Vulnerability of Low-Income Households to the Hydrologic Effects of Climate Change

EPA Grant Number: R824805
Title: Vulnerability of Low-Income Households to the Hydrologic Effects of Climate Change
Investigators: Wernstedt, Kris , Austin, David
Current Investigators: Wernstedt, Kris , Austin, David , Hersh, Robert
Institution: Resources for the Future
EPA Project Officer: Chung, Serena
Project Period: October 1, 1995 through September 1, 1998
Project Amount: $440,000
RFA: Regional Hydrologic Vulnerability to Global Climate Change (1995) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Global Climate Change , Water , Climate Change , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


Although the interactions between climate change and social systems have received considerable attention in research and policy communities, much of the work in the area has adopted a world-wide or national-level perspective and focused on the aggregate impacts and forcing functions associated with climate change. Notwithstanding this emphasis, however, the potentially disproportionate share of global climate change impacts that disadvantaged groups in particular areas may experience is an important question for decision makers concerned with the risks of climate change, both from the standpoint of evaluating the fairness of possible policy responses as well as from a pragmatic perspective of gauging the likely support for policy options. This study tackles this question with a detailed examination of socio-economic vulnerabilities of low-income households in the Willamette River subbasin in the northwestern part of the U.S. to the reallocation of freshwater resources and other potential hydrologic effects associated with climate change.

The project will explore three main dimensions of vulnerability to climate change: exposure, capacity to cope, and resilience. In the exposure dimension, the investigation will use a water management model of the Willamette watershed in a series of workshops with regional stakeholders to simulate a range of possible reallocations of freshwater resources that might follow from climate change. In the resilience dimension, the study will develop a regional econometric model to estimate income and employment effects of variations in water availability and other climate variables in the last several decades. To examine the distribution of these impacts, researchers will develop a matrix that shows the income flows from each sector of the regional economy to each household income group. In the capacity dimension, the investigators will use a geographic information system (GIS) to correlate indicators of coping capacity with other dimensions of vulnerability and with socio-economic characteristics in the subbasin.

Although it is by no means certain that climate change will generate significant social and economic effects, the results of the study should prove useful for federal policy makers concerned with possible responses to climate change, as well as those with environmental justice responsibilities. The work also may help state and local agencies, two groups that likely will become the primary players in coping with the effects of climate change, a preview of the kinds of issues that they will be forced to address if the potential effects of climate change materialize.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 6 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

water, watershed, global climate, socio-economic, hydrology, Oregon, OR, Region 10, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, Geographic Area, Water, Hydrology, Water & Watershed, climate change, State, Atmospheric Sciences, Ecological Risk Assessment, EPA Region, Social Science, Watersheds, environmental monitoring, water resources, policy making, Oregon, economic models, hydrologic models, socioeconomic indicators, human dimension, climate models, low income households, land and water resources, Region 10, climate variability, Global Climate Change

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1996
  • 1997
  • Final Report