What are some underrated cities in California

California between drought and floodUrban planning as a weapon against climate change

November 2017 in Bonn. Around 25,000 participants from all over the world come to the world climate conference COP-23, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. The ex-governor of California is part of the American climate protection movement. "Climate protection must have absolute priority, even if US President Donald Trump has announced that he will withdraw from the climate pact." Jerry Brown, Schwarzenegger's successor, has announced the same. Several US states have stepped up their climate change efforts. California, said Schwarzenegger, is leading the revolution.

Tuesday morning 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco. I have an appointment with Mark Stacey at the ferry terminal. The smartphone reports: "Hello Michael, It looks like my train will arrive at 9:14 - so I should be there to meet you by about 9:20 or 9:25. - Mark".

He's a little late. The view of the water, with your back to the city, lets the time saved by quickly. A pelican flies by, a seal appears a few meters in front of me. Somewhere in the bay is the famous prison island Alcatraz and in the far west the Golden Gate Bridge. And then a man appears in gray pants and a sports jacket: Marc Stacey, an engineer from the University of California at Berkeley. Our meeting point is his research object.

"We are right here on the waterfront in San Francisco on the Embarcadero ... a little north of the Bay Bridge."

"This dam will no longer be sufficient in the future"

The Embarcadero is a major artery that runs from the huge Bay Bridge towards the Golden Gate Bridge. We are still standing dry here on the Embarcadero. However, in a few years it could be flooded regularly.

"We are looking at a dam that many do not even recognize as such, because at first it is just a road. But more than a century ago it was built on land that was reclaimed from the sea. And now we have to face the fact that this dam will no longer be sufficient to protect us in the future. "

A hundred years ago everything was swampland here. But man's victory over nature could only have been an episode. Because nature - driven by climate change - is just about to take the land back.

"Up there is Treasure Island, in the center of the bay there is also the anchoring at the Bay Bridge and there you can see the low water line in the north ... it's all built on sand, so land reclamation. In principle, this is a test laboratory, like San Francisco will respond to rising sea levels. "

How the infrastructure can withstand the sea level

How often do I want to know does it happen that the street is flooded?

"Difficult to say because it still happens too seldom to make statistical statements. I would say a flood once or twice a year, at least on the bike paths. Especially in January and February when floods and winter storms occur at the same time."

There are still individual events. But according to climate forecasts, the street will soon be flooded more frequently. Mark Stacey leads the Riser SF Bay project, where he is analyzing the resilience of the infrastructure when the sea level rises. It also calculates what happens if flood protection measures are taken in one or more places.

"We try to combine hydrodynamics and all of the physics that go with it with our infrastructure planning so that all of the decision-making processes are based on our disturbance model."

The behavior of the population is also evaluated

We go to a pier so that we can see the edge of the bank better. The pier invites you to go for a walk and at the same time is supposed to channel the water. The pelicans distract me briefly. The Bay Area is also a biotope, with seven million people. Mark Stacey not only evaluates the climate forecasts, but also the behavior of the population.

"The new thing about our approach is that we also use the anonymized data from smartphones to see how commuters react to changes. When a road or bridge is closed, what do you do? Change your route, change from Car to the train or do you stay at home? Do you postpone your shopping, how do daily routes change because there are disruptions? "

Adaptation of the transport infrastructure

Structural changes should not complicate people's lives. It is also clear, however, that the infrastructure must be adapted, otherwise there is a risk of traffic collapse in the event of flooding. Only: what is useful? What not?

"If the sea level then rises and flood protection measures are implemented, we will also change the dynamics of the tides. We have to create flood areas that take the pressure off the bay."

"So you can create this positive feedback so that you can reduce the pressure of the flooding elsewhere. This allows us to develop a regional strategy, but only if everyone pulls together. Because decision in location A also influences the coastal region and the water level for Location B, C and D. "

The water could rise up to 1.50 meters

By 2100, the water in San Francisco Bay will rise at least 50 centimeters, maybe five feet. Individual measures aren't the problem, says Stacey. The challenge lies in coordinating all measures. Because if, for example, San Francisco pulls up the walls and seals itself hermetically, Berkeley drunk on the other side of the bay.

