Adapting to the Effects of Climate Change - October 9, 2012

"...there is no denying that there will be effects and we have begun to see them already"

Since Al Gore released his film “An Inconvenient Truth”, communities have been making efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While there is still much to be done to mitigate how severe the effects of climate change will be, there is no denying that there will be effects and we have begun to see them already.

All predictions for Santa Fe indicate that this area will experience higher temperatures and more associated evaporation, reducing the amount of water available for our use, even if rainfall levels stay the same. This will result in tree and plant stress and die-off and will increase the risk of wild fire occurrence and severity. As we have seen with the Las Truchas fire, the damage does not stop when the fire is put out. Subsequent runoff removes the thin layer of top soil and causes erosion into surface water, affecting the quality of our drinking supply. This is just one of many systemic impacts anticipated to increase in severity as changes in climate become more severe.

Recently, more attention has been given to making communities more resilient to respond to the effects of climate change. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Clean Energy Solutions for American’s Cities summary of survey results, by the Spring of 2011 one in three cities had already adopted a sustainability plan. Flagstaff Arizona recently adopted a plan to improve their ability to continue to deliver city services and to address issues of forest health resulting from the effects of climate change. The City of Santa Fe included some aspects of climate change adaptation in the 2008 Sustainable Santa Fe Plan, including food security and ecological adaptation. However, as we begin to see the effects of climate change, the need to be more comprehensive in our adaptation planning is becoming more evident.

To determine the best strategies for a particular community to increase their resiliency to adapt to the effects of climate change, communities are beginning to perform vulnerability and risk assessments. The process involves identifying operations and systems that could be adversely affected by climate change, brainstorming about how they could be adapted to projected climate futures, and ranked based on various characteristics such as: if it addresses a critical function, if the impacts are life threatening, cost estimate, the probability of the impact happening and any other category of importance to the community conducting the evaluation. This information can then inform the approach taken and the relative priority of the actions selected.

The City of Santa Fe has not yet conducted a comprehensive vulnerability and risk assessment, however, the city is undertaking several measures to assess vulnerabilities and plan for the future. The city’s Water Division, working with the Bureau of Reclamation, is preparing an analysis to better understand the future effect on, and associated risks from, climate change on the Santa Fe watershed as a whole and the surface water use in three sub-basins: the Santa Fe River watershed, the upper Rio Grande watershed (upstream from Otowi stream gage), and the San Juan River watershed, which is the source of water for the San Juan-Chama Project water. That analysis is expected to be complete later this fall.

A team of city and county staff and representatives will also be attending an academy on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience in early October put on by the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC). Santa Fe is one of 15 communities selected to participate in the academy. ISC puts on academies in a range of sustainability topics designed to increase the capacity of local governments to build infrastructure from the top-downand the bottom-up leaving a legacy of leadership as well as enduring results. The approach is to bring together best practices from the public and private sector by bringing in and sharing expertise through training and mentoring to help communities produce breakthrough results. The October training will be ISC’s second in this topic and will build on lessons learned in the first one held in September 2010 and lessons learned since.

So far, adaptation planning has fallen to local and state governments with little support from the federal government. The President’s Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force issued a report on “Federal Actions for a Climate Resilient Nation” in 2010 which outlines how federal policies, programs and planning efforts can better prepare the country for the effects of climate change.

The report identified five actions, one of which is “Building Resilience to Climate Change in Communities,” which recognizes that most adaption occurs at the local level to address issues that directly affect individuals, their property, local economies and local ecosystems. The other four actions include integrating adaption into federal government planning and activities; improving accessibility and coordination of science for decision making; developing strategies to safeguard natural resources; and enhancing efforts to lead and support international adaptation.

In October 2011, they issued a progress report for the actions that indicates that to support communities grappling with the current and projected impacts of climate change, federal agencies are developing ways to incorporate climate adaption in to planning, emergency preparedness and disaster recovery to protect communities and reduce losse. Also, federal agencies are providing data, information and decision tools to reduce health and insurance risks related to climate impacts. Until further federal resources become available, local governments remained tasked with ensuring the effects of climate change are anticipated and addressed.

To follow the City of Santa Fe’s efforts to plan for the effects of climate change, visit this website or “ like” the Sustainable Santa Fe facebook page.

Katherine Mortimer is the Sustainable Santa Fe Programs Manager for the City of Santa Fe, New Mexico and staffs the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission. She is also the Chair of the Santa Fe City and County Advisory Council on Food Policy. Katherine has over 25 years of experience in environmental planning and design. She has a Bachelor of Architecture from the California College of the Arts and a Masters in Landscape Architecture – Environmental Planning from the University of California at Berkeley.

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