Turning up the heat: Sierra faces climate change
April 22, 2009
Whether we like it or not, the world’s climate is getting warmer on average.
And how Sierra Nevada resource managers, especially water providers, will manage the problems presented by climate change was the topic of a workshop in Placerville on Tuesday. About 50 people attended.
Nevada Irrigation District General Manager Ron Nelson called for the workshop when he noticed the global climate change discussion contained little information about how to manage the global phenomenon’s regional effects. The district provides water to nearly 25,000 homes in Placer and Nevada counties.
Two of the most pressing predictions associated with warmer weather in the mountain range are more frequent and intense wildfires, as well as instability in California’s fresh water supply.
As the Sierra snowpack melts, water replenishes the state’s reservoirs during the driest time of the year. But warmer weather is expected to cause a greater percentage of precipitation to fall as rain hastens the snowpack’s melt each year, decreasing the predictability of the state’s water supplies.
Topics of Tuesday’s workshop included options for developing alternative energy, drought planning, the availability of modeling software to more accurately predict water supplies in an uncertain environment and water-neutral development.
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While none of the presentations included comprehensive solutions to the consequences of climate change, two major themes cropped up during Tuesday’s presentations: land managers need to make efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change, while simultaneously adapting to the consequences of warming that have already started to crop up.
And such efforts need to be made soon, before the consequences of climate change reach critical levels, said Joan Clayburgh, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Alliance, a South Lake Tahoe-based coalition of Sierra Nevada conservation groups.
During her presentation, Clayburgh used the Angora fire as an example, noting the difficulty of making management decisions in the emotionally charged atmosphere following the fire.
“It’s easier to do this on a voluntary basis rather than in crisis mode,” Clayburgh said.
Getting the Sierra Nevada region recognized as a leader in the fight against climate change could also be a turning point for a rural region that often gets overlooked for state funds, Clayburgh said.
It’s often easier for larger municipalities to devote the resources necessary for attracting those funds, Clayburgh explained.
Although many of Tuesday’s presentations were of a technical nature, what individuals can do was not entirely lost on those at the meeting.
An “overwhelming” majority of people living in the Sierra understand that climate change is occurring, Clayburgh said, but many “think it means that polar bear is really in trouble, but don’t connect it to the water that’s coming out of their tap.”
With electricity generation being responsible for a large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, ways to reduce emissions include “things as simple as turning off the lights when you leave the office at night or turning your computer off,” said Elizabeth Betancourt, a watershed coordinator with the El Dorado Irrigation District, which hosted the workshop.
And such simple measures could help prevent a complex problem from growing even more thorny, Clayburgh said.
“If we don’t reduce our emissions,” Clayburgh said, “there are going to be changes that are very, very, very hard to adapt to.”