California not only has one water problem, it has many. Rising sea levels are increasing the pressure on cities, roads and bridges along the coast. At the same time, droughts threaten inland. Long periods of drought leach the soils. Then - as in early 2018 - heavy rain and mudslides follow. The Big Sur coastline in California comprises around 100 kilometers of coastline and the mountains of the Santa Lucia Range towering behind it. In the spring of 2017, the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge collapsed there - a result of the unusually heavy winter rains.

Airports and bridges threatened by flooding

It's just under 40 miles from San Francisco to Stanford in the south. The route can be done in 45 minutes by car, and it takes two hours by public transport. The San Francisco International Airport is on the way. Without further infrastructure measures, it could soon be flooded more frequently, just like Oakland International Airport on the other side of the bay.

The private Stanford University has plenty of money, thanks to the high tuition fees and donations from many patrons. There is a free bus shuttle service at the train station - including friendly staff who will help you choose the right vehicle. All buildings are new, energy efficient and sustainable. Noah Diffenbaugh is doing research here. He has just presented a study according to which 63 percent of all bridges will no longer withstand the next flood of the century. Some of them are decades old. The future currents were underestimated during the planning.

Population and Growth - Stress on the Water System

I have to hurry. Richard - known as Dick - is waiting for Luthy in a neat new building. Richard Luthy wears a lot of hats. Most important is that of the director of ReNUWIT. It's about nothing less than reinventing the urban water infrastructure.

"In California the population is increasing. The economy is growing steadily and then there is climate change, all of which puts a lot of stress on our water system."

California has the highest groundwater consumption in the entire country: around 53 billion liters per day - during the drought, consumption rose to more than 68 billion liters per day. Saving water alone is not enough.

That would only help if the population remained stable or - even better - decreased. The opposite is the case.

"We must remember one thing here in California: There is no single measure that can solve the water problem. We need to understand that we are all part of the problem, just as we are all part of the solution."

Years of research on water resources

In the first few years they mainly spent collecting data about where there are which water resources, how they are used, which routes the water then takes. Then they would have looked for sources that they have not yet tapped.

We switch from the visitor's table to the desk. Richard Luthy wants to show me a current project in Los Angeles. He calls up the plan for a park that has been under construction since 2017 on the site of a former landfill.

"I'll show you a picture of what that might look like. That is the area of ​​a few street blocks. It still only spoils the city, but in the future, some construction work may create an area that collects rainwater and leads it through a wetland where it is then processed in a plant for the city's water supply. "

Huge treatment basins for rainwater

There are huge treatment basins in the nearby Sun Valley Park, where the collected rainwater is to be pumped in. The project will cost 52 million US dollars.

"Here is another picture of what that might look like. Here we have an area for a future football field, a playground, basketball fields, tennis courts, walking paths and lots of trees. There would be a way to intercept water - in the middle of the park. Otherwise it would Rainwater would flow into the sea and we would have to laboriously desalinate it again. Our method is very efficient. "

You all have to think more versatile - and much bigger. Unfortunately, some ideas are difficult to implement. To be fair, it has to be said that there aren't many 50 hectares in Los Angeles that can be bought for such projects. Luthy is therefore not only thinking of new buildings, but also wants to use existing structures more efficiently. He cites the AquaCharge software, which he recently developed, as an example.

"The idea is as follows. In some places in the USA, such as the area around Los Angeles, there are rainwater collecting basins that collect the water that flows from the mountains in winter. The rest of the year, however, they are empty because there is a Mediterranean one here There is a climate and then it doesn't rain at all for eight months. "

Scenarios for the connected water basin

Buildings given away. They could use these basins all year round, they would only have to collect, treat and return the usable water.

"The plan is for us to reclaim the water and pump it back into the basins, thus using the unused capacity. That would then become an important part of the water supply."

