Climate Change Adaptation Planning in Fresno County, California

Marni Koopman Kate Meis
Posted on: 8/16/2012 - Updated on: 10/10/2022

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Marni Koopman

Project Summary

Climate change is a global phenomenon that has the potential for severe local impacts to natural systems in Fresno County. These impacts in turn will affect agriculture, human health, infrastructure, forestry, emergency response, tourism, and many other facets of society. Climate change impacts are expected to exacerbate existing problems in Fresno County while also imposing new ones. By identifying and addressing underlying vulnerabilities early, decision makers in Fresno County can increase the resilience of both the community and the resources it depends on not only to climate change, but also to other changes such as population growth and water scarcity. In collaboration with ClimateWise, the Integrated Strategies for a Vibrant and Sustainable Fresno County report was released, highlighting potential adaptation strategies and mitigation techniques.


Fresno County’s vibrant agricultural economy, the scenic slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada range, and the dramatic rivers beginning at the highest elevations and extending across the valley floor make the region a special place. However, many future changes due to climate change are expected and many challenges already affect the quality of life in Fresno County and the surrounding region.

Based on climate change model projections from three global climate models, as well as peer-reviewed scientific publications, local experts and leaders identified the following as changes that are likely to occur in Fresno County by the end of this century:

  • Hotter, drier, and longer summers
  • More severe storms
  • 80% decline in snowpack
  • Increase in wildfire
  • Increase in erosion and sediment
  • Declines in water quality and flow in streams and rivers
  • Lower groundwater recharge rates
  • Loss of some native species and functioning ecosystems
  • Less productive range for cattle
  • Increase in invasive species
  • Increase in severe heat days that cause illness and death
  • Further declines in air quality
  • Increase in stress that impacts mental health
  • Increase in natural disasters (floods, droughts, fires)
  • Stress to water and flood infrastructure
  • Reduced number of “chill hours”
  • Changes to agricultural production

ClimateWise is a program of the non-profit Geos Institute based in Ashland, Oregon. It is a process that helps local communities work across sectors to develop science-based, collaborative, and ecologically-sound adaptation strategies for both natural and human communities. The Fresno County Climate Change Adaptation Planning project was one of a series of pilot projects intended to help develop and refine the ClimateWise process. The Local Government Commission and Susanne Moser Consulting were partners on the project.


The ClimateWise report, Integrated Strategies for a Vibrant and Sustainable Fresno County, details a suite of strategies that was developed by local leaders and experts during a series of workshops in 2009-2010. Workshop participants developed strategies for climate change adaptation – the process of preparing for climate change to reduce overall impacts to natural and human communities. These strategies are viewed as a critical first step in what will need to be an ongoing process as the climate, scientific understanding of the earth’s processes, and other stressors such as population growth, continue to change over time. By integrating adaptation strategies across the different sectors of society, county leaders will reduce conflict among diverse interests for limited resources, such as water, while increasing communication and lowering overall costs.

The project was carried out over the course of a year with numerous meetings and workshops. Scientists and experts convened to identify climate change impacts on natural resources and to develop strategies for addressing those impacts. Next, local experts and leaders convened to identify climate change impacts to socioeconomic resources and to review information on natural resources. Climate change adaptation strategies that worked across the different sectors of the region were developed in a collaborative manner. Some examples of the recommendations include:

  • Promoting smart growth policies
  • Enhancing water conservation
  • Restoring natural systems to provide shading and stabilization
  • Protecting climate refugia and migration corridors

Outcomes and Conclusions

The final report was issued in 2011 and is available online. Additional outreach and education needs to be undertaken in the region to move forward. Several current issues such as air pollution (and associated health and ecosystem impacts) and perpetual water shortages are higher priorities in the region compared to climate change. Integrating water resource planning and human health planning with climate change adaptation strategies might be one way forward.


Koopman, M. & Meis, K. (2012). Climate Change Adaptation Planning in Fresno County, California. Ed. Kirsten Feifel [Case study on a project of the Geos Institute]. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated August 2012)

Project Contacts

Position: Climate Change Scientist

Affiliated Organizations

The GEOS Institute is a nonprofit, science-based organization dedicated to helping both human and natural communities predict and prepare for a changing climate. To this end, the Geos Institute applies the best available science to natural resource conservation issues through its scientific publications and its ability to link respected scientists to decision makers.

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