You are here: Home The Sustainable Cities & Counties Blog archive 2012 October 01 Salt Lake City Mayor Becker Leads on Action to Prepare for Climate Impacts
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Salt Lake City Mayor Becker Leads on Action to Prepare for Climate Impacts

by Don Knapp

Today at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker spoke before an audience of federal decision makers and sustainability leaders about his City's actions and leadership in the face of climate and energy challenges.

The National Leadership Speaker Series on Resiliency and Security in the 21st Century, organized by ICLEI and the U.S. Green Building Council, brought three nationally recognized leaders on sustainability and resilience: Mayor Becker, Mayor George Heartwell of Grand Rapids, MI, and Vice Mayor Kristin Jacobs of Broward County, FL.

Salt Lake City is already facing serious impacts due to climate change (see below), but under Mayor Becker's leadership, the City is responding with innovative preparedness measures. Below is an outline of the key facts and actions that Mayor Becker addressed in his speech.

“We need to look at climate change from a broader perspective. I am proud of the important progress we have made to reduce Salt Lake City’s carbon footprint as well as our efforts to adapt to the real and pressing effects of climate change,” said Mayor Becker. “The resilience of our built environment must be considered in all development moving forward. People want a community that’s sustainable and livable.”

Climate Impacts on Water Supply

  • Salt Lake City’s water supply system serving 400,000 people is dependent on snowpack for water storage.
  • Ninety percent of our water supply comes from surface water sources in our local Wasatch Mountain range and from surface water associated with our rights in the Colorado River Basin.
  • Our local climate observations show a trend of increasing minimum temperatures over the last 40 years.  Our minimum temperatures are increasing faster than our maximum observed temperatures, as much as 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • This trend of increasing minimum temperature means less precipitation falling as snow, resulting in less water stored in snowpack for runoff.  This may also result in a faster spring runoff.  Ultimately this decreases the supply of water available to us for use.
  • Over the last year Salt Lake City has been conducting a hydrological sensitivity analysis of our watersheds in order to help us determine climate vulnerabilities.
  • So far, our results show that all of our surface water sources have significant sensitivity to changes in temperature; for example, increases in temperature by 5 degrees Fahrenheit could reduce flows from our watersheds 5 to 15% below average flows.
  • In addition to this sensitivity analysis, other variables, such as changes in water demand, population, extreme rain/storm events, and others will influence the availability and quality of our water supplies.
  • Economic effects on the ski industry will be extreme.
  • "In short, our water supplies are extremely sensitive to changes in climate necessitating adaptation processes for our community," said Mayor Becker. "Our sensitivity analysis is a first step, in an iterative process, for Salt Lake City to develop adaptation strategies."

Forest Health Impacts

  • Trees in the urban forest are becoming more susceptible to disease.
  • Lower precipitation is causing a dryer forest, increasing the number and severity of wildfires.


Climate Preparedness Is Key

  • "Preparation is key," said Mayor Becker, "as our development decisions today will determine how resilient we are to climate change in the future."
  • Planning for climate change is no different than planning for any other natural hazard such as an earthquake, fire or flood. Potential impacts are considered, and actions are taken to avoid or minimize those impacts with the greatest risk or likelihood.
  • Emergency planners are integrally involved. Police and Fire are also involved to ensure that we have identified possible emergency response needs.
  • "Planning for prevention upfront will avoid costs in the future," added Mayor Becker. "One dollar of hazard mitigation today can save four dollars of post-disaster reconstruction in the future."

How Salt Lake City's Government Is Preparing

"What are we doing to prepare our community? We must take a comprehensive approach, as many issues are interrelated," explained Mayor Becker.

1. Water Conservation Master Plan: Ways to protect the quantity and quality of the water we need.

  • Watershed protection, water security
  • Long-term master plans for the city will incorporate likely future climate scenarios

2. Salt Lake Code Revision Project

  • Ordinance review, updating ordinances to meet the needs of a warmer future
  • Transit-oriented developments to help minimize vehicle use, improve air quality
  • Ordinances allowing city chickens
  • Local food production, community gardens, food policy task force
  • Solar in historic districts and working with state regulators on solar rebates for residents
  • Accessory dwelling units to allow for local infill
  • Complete streets to encourage the use of bikes and to provide safe pedestrian walkways

3. Energy Security
– minimize the use of all forms of energy

  • Net zero buildings
  • Energy efficiency upgrades
  • Renewables including solar PV and solar hot water systems

4.  Infrastructure Planning – building roads and sewers to handle warmer temperatures and higher runoff volumes

5. Community Food Assessment - now nearing completion; Food Policy Task Force is reviewing the City’s needs for community gardens, urban agriculture and other local food production issues.

6. Outreach with Businesses and Residents – establishing ways to reduce energy use (E2 Businesses), conserve water and improve our air quality (Idle-Free Campaign). Social marketing solutions to engage all.

7. Collaboration with Health Department
on residents’ health and air quality issues

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