The basins could be connected - lined up like pearls - they stretched from the city to the mountains. Richard Luthy lets go of the mouse, turns to me and begins to lecture. He counts the building blocks they are working on on his fingers.

"We practically have to think in terms of five taps when it comes to drinking water: efficiency, desalination, rainwater, recycling and water storage. With these methods together we can achieve a lot and probably solve the water problem."

Governor Brown is raising awareness

Almost two hours of interview are over. I urgently need to go two floors up to Luthy's colleague Newsha Ajami. Last question for him, is he optimistic despite the enormous challenges?

Newsha Ajami is Director of Urban Water Management and is considered THE expert in developing strategies for how research, politics and society can work together to use water more sustainably.

"How can we improve our water balance in the course of climate change? How can we make our system more efficient?"

Climate change isn't actually a winning issue, but it seems different in California. Fortunately, they would have the right person at the helm, says Newsha Ajami:

"I think Governor Brown did this strategically to bring the drought closer to people. He went up the mountains to measure the snow like every year, even though there was no snow, just brown slush and he said, Look at you at this, California, look behind me, last year and the years before there was so much snow here it came up to my shoulder. And this year - nothing. This is where things stand and I want you too see."

People automatically saved water during the drought

A regulation during the 2015 drought had an impact. Individual municipalities managed with 40 percent less water. They had banned the irrigation of the grass verges, the wet cleaning of sidewalks and streets and the automatic serving of drinking water in restaurants. In order to achieve such goals in the long term, says Newsha Ajami, one has to get the population on board - and of course the water authorities as well.

"Most water authorities make money selling water. So it is not easy to convince them that they should go out voluntarily and promote water conservation."

But then something happened that neither they nor the waterworks had expected.

"During the drought, the water authorities told us that a lot of people were saving water, even though the authorities had not changed anything strategically, neither structurally nor did they advertise more. They had no explanation as to why people suddenly used less water."

Role of the media in water consumption

Previously, water was only saved if politicians had explicitly recommended it. But that was not the case. So what was the reason for the sudden frugality? Newsha Ajami collected data on all conceivable influencing factors.

"We took on nine regional and national daily newspapers. If you do not factor in the reporting on water savings and drought, there was no explanation that can be achieved with the usual factors, such as a changed income. But as soon as you added the reporting, it fitted again . So media coverage plays an important role in water consumption. "

It was the time of a summer slump, Newsha Ajami admits, which is why the print media reported more and more about the drought. But in this way the people in California would have provided proof that everyone can sustainably protect the resource drinking water on a small scale - and on a very small scale anyway: Ajami laughs and points to a photo of her children.

"My children scream at each other when someone leaves the tap open and forgets to turn it off. And sometimes they tell their friends," My mum is a water policeman - so watch out, don't make any nonsense or she'll get very angry "(laughs)"

A badly constructed dam

California's water problems aren't just getting to grips with additional water basins and savings. New sources of drinking water must be found and old ones protected. In northern California, for example. Where the Oroville Dam almost broke.

Beginning of 2017: After a four-year record drought, the wettest winter since the beginning of the weather records follows. The Oroville Dam was almost dry, now it is filling in record time - so much that the dam wall can hardly withstand. A tidal wave threatens. As a result of the flood, the relief canal was damaged, and the entire dam was probably constructed incorrectly.

The construction of new dams to generate energy is not worthwhile, because electricity from water generation can no longer compete with sun and wind. That is why there are always few donors who want to invest in old dams.

Desalination plants - cheaper, technically simpler

At the University of California in Berkeley, crowds of students pour over the campus at lunchtime, and the carillon at Sather Tower starts at 12 noon.

After a quarter of an hour it becomes quiet again, only the squirrels are frantically chasing around. I meet Berkeley Water Center co-director David Sedlak in front of Wheeler Hall, the largest lecture building on campus. He's actually researching systems that produce useful water from salty seawater.

"30 years ago, the costs for desalination plants were incredibly high, it also required a lot of energy and you also produced greenhouse gases."

