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Levee systems are an important part of California's water infrastructure, engineered to provide resilience against flooding and reduce flood losses. The growth in California is partly associated with costly infrastructure developments that led to population expansion in the levee protected areas. Therefore, potential changes in the flood hazard could have significant socioeconomic consequences over levee protected areas, especially in the face of a changing climate. In this study, we examine the possible impacts of a warming climate on flood hazard over levee protected land in California. We use gridded maximum daily runoff from global circulation models (GCMs) that represent a wide range of variability among the climate projections, and are recommended by the California's Fourth Climate Change Assessment Report, to investigate possible climate-induced changes. We also quantify the exposure of several critical infrastructure protected by the levee systems (e.g. roads, electric power transmission lines, natural gas pipelines, petroleum pipelines, and railroads) to flooding. Our results provide a detailed picture of change in flood risk for different levees and the potential societal consequences (e.g. exposure of people and critical infrastructure). Levee systems in the northern part of the Central Valley and coastal counties of Southern California are likely to observe the highest increase in flood hazard relative to the past. The most evident change is projected for the northern region of the Central Valley, including Butte, Glenn, Yuba, Sutter, Sacramento, and San Joaquin counties. In the leveed regions of these counties, based on the model simulations of the future, the historical 100-year runoff can potentially increase up to threefold under RCP8.5. We argue that levee operation and maintenance along with emergency preparation plans should take into account the changes in frequencies and intensities of flood hazard in a changing climate to ensure safety of levee systems and their protected infrastructure.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.