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Adaptation Examples in the Southwest

Map of the Southwest including: California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and the western portions of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.

Adaptation Examples in the Southwest

Key Points
  • The City of Phoenix, Arizona is integrating climate change into water supply projections and is exploring alternative city designs and building materials to help reduce temperatures.
  • The Hualapai Tribe in Arizona is constructing new water infrastructure and removing invasive species to protect their water supply and local habitats.
  • Communities around the San Francisco Bay are developing plans to protect businesses, infrastructure, and ecosystems from rising sea levels.
  • California developed Cal-Adapt, an interactive, web-based tool that allows users to learn about the climate impacts and vulnerabilities in California communities.
  • The EPA is working with communities across the Southwest to understand and plan for the interactions between climate change and water resources.




New Mexico



American Indian Tribes

Federal and Regional


States, regions, and local governments are preparing for climate change in the Southwest, an area that spans a significant range of elevation and climate types. The region will likely face a wide variety of impacts from climate change, including more frequent and severe droughts, longer and more intense heat waves, and sea level rise. Learn more about climate change impacts in the Southwest here.

Below are examples of ongoing efforts to adapt to climate change impacts in the Southwest at the local, state, and federal level. The links, following the examples, provide additional information about a number of adaptation plans, reports, and studies specific to the region. Both the examples and links are intended to be illustrative — they are not intended to be comprehensive.

Phoenix, Arizona incorporates climate change into water management and urban design

Photograph of Lake Mead with water levels much lower than the high water mark.

Lake Mead stores water from the Colorado River and supplies water to Phoenix, Arizona. Source: NASA (2003) Exit EPA Disclaimer

Phoenix, Arizona's large population and warm, dry climate make the city particularly vulnerable to droughts and extreme heat. Phoenix is taking several steps to ensure sustainable water supplies, to protect populations that are vulnerable to extreme heat, and to adopt land use designs that minimize the city's absorption of heat. For example, Phoenix uses renewable surface water supplies and reserves groundwater for use during extended droughts. [1] The city is also incorporating climate change projections into drought planning and creating a task force to redesign the downtown core to minimize the way buildings trap heat and increase local temperatures. [1] [2]

For more information about adaptation strategies to deal with water shortages, visit the Water Impacts & Adaptation page. For more information about adapting to warmer urban conditions, please visit the Health Impacts & Adaptation page.

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Hualapai Tribe prepares for future water shortages [3]

The Hualapai Reservation is located in the mountains of northwestern Arizona. In 2006, the Hualapai Department of Natural Resources partnered with the National EPA — Tribal Science Council to tackle the climate change impacts that will likely affect the Hualapai people. The tribe is most concerned with temperature increases and precipitation decreases that would reduce the availability of water — a resource that is important to the tribe's economy, environment, health, and culture. The Hualapai Tribe has taken several steps to help ensure freshwater availability even in times of limited precipitation. For example, the tribe constructed water catchments to store water on the Reservation, removed non-native tamarisk plants that are believed to disrupt the ecosystem, and built new wells and water pipelines.

To learn more about adaptation strategies to deal with water shortages, please visit the Water Impacts & Adaptation page.

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The San Francisco Bay, California adapts to sea level rise

Map of the San Francisco Bay with a focus on a low-lying area of San Francisco that would be under water.

(1 meter) sea level rise on south San Francisco Bay. The light blue areas indicate flooded land. Source: NOAA

According to the 2011 Bay Conservation Development Commission (BCDC) assessment, Exit EPA Disclaimer the San Francisco Bay Area is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. [4] There are several agencies and communities in the Bay Area that are concerned about the impacts of sea level rise on ecosystems, the economy, and infrastructure. For example:

  • The Adapting to Rising Tides (ART) Exit EPA Disclaimer program is working with community officials and stakeholders to identify climate change impacts and develop feasible strategies to manage risks to Bay Area communities. Cities like Hayward Exit EPA Disclaimer and Berkeley Exit EPA Disclaimer are developing for impacts, including those related to sea level rise.
  • The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) developed a partnership with the Netherlands Exit EPA Disclaimer to learn effective strategies to deal with sea level rise in low-lying areas. [5]

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Executive leadership in California encourages climate change preparation

In 2005, the California Governor mandated the biennial production of a Climate Change Impacts Assessment that identifies the potential impacts of climate change and offers adaptation strategies. [6] Additionally, California has an inter-agency Climate Action Team (CAT) Exit EPA Disclaimer that is responsible for implementing both mitigation and adaptation efforts. In 2009, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) released a Climate Adaptation Strategy (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer that recommends actions state agencies can take to adapt to state sector impacts. Since the release of the Climate Action Strategy, the state formed a Climate Adaptation Advisory Panel that released a report, Preparing for the Effects of Climate Change — A Strategy for California. Exit EPA Disclaimer The report includes adaptation recommendations for sea level rise, water supply, and forest wildfires. The state has also developed Cal-Adapt, Exit EPA Disclaimer an interactive tool that makes climate data, trends, maps, and information about impacts easily accessible.

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Denver adapts to extreme wildfire and precipitation events

In 1996, a fire burned 11,900 acres around Buffalo Creek — a tributary to the upper South Platte River, which is the main source of the Denver, Colorado water supply. Two months following the fire, heavy thunderstorms caused flash floods in the burned area. This series of events washed more sediment into the reservoir than had accumulated in the previous 13 years. The emergency cleanup costs totaled nearly $1 million, chronic cleanup costs due to increased turbidity totaled $250,000 in water treatment costs per year, and dredging was estimated to cost $15 to $20 million over 10 years. To mitigate future damage, the utility installed sensors to provide alerts upstream debris and sediment. Additionally, DenverWater and the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region will work together to restore more than 38,000 acres of National Forest lands through mechanical thinning, fuel reduction, creating fire breaks, erosion control, decommissioning roads, and reforestation. [7]

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The City of Chula Vista implements adaptation strategies

The City of Chula Vista's Climate Change Working Group is implementing 11 City Council-approved Climate Adaptation Strategies (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer The decision made Chula Vista the first local government in Southern California to adopt a standalone, comprehensive climate adaptation plan. Adaptation strategies in the plan include measures to expand the city's urban forests, incorporate "cool" or reflective roofs, promote gray water and other water reuse, and design future development and municipal projects to be resilient to sea level rise.

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EPA helps the Southwest prepare for drought and cope with water supply shortages

Example of the U.S. Drought Monitor map for the state of Arizona for the week of March 13, 2012.Map of Arizona counties shaded by varying intensities of drought that range from abnormally dry to exceptional. In this map, the most intense drought depicted is in the central southern portion of the state and is considered 'extreme.' The majority of the state is represented by 'severe' or 'moderate' drought colors. View enlarged image

Example of the U.S. Drought Monitor map for the state of Arizona for the week of March 13, 2012. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center (2012) Exit EPA Disclaimer

Maintaining a reliable water supply is a critical challenge in the Southwest. Several efforts to address this challenge are underway.

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[1] Phoenix Government. Phoenix: Living Like it Matters! Environmental Sustainability Program (2008) (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

[2] Center for Clean Air Policy (2009). Ask the Climate Question: Adapting to Climate Change Impacts in Urban Regions (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

[3] Hualapai Department of Natural Resources. Global Warming/Climate Change poster (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

[4] San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (2011). Living with a Rising Bay: Vulnerability and Adaptation in San Francisco Bay and on its Shoreline (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

[5] San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (2011). Report summarizing Bay Conservation Development Commission's relationship with the Netherlands (April 15, 2011) (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

[6] California Government. Climate Change Portal website . Exit EPA Disclaimer

[7] EPA Climate Ready Water Utilities. Adaptation Strategies Guide for Water Utilities .

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