That has changed thanks to many technical innovations. The first large desalination plant went into operation in California in 2015, and there were ten in 2017. Fifteen more are to follow.

"In California we are now at a point where it makes no difference in terms of costs whether we desalinate the water for Los Angeles or pump it over the mountains into the city. Of course, the costs for the desalination plants are still too high for them Water supply, but it's getting cheaper and technically simpler these days. "

Water revolution 4.0

Perth, Australia, managed to get half of its drinking water needs from seawater during the recent drought. What is even more impressive is what is happening in Israel right now. Up to 90 percent of the drinking water there comes from desalination plants. But, and that is the real issue for Sedlak: drinking water is not produced sustainably there. In the course of climate change, however, that is exactly what has to be achieved. He wants to tell me about his revolution, which he calls Water 4.0.

"Water 4.0 means the four revolutions in urban water systems. Three have already taken place, the fourth we are currently going through."

"The first revolution describes the engineering achievements of the Romans, who brought water into cities over great distances. The second revolution was the idea of ​​filtering water with sand, for example, and using chlorine to turn it into safe drinking water. Revolution number three dates back to the 1970s Years back when industrialized nations began to clean their wastewater before they dumped it into rivers so that you could fish and swim again. "

And now we are in the middle of the fourth revolution, says Sedlak.

"With Water 4.0 we are transforming our water systems into resource treatment systems that not only supply us with water but also give our cities back nutrients and energy. We waste a lot less."

"Cities have to adapt to climate change"

When water is scarce, there are simple options - such as a regulation that taps in public buildings must have an automatic water stop.

"The thing is: we don't have to recycle every single drop of water. If we only recycle half, we double the water available to us. Then we avoid building new dams, water reservoirs or expensive desalination plants."

"We are still at the beginning. The front line of the revolution are the progressive cities that understand that they have to adapt to climate change. When that happens, the other cities will also realize that the systems are not only safer and more sustainable, but also cost effective, and that is what the public expects.

Urban planning as an answer to climate change

The revolution will probably affect the entire state and it will cost money first. Dams and bridges have to be strengthened, roads raised or relocated, the water supply will undergo a system change. The plans are created at the universities and on behalf of the municipalities. Ultimately, the face of cities will change.

"Urban planning is our most powerful weapon against climate change, against rising energy costs and environmental degradation, because it can solve so many problems at the same time. It can ensure that the economy is boosted, that social factors are improved and that in turn paves the way for politics Way. Ultimately, the way we live determines the burden we place on the planet. "

Peter Calthorpe's expertise as an urban and spatial planner has been in demand around the world for decades. He has been involved in the development of several cities in China and has found ways out of the traffic gridlock for some metropolises such as Mexico City. In the "Vision California" project, he has worked out how his state can prepare for the tasks ahead.

"Take Southern California, that's 192 cities and counties - LA isn't the only city there. It's a huge metropolitan area that is expanding all the time. We have developed a regional plan to reduce car traffic, and everything is new to think."

Infrastructure tax of $ 12 per household

It is about factors such as kilometers driven per person, workplaces that can be reached on foot and shopping destinations, the amount of insulation material for living space per person, all of which have an impact on CO2 emissions. This is to be achieved in California with the legal requirement SB375. The first successes confirm the work.

"Take the two examples of Downtown LA, where our plan is working great. The buildings are growing tall and everything is growing into a real city center - and Wilshire Boulevard is now getting a subway to Santa Monica - everything is developing well. "

It looks like the residents of California have understood that they have to face climate change and its consequences, Peter Calthorpe is convinced. There is no other explanation for the fact that voters in the nine districts along the bay voted for each household to pay a tax of US $ 12 annually to finance infrastructure projects that are absolutely necessary due to climate change.

"I don't think there is a magic bullet that can solve the challenges, it is accelerating step by step, outside of national politics. The US government is way behind, but the state of California is very progressive. Cities can achieve a lot on their own. More and more cities will find that they are much more successful economically if they also solve the problems of climate change. "