Creating resilience to climate change

Park City anticipates increasing severe weather by joining ICLEI pact

by Allen Best

Mid-way through the last decade, Park City Mayor Dana Williams joined the Mayors’ Agreement on Climate Change. The agreement, now signed by well more than 1,000 mayors across the Untied States, including many from ski towns, pledges their participating cities to seek to reduce their part in rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this year, Williams  signed another agreement. This one, by ICLEI USA, takes a new tact. Instead of focusing on reduction in its carbon footprint, Resilient Communities for America focuses on the impacts of climate change with a pledge to create more resiliencies in municipal infrastructure.

“I have been impressed with ICLEI over the years. We felt it was a good fit,” says Williams.

Dana Williams, 2008

Dana Williams, 2008

Others of the 64 mayors signatory to the ICLEI agreement as of July include those from Denver, Boulder, Durango and Fort Collins, all in Colorado; and many in California, as well as scattered other cities around the United States.

The premise of the Resilient Communities for America campaign is that communities need to start anticipating the effect of more extreme weather. Every $1 spent on disaster risk reduction can save $4 in recovery and emergency response costs, says ICLEI USA.

“It makes kind of an interesting point about where we’re at in dealing with climate change,” says Tyler Polson, sustainability director for Park City. “Whereas in the past a lot of these agreements dealt strictly with climate mitigation and reducing carbon emissions, (there’s now) recognition that some of the impacts are upon us.”

Nearby Salt Lake City is also a member of the group, and among its work items is creating a better infrastructure to accommodate bigger storms. One of the basic tenants of greenhouse theory is that that added energy into storm systems will mean bigger snowstorms and rainstorms, if also interspersed by more intense droughts.

But what does a city do when it gets drenched by four inches of rain, as occurred during June in Cambridge, Mass., or even this past spring by Chicago? It needs larger-volume storm sewers.

Conversely, Salt Lake City is also worried about having too little water coming off the Wasatch Range, its primary source.

In Park City, water quality and availability are also high on the list of concerns. While some climate models see increased precipitation in coming decades at Park City, they universally see less snow, the consequence of inexorable temperature increases.

Just how Park City’s water supply may be impacted isn’t yet clear. “We haven’t gotten here yet, but we are very aware that these questions out there are worth investigating,” says Polson.

Those temperature increases may also yield greater risks of wildfire. Risk of fires have already escalated during recent decades, the result of successful fire suppression for most of the last century, abetted in recent years by deep drought.

Frightened by a nearby fire two years ago, leaders in Park City and Summit County joined to create a 32-page wildfire protection plan. That plan, says Polson, goes into some detail about equipment available, executing publicity on in educational campaigns, and so forth.

The ICLEI’s agreement also offers two other advantages, says Polson. By banding together, the signatory cities can help send a message to federal lawmakers of the support for federal action. Park City signed the agreement before President Barack Obama’s speech this past summer on climate change.

Williams, who will be leaving office in November after more than 10 years as mayor, says he sees continued stalemate at the federal level. By banding with other elected officials, Park City’s voice can be heard.

But until federal action is achieved, the action is at the local level, he says. In joining the Resiliency Communities campaign, Park City also gains access to guidebooks as the city puzzles through how to better adapt to more intense weather, degrading snowpack and other manifestations of warmer temperatures.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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