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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Addressing Crises More Effectively: The Other Answers to Rising Sea Levels, Storms, Floods, Desertification, Earthquakes and More Environmental Crises in the Sacramento Delta


Consensus is that California’s strategically important Sacramento Delta is headed for all manner of environmental disasters, not least of which are earthquakes and the storms, floods and dry periods associated with global and regional climate change. Added to this list are the environmental problems associated with urbanization, chemical agriculture and declining fish species in the Delta. In the prevailing view, there are so many crises that if one does not happen, others will. Therefore, the probability and consequences of something failing are extremely high, whatever way you look at it. But there is no “therefore” there. The chief feature of complexity is surprise, not inevitability. Ecosystems are very complex as are the infrastructure systems mandated to reliably manage ecosystem services, including water, hydropower and renewable energy. Surprises are happening all the time in these systems, raising the questions this paper answers: Who manages these surprises systemwide in real time? What are the answers this management provides and how do they differ from current approaches to climate change, earthquakes and other environmental crisis scenarios for the Delta?

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