Weather What?

June 29, 2023
A glimpse of a body of water at Dos Rios Ranch Preserve through a cluster of trees.
Dos Rios Ranch Preserve, Stanislaus County, California; Credit: Photo taken by Allison Harvey Turner

Nature wins. If we let it.

That is what I observed when I recently visited the Dos Rios Ranch Preserve. Last December the land was dry, with just a small stream moving through it. But a few weeks later nature took over, unleashing a series of storms that transformed the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers into a huge, vibrant wetland. It was a sight to behold.

The abrupt change in weather was not limited to the Dos Rios area. In early 2023 a series of atmospheric rivers interrupted California’s drought, bringing flooding throughout the state and an epic snowpack that portends more. This phenomenon of abrupt and jarring swings from one extreme weather event to the next has picked up an appropriate moniker – weather whiplash. Climate science has long predicted that we will have to get used to the world lurching from one extreme weather cycle to another.

The Dos Rios Ranch Preserve is a public-private floodplain restoration project that was developed to improve habitat for fish and wildlife. What makes it particularly exciting is, in the course of restoring nature, Dos Rios serves other important roles, such as reducing flood risk in downstream communities, conserving fresh water, and providing health and economic benefits to nearby communities. Alongside these functional benefits, this project exemplifies the wisdom of advance planning and investment in multi-benefit water resources management.

For 10 years River Partners led the ambitious and expensive effort to restore the Dos Rios floodplain. Their efforts were supported by the Water Foundation, other private partners, and a myriad of public agencies. It took more than technical know how to make it happen – it required political will and tenacity.

There is an old political expression, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” While there is value in capitalizing on moments when the public’s attention is on floods or drought, we cannot expect significant, lasting results if we chase events to seize a policy opportunity. In that scenario, we will always be trying to catch up.

Throughout the West, we can no longer afford to think in terms of “drought years” and “flood years.”

Policymakers at all levels of government must prioritize long-term, sustained funding to manage for flood and drought happening at the same time. Business and civic leaders have a role to play as well, by advocating for the long-term investments that will turn weather whiplash threats into solutions that benefit the bottom line, communities, and regional economies.

And the philanthropic sector has an important role in encouraging and cheering on these leaders, making possible powerful, multi-benefit projects like the restoration of the Dos Rios Ranch Preserve, and telling their stories. Philanthropy can be the catalyst for changes in water policy and water resource management practices that will benefit both people and the environment for generations to come.

Philanthropic grantmaking organizations are critical to building and maintaining the institutions and coalitions that help deliver policies and projects that confront the dramatic extremes of a changing climate. When philanthropy works together to address these complex challenges, we can accomplish big things. The Dos Rios Ranch Preserve is a great example.

People win. Communities win. And yes, nature wins.

Watch the interview at Dos Rios Ranch Preserve