, storm wave impact, and rising tides for several benchmark years (i.e., current, 2020, 2060, and 2100) under a spectrum of sea-level rise scenarios (The Nature Conservancy 2019a). In combination with developing this tool, The Nature Conservancy has invested millions of dollars to preserve and restore the habitat of the Santa Clara River and Ormond Beach areas from urban encroachment and agricultural-related waste and pollution (The Nature Conservancy 2019b).
Ventura County Resilient Coastal Adaptation Project Vulnerability Assessment
On December 14, 2018, the County released the Final Ventura County Resilient Coastal Adaptation Project Vulnerability Assessment (Report). The Report contains maps and analyses intended to serve as planning tools to illustrate the potential for inundation and coastal flooding under a variety of future sea-level rise and storm surge scenarios. The Report is advisory in nature, and not a regulatory or legal standard of review for actions that the County or the California Coastal Commission may take; the Report serves to understand and inform stakeholders of the County’s vulnerability to climate-change induced sea-level rise (Ventura County 2018).
Southern California Association of Governments’ Sustainability Program
SCAG supports a Sustainability Program to promote the resilience of the transportation systems under the geographic scope of its Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS). SCAG offers direct funding for innovative planning initiatives for its member agencies through the Sustainability Planning Grants program. SCAG also tracks the sustainability progress of all cities and counties in the SCAG region based on 25 sustainability topics with its Green Region Initiative V2.0 tracking tool (SCAG 2018).
Southern California Gas Company Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Planning Grant Program
In 2018, SoCalGas initiated its Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Planning Grant Program to support local planning efforts to prepare for and recover from climate change related impacts such as extreme heat, wildfires, drought, subsidence, sea-level rise, flooding, and mudslides. The program will invest $100,000 per year to local planning efforts. In November 2018, SoCalGas awarded two $50,000 grants to the cities of Redlands and Artesia (SoCalGas 2018).
Association of Water Agencies of Ventura County
The Association of Water Agencies of Ventura County (AWA) was formed in 1976 to provide a forum for the exchange of information on local and regional water issues. AWA is composed of leaders representing various water-related entities in the Ventura County region (e.g., agriculture, municipalities, water purveyors, small systems, industrial water users, private business, concerned citizens, students). The AWA serves to foster cooperation between agencies to improve water quality, reliability, and supply by encouraging partnerships and engaging in public and small system advocacy (AWA 2018).
Ventura River Watershed Council 2015 Watershed Management Plan
The Ventura River Watershed Council (VRWC) approved the most recent version of their Watershed Management Plan (Plan) on March 5, 2015. The Plan identifies several goals and objectives to ensure sufficient levels of local water supplies to avoid importing water, support an integrated approach to flood management, and responsibly manage lands and resources within the Ventura River Watershed. Identified as an objective under these goals is the necessity to track the potential impacts of climate change on local land uses and resources so that adaptation strategies can be developed (VRWC 2015).
Ventura County Fire Protection District Unit Strategic Fire Plan
The Ventura County Fire Protection District (VCFPD) last updated its Unit Strategic Fire Plan (Unit Plan) in May 2018 as part of the California Strategic Fire Plan. The Unit Plan seeks to coordinate with stakeholders and create programs, policies, and procedures that promote the safety of County residents from wildfires. To support the Unit Plan, VCFPD will continue to analyze fuel breaks topography, and fire history to assess at-risk areas; seek sources of funding for vegetation management and fire prevention projects; use CAL FIRE personnel and resources to assist with projects; and educate the public about wildfire preparedness, defensible space, fire hazard reduction, fire-resistant construction and landscaping, and situational awareness (VCFPD 2018)..
Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council Community Wildfire Protection Plan
Pursuant to the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council prepared a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in 2010, which covers all of the unincorporated county as well as the incorporated cities of Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, and Ventura. The CWPP was prepared in collaboration with local, county, state, and federal agencies as well as with various community organizations. The CWPP identifies wildfire risks and clarifies priorities for funding and programs to reduce impacts of wildfire in communities at high risk of wildfire within the County. Chaparral comprises the predominant vegetation of concern within the county, and decades of fire suppression combined with consistently hot, dry weather contribute to its susceptibility to ignition. The CWPP estimates that approximately 535,000 people, 185,000 housing units, and 13,700 businesses within the unincorporated county and incorporated cities are vulnerable to wildfire; however, these figures were determined in 2010 and do not account for acres of wildfire burned since the adoption of the CWPP (Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council 2010).
Ventura County Fire Protection District Personal Wildfire Action Plan
In 2013, the Ventura County Fire Protection District (VCFPD) released “Ready, Set, Go,” a personalized Wildfire Action Plan booklet to educate homeowners of methods to improve resistance to wildfire. “Ready, Set, Go” includes information regarding defensible space, harden homes, and landscaping and emergency planning recommendations to decrease a home’s susceptibility to ignite during a wildfire. The publication also contains user-friendly checklists to promote survival during and after wildfire events (VCFPD 2013).
B.2.2. Climate Vulnerability, Adaptation, and Implementation
As discussed in Section B.2.1, “Existing Adaptation Efforts,” several agencies and non-governmental organizations have undertaken projects and prepared plans to address climate change-related challenges in Ventura County; however, additional action will need to be implemented over the course of the General Plan horizon (i.e., 20 years) to provide County citizens, infrastructure, and businesses with improved resilience to the effects of climate change. Coordination between private and public stakeholders will be imperative to ensure that Ventura County’s specific vulnerabilities to climate change are further identified and bolstered to withstand increased temperatures, unpredictable changes to historical precipitation patterns, increased frequency and intensity of wildfire, and rising sea levels.
While citizens and businesses may bolster their residences and facilities independently of County goals and policies, obstacles to the application of individual adaptation planning exist which include, but are not limited to, financial restrictions, lack of awareness surrounding climate change, and language barriers. Thus, the County will need to implement measures that promote climate change resilience countywide for both County operations and the community as a whole.
In the following paragraphs, localized climate change impacts to the unincorporated county are summarized to provide context for the following adaptation goals, policies, and implementation programs that will be necessary to combat the effects of climate change. Based on global models cited by IPCCs Fifth Assessment Report and the State of California’s Fourth Climate Assessment Report, implementation timelines are assigned to specific policies in consideration of the level of certainty that an impact will occur as well as the time period an impact is expected to manifest. The goals, policies, and programs related to climate vulnerability are included in Table B-10.
Temperature-related impacts from anthropogenic climate change are likely to affect the county in several ways. Increased average temperatures, along with more frequent extreme heat days and waves, will likely exacerbate existing high temperatures, especially in developed areas that experience the urban heat island effect (UHIE). In built-up areas, vegetation is sparse, and roofs and pavement dominate the landscape, absorbing and retaining heat during daytime hours and releasing heat at night. Other human activities that contribute to the UHIE include combustion-engine vehicles and air conditioning. To help curb the UHIE in developed areas, the County will need to encourage or require incorporation of “green” and “cool” infrastructure into new and existing development. Examples of green infrastructure include trees and climate-appropriate landscaping for increased shade and reduced surface area of pavement. Rain gardens, live roofs, and rooftop gardens also mitigate the intensity of the UHIE. The County will also need to require incorporation of cool pavement and cool roofs in existing and new development and the planting of more shade trees in parking lots.
The agricultural industry will also be affected by more extreme temperatures, including both increased summer heat and colder winter temperatures. Projections of climate conditions in the county anticipate a notable temperature increase in summer and fall, and a potential for increasingly cold January temperatures, which could extend periods of freeze and adversely impact crops (Pierce et. al 2018). Measures to improve the adaptive capacity of Ventura County while maintaining a lucrative agricultural industry may include a transition to the production of crops suitable to future climatic conditions.
According to global models by the IPCC, increased global temperatures will occur with a 90 percent and above (very high) degree of certainty (California Natural Resources Agency [CNRA] 2012). Thus, these effects will impact Ventura County with a high degree of certainty and have already begun to manifest and will continue to occur over the course of the century. The goals, policies, and programs related to temperature rise are included in Table B-10.
