Carson City’s natural setting must be saved
August 28, 2007
The natural environment of Carson City is what brought me here almost 20 years ago to settle and raise my family – the Carson River, Tahoe, the mountains, the Great Basin desert, and a moderate climate in which we could enjoy the outdoors in all seasons.
Lately I’ve been wondering what will happen to all this as climate change kicks in. The Sierra Nevada Alliance has come out with a “Climate Change Toolkit” to help resource conservation groups and local governments understand the potential effects of climate change in the Sierra Nevada, and to design strategies to deal with it.
In Carson City, the biggest change we might see is different precipitation patterns – higher temperatures will mean more rain and less snow. Most of our water supply comes from winter snow falling in the mountains. Snow acts as a natural reservoir, lingering in the mountains through spring, releasing water in spring and early summer.
With more winter precipitation falling as rain, there will be more runoff in the winter – some in the form of events like the 1996 flood, when a warm rainstorm melted the high country snow, flooding the Carson River and the smaller creeks. Creeks and rivers will dry up earlier in the summer, affecting riparian, water-dependent species and maybe our water supply.
With the changed precipitation and warmer overall temperatures, soils and vegetation will dry out earlier, leading to a longer fire season and more wildfires. This in turn will result in changing vegetation as weedy species like cheatgrass take over the fire-damaged areas.
Less snow will mean trouble for our local ski areas. In the “Climate Change Toolkit” the Sierra Nevada Alliance reports that by 2050, a combination of delayed snow accumulation and earlier snowmelt could shorten the Sierra Nevada ski season by three to six weeks. By the end of the century, the ski season could be shortened by 7 to 15 weeks.
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We can’t forget the potential effects of climate change on the other species we share the world with. In the mountainous Great Basin and eastern Sierra, many species survive only at certain elevations that offer the right amount of precipitation and the right temperature, so a few degrees of temperature change may mean extinction.
I was thinking of this a few years ago when I was on top of Tower Peak in Yosemite National Park, appreciating the beautiful purple polemonium – “Sky Pilot” – flowers that only grow above about 10,000 feet. I had just read an Environmental Protection Agency report on climate change that said, “… although changes in the environment will surely occur, our nation’s economy should continue to provide the means for successful adaptation to climate change.” I had to admit I couldn’t figure out how our economy, thriving or not, would help the polemonium survive.
All the recent climate change reports, although gloomy, agree that there is a range of change that may take place, and that it is possible to diminish climate change by taking steps to control greenhouse gas emissions. Due partly to a lack of leadership on the federal level, many states and cities have taken the initiative to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions themselves.
As of May 2007, 500 mayors, including the mayors of Reno, Sparks, Las Vegas, and Henderson, have signed on to a U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement.
Each of the cities are taking different steps to alleviate greenhouse gas emissions. Henderson is converting traffic signals from incandescent bulbs to light emitting diodes (LED’s), which will reduce traffic light energy consumption by 92 percent. Las Vegas is working with the Southern Nevada Homebuilders Association in a joint project to make new buildings more energy efficient.
What is Carson City doing? I called Carson City Supervisor Robin Williamson to find out. She told me that while Carson City has not joined the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, the city is taking some initiatives that could cut greenhouse gas emissions.
These activities are the result of an economic development plan that the city completed a few years ago that included renewable energy development as a part of the city’s economic strategy. In a contract with the city, Energy Nevada is exploring ways to accumulate the customer base that would make renewable energy generation, for example wind power, viable. City buildings are being retrofitted with more energy efficient windows and lighting, and the city has a cogeneration contract with Sierra Pacific at the swimming pool facility.
She says that city staff are also exploring ways to calculate the city’s “carbon footprint” – a measurement of the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by a product or activity.
While changing light bulbs and retrofitting windows will certainly save the city money, in my view more is needed to keep a livable world for our children. But at least it seems that government and individuals are beginning to take climate change seriously, rather than denying that it exists.
• Fresh Ideas: Starting conversations by sharing personal perspectives on timely and timeless issues. Anne Macquarie, a private-sector urban planner, is a 19-year resident of Carson City.
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