Accessible Navigation. Go to: Navigation Main Content Footer
A collaborative project of the University of Montana and the USDA Forest Service

Water, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice: A Vulnerability Assessment

Lead PIs

Gary Evans, Cornell University, College of Human Ecology

Neal Halfon, M.D., University of California, Los Angeles, Fielding School of Public Health

Patricia L. Winter – USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Urban Ecosystems and Social Dynamics Program

Partners or Collaborators

Colleen Callahan and J.R. DeShazo, University of California, Los Angeles, Luskin School of Public Affairs

James D. Absher, Armando Gonzalez-Caban, Gregory McPherson, and Jose Sanchez, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Urban Ecosystems and Social Dynamics Program

Pamela Padgett and Tait Rounsaville – USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Conservation of Biodiversity Program

Los Angeles Urban Center for Natural Resources Sustainability

Project description:

This vulnerability assessment framework proposes an examination of the linkages between climate change, municipal water supply and quality, and human communities at risk (hereafter referred to as vulnerable populations). The framework outlines vulnerability to climate change considering ecological, social, economic, cultural, and institutional dimensions aligned with a sustainability model, using water as the unifying resource. A case study approach is adopted. For the purposes of this case study, communities in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are identified by the research team.

Defining vulnerability: The science team has adopted a combined approach to the definition of vulnerability. For the purposes of this team, vulnerability at the ecological scale is equated with urban forest tree cover and density. Vulnerability at the community scale is equated with affluence and recognizes differences in economic resources and social capital. Finally, at the individual resident and social group level vulnerability is associated with being a member of any of the following or combined groups: youth, elderly, ethnic and or racial minority, and poor.

The proposed framework will be applied to the case study areas to assess impacts of climate change under a proposed period of analysis, with current state serving as baseline. Working through that analysis we would model outyear anticipated impacts under scenarios of continuing environmental change (minimal, moderate, and extreme) and then would hope to be able to monitor and examine our model as effects unfold. Our intent is to focus on selected indicator to illuminate the changes in ecological and social resilience as a result of climate change.

The framework begins with a series of proposed impacts, outlines larger trends, identifies myriad expected impacts by category of interest, and ultimately,  provides a list of key indicators that would explore the dynamic relationships between climate change, water, urban forests, public and community well being. Ability to collect the baseline information for each case study area and then to monitor these indicators over time relies on resources to increase capacity. The science team is organizing a workshop in the LA area to explore ongoing studies that would augment or complement the framework effort and further identify potential ways to increase our capacity to gather and share data.

In the interim a series of papers are being compiled for station publication as a general technical report that will to inform components of the vulnerability assessment framework. A baseline project examining two case study areas, urban park recreation use, and exposure to ozone provides further insight into concepts of vulnerability and resilience in the urban context.

Project Outputs:

Winter, P.L. 2012. “Water, climate change, & environmental justice: a vulnerability assessment framework.” Presented for the Associate Chief and Deputy Chief of Research and Development visit to PSW. Riverside, California (3/1/12).

Winter, P.L.; Padgett, P.E.; Rounsaville, T.S. 2012. “Recreationists and exposure to ozone in two Los Angeles communities.” Poster presented by Winter at Risk analysis: Advancing analysis. Society for Risk Analysis annual meeting. San Francisco, CA (12/9-12/12). 

Winter, P.L.; Padgett, P.; Rounsaville, T. 2013. “Healthy pursuits or health risk? Recreation & ozone findings in Los Angeles parks.” PSW Science Seminar Series, hosted out of Riverside, CA. (3/21/13).

Winter, P.L.; Padgett, P.; Rounsaville, T. 2013. “Urban park use in an affluent and disadvantaged community and incidental exposure to risk”. American Psychological Association Annual Convention. Honolulu, HI (7/31-8/4/13).