Changes to Precipitation Patterns
Climate change will increase Ventura County’s exposure to water supply and water quality constraints and reinforce the need to protect water quality and increase water conservation efforts. As discussed in Chapter 12 of the Background Report prepared for the General Plan Update, annual snow and rainfall in the Los Padres National Forest is projected to decrease by 17 percent, which could affect water supply to the Ventura River and Santa Clara River watersheds.
Climate change is expected to exacerbate drought throughout the entire state, which is already historically vulnerable to prolonged dry periods. The Ventura County Watershed Protection District (VCWPD) is allotted a 20,000 acre-feet entitlement from the State Water Project (SWP), which is supplied by snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Increased temperatures in the Sierra Nevada will lead to earlier and faster snowmelt, reducing available SWP supplies in historically dry months (i.e., July-September). Furthermore, higher temperatures in the Sierra Nevada will increase the level of precipitation falling as rain rather than snow during the winter months, further reducing supplies that the SWP relies on in historically dry months.
The County is also heavily dependent on groundwater, which provides the majority of water used for agricultural irrigation. During periods of drought, groundwater pumping rates increase which has led to problems in some basins within the county. Furthermore, the quality of groundwater resources near the coast is deteriorating from saltwater intrusion from sea-level rise, which is exacerbated by falling water tables in areas that are over drafted.
These conditions combined with a business-as-usual approach will result in potentially severe impacts on Ventura County’s agricultural and municipal water sectors. Increases in flow rates of the Ventura River Watershed may inhibit natural groundwater recharge, which is the primary water supply to the county’s agricultural sector. Furthermore, increased temperatures will increase rates of evapotranspiration in plants, which would increase water demand, thus requiring improved irrigation systems and more resilient water supplies. To prepare for these conditions, Ventura County, local water districts, and other stakeholders will need to continue to evaluate the vulnerability of the county’s water supply systems and networks through collaboration with water-related Federal, State, and local agencies and organizations. These collaborative efforts will include the deployment of innovative options to improve water-use efficiency and conservation capacity to meet future water demand.
According to global models by IPCC, changes in precipitation patterns will occur with a 66 percent and above (medium) degree of certainty (CNRA 2012). Thus, these effects will impact Ventura County with a medium level of certainty and manifest over the next century. The goals, policies, and programs related to sea-level rise and coastal flooding are included in Table B-10. The adaptation and resilience goals, policies, and programs in Table B-10.
Increased Wildfire Risk
Portions of Ventura County are at very high risk for wildfire with high concentrations on the northern coast leading inland between Santa Paula and Ojai. Additional high fire hazard severity zones, as characterized by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), are located along the southern coast and continue inland toward the City of Simi Valley (CAL FIRE 2007). Periodic natural fire is an important ecosystem disturbance; however, uncontrolled wildfires can be extremely damaging to communities and ecosystems. Approximately 144,000 residents (34 percent of total population) live in high-risk wildfire areas (CDPH 2017).
With rising temperatures combined with changes in precipitation patterns, the county will likely experience an increase in wildfire frequency and intensity as fuel loads become drier and more flammable. Wildfire also presents other health-related impacts associated with emissions of air pollutants during the combustion of organic fuels and other materials. Wildfire events result in substantial emissions of harmful pollutants such as particulates (soot and smoke), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and others from the burning of vegetation, and can be widely dispersed through a region and degrade air quality conditions. Exposure to these pollutants can cause acute (short-term) and exacerbate chronic (long-term) respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, especially in vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, and agricultural and outdoor workers.
Additionally, wildfire can cause direct and indirect damage to electrical infrastructure. Direct exposure to fire can sever transmission lines, and heat and smoke can affect transmission capacity. Furthermore, fires can cause acute damage to soil structure and moisture retention thus increasing susceptibility to erosion or landslides. Following the Thomas Fire in December 2017, Santa Barbara County experienced powerful landslides following a rain event. The level of precipitation coupled with the exposed landscape resulted in landslides that caused the deaths of 22 people.
