Climate Action Collaborative: A song of ice and fire
How water efficiency can help make our community more resilient
Climate Action Collaborative
The Royal Elk Glade at Beaver Creek is one of my favorite tree runs of all time. With no shortage of steep terrain and a magical run out to give your legs a break, it is pure bliss on a powder day.
Watching weather forecasts carefully, there were a few times throughout the 2020/2021 season that I braved Vail Pass during a storm hoping there’d be enough snow for patrol to open the glade. To my dismay, even into March, it was roped off every time due to “lack of coverage.”
I’m not sure if they ever pulled the ropes or not — perhaps I unluckily missed an opening period — but what I do know is that in my years of skiing Beaver Creek, I’ve never seen it closed so late into the season.
In February, our water year precipitation was around 84% of average. This April, that number dropped to 75%. Both numbers indicate that we didn’t get the sustained, healthy snowpack we need to stave off drought in the upcoming summer months.
When 80% of our water supply comes from our snowpack, these are concerning deficits that are illustrating the effects of climate change in our community. Alarmingly, mountain surface air temperatures are warming at a faster rate than the global average surface air temperature.
What follows is less water storage in our snowpacks, which lead to reduced river flows in the warm seasons. Overall, we have a reduced water supply for water-based recreation, agriculture, and potable water. These temperature changes and water reductions also cause changing wildflower seasons and worsened pine beetle infestations, with varying repercussions inflicted upon our ecosystems.
There’s an added danger to water scarcity that Eagle County residents know all too well. A dried-out landscape full of dried out trees and underbrush is extremely susceptible to wildfires, and these wildfires are burning with more fury and frequency.
I know this all sounds pretty scary, and frankly, it is. But this is the time to turn concern into beneficial initiative. it’s time to consider the impact of our day-to-day emissions, to be smart with our water choices, and to rally around sustaining the beautiful place we live in.
Luckily, we have more than one handbook that can help Eagle County become resilient in a changing climate. First, the Climate Action Collaborative recently released an updated Climate Action Plan that outlines priority actions for the buildings, waste, energy supply and transportation sector emissions reductions.
Additionally, it includes mechanisms to enhance our efforts for education and outreach, carbon sequestration, water conservation, and community resiliency. These CAP strategies will help us tackle our greenhouse gas emissions; an important first step to mitigating drought and wildfire.
Second, there is the Eagle County Community Resilience Plan, developed by community experts, county partners, and county staff — and highlighted in the CAP.
Water resilience strategies focus on improving our water quality and quantity. Since we can’t directly control the amount of water available to us from Mother Nature, this strategy involves being mindful of how our current practices and our growing developments affect resource use. Becoming more efficient with both indoor and outdoor water use can help sustain this precious resource supply as our population continues to grow.
Lastly, The Resilience Plan and the Colorado Forest Management Plan tie wildfire strategies into resilience. While wildfires are essential to ecosystem growth cycles, exacerbated wildfires are destructive. Therefore, these plans outline ways to build up front-line communities; improve civic engagement, trust, and equity; fund and implement wildlife habitat restoration projects; and ensure health, safety, and well-being of our community residents and visitors during and after a disaster.
It’s important to remember that we, as members of Eagle County and beings who share a lifeblood resource with entire ecosystems, are key to successful implementation of these resilience plans. The weight does not fall solely on decision makers’ shoulders, but on the community as well.
This summer, talk with your families or roommates about how your household can become more water and energy efficient. Do some research to see how you can support frontline communities during a disaster, if you are able. Talk with your local landscaper about incorporating native and drought-tolerant plant life at your house or business.
We are lucky to live in some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Let’s rally together and do what it takes to protect our homes, our livelihoods, and each other. To learn more, please visit the following websites: Climate Action Collaborative, Eagle River Watershed Council, Eagle County Community Resilience Plan.
Claire Kantor is a Climate Action Collaborative Fellow at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. The Climate Action Collaborative is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Eagle County 25 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.