To prepare for these conditions, the County and other relevant agencies and organizations will need to adopt measures to reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfires to occur in addition to protecting residents from the adverse health impacts associated with wildfire. Additionally, to preserve water quality and ecological health, the County will need to engage in restoration effects in previously burned areas.
According to California’s Fourth Climate Assessment, acres burned by wildfire within the state is expected to increase at a medium to high level of certainty (Governor’s Office of Planning and Research [OPR], CNRA, and California Energy Commission [CEC] 2018). Given the characteristics of Ventura County’s vegetation, these effects will likely impact the county with a high level of certainty and manifest quickly over the next century (Ventura County 2015). The goals, policies, and programs related to wildfire risk are included in Table B-10.
Sea-level Rise and Coastal Flooding
California’s coastline, which includes more than 2,000 miles of open coast and enclosed bays, is vulnerable to a range of natural hazards, including storms, extreme high tides, and rising sea levels. Sea-level rise also increases the threat of coastal flooding. Sea levels along the central and southern California coast has risen by more than 5.9 inches (15 centimeters [cm]) over the 20th century (OPR, CNRA, and CEC 2018). Climate change scenarios included in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report and California Fourth Climate Assessment Report (i.e., representative concentration pathway [RCP] 2.6 and RCP 8.5) indicate that California likely could see between 45.6 inches (106 cm) and 69.6 inches (163 cm) rise in sea level by the end of the century (California Ocean Protection Council 2018). Residential properties, critical transportation and infrastructure corridors, as well as high-value coastal recreation are most vulnerable to sea-level rise within Ventura County. Agriculture, beach, dune, and estuarine systems are also highly vulnerable. Fortunately, there are no critical facilities (i.e., sewage or wastewater treatment plants [WWTPs], energy plants, airports, or hospitals within the unincorporated areas projected to be impacted (Ventura County 2018).
The Ventura County Resilient Coastal Adaptation Project for Sea-level Rise Vulnerability Assessment (Vulnerability Report) estimates the unincorporated area’s vulnerability to up to 58 inches (136 cm) of sea-level rise by the end of the century. According to the Vulnerability Report, residential structures comprise the largest land use type vulnerable to the cumulative effects of rising sea levels totaling approximately $576,500,000 in economic loss associated with coastal flooding combined with a 100-year flood, $735,800,000 from tidal inundation, $1,402,100,000 from erosion, and $525,700,000 from coastal flooding. Of the 2,159 parcels of mixed, multi-family, and single-family residential properties at risk of these impacts by 2100, single-family residential are considered most vulnerable with 1,910 parcels or 88 percent of total at-risk parcels (Ventura County 2018).
A 2015 study identified the following demographic characteristics that increase a population’s vulnerability to floods: age, race, ethnicity, immigration status, language ability, employment, land tenure, and health, among other factors (Rufat et al. 2015). Of the demographic information available, seniors aged 65 and over, number of people living in rental housing units, and Hispanic residents are considered the most vulnerable groups to sea-level rise in Ventura County (Ventura County 2018).
Additionally, rising sea levels will raise the water table in areas close to the ocean. In some areas, elevated water tables may result in groundwater flooding and/or exposure of buried infrastructure. Groundwater quality could degrade due to saltwater intrusion from elevated sea levels (OPR, CNRA, and CEC 2018).
Sea-level rise will also have an impact on Ventura County’s coastal ecosystems. Aquatic ecosystems located in estuaries along the coast could be adversely affected by changes in water quality from saltwater intrusion further upstream. Increased salinity may impact inland soils, freshwater and groundwater resources, the survival of endemic species, and nutrient retention. The quality of on-land coastal ecosystems will be threatened as rising sea levels erode coastal areas resulting in loss of habitat.
According to global models by IPCC, sea-level rise will occur with a 90 percent and above (very high) degree of certainty (CNRA 2012). Thus, these effects will impact Ventura County with a high degree of certainty and would manifest over the course of the century. The goals, policies, and programs related to sea-level rise and coastal flooding are included in Table B-10.