Looks at risks, options for Methow Watershed
Practical actions to help the Methow cope with and be resilient to climate change and its hotter weather, scarce water and greater wildfire risk are the centerpieces of a plan released by a task force of more than 30 community members.
The draft overview and summary of the Climate Action Plan for the Methow Watershed, which extends from Mazama to Pateros, was published earlier this month after more than a year in the making. The planners are seeking feedback from the community on the draft, which will be incorporated into the complete plan due early next year.
In mid-December, almost 120 people tuned in to a webinar organized by Resilient Methow to hear from those who worked on the plan — community members with a wide range of expertise. They explained the plan’s areas of focus, which include agriculture, water, the towns and emissions. Resilient Methow is a collaborative effort by local organizations; local, state, and federal agencies; and community leaders to build resiliency to climate change in the Methow Valley.
The Resilient Methow task force focused on five main areas in their planning: the economy, the built environment and infrastructure, health and safety (physical and mental), agriculture, and natural systems. The task force identified what we value in each of these areas and what’s at greatest risk. These values and goals grew out of a meeting in fall 2019, where more than 350 community members provided input and listed their concerns and priorities.
What the community wants the future to look like is organized in seven core outcomes, which guide the climate plan. The seven outcomes are:
• abundant water to sustain nature and people.
• resilient, healthy and abundant natural systems (ecosystems, habitat and biodiversity).
• a community that’s prepared and safe in the event of adversity (wildfire and natural disasters, economic impacts).
• a low-carbon, efficient, livable and resilient built environment.
• a thriving, place-based economy with equity for all (balancing the human economy and local ecology).
• a vibrant future for agriculture (diverse, with healthy soils, strong local support, and investment in farmers and ranchers).
• a carbon-neutral Methow (reducing use of fossil fuels).
For young people, the future of the climate is extremely important, said webinar presenter Stella Gitchos, a member of the Liberty Bell Youth Climate Action Group. In her 16 years, Gitchos said she’s watched the valley change so that it now has more wildfires, less snow, and more people — all putting a strain on resources. These changes could be irreversible, she said.
Planning for climate change is growing increasingly urgent. Presenter Sarah Schrock summarized the impacts of a changing climate on the Methow, pointing to the disastrous changes that have already occurred and to dire forecasts for the near and long term. Those include more wildfires, a coldest day of the year that’s almost 5 degrees warmer than it was 30 years ago, a snowpack down by 25%, and stresses on the natural world and agriculture because of water scarcity.
The speakers emphasized that the principles of equity and access to resources for everyone have been incorporated into all aspects of their climate planning. “Climate change cannot be divorced from people’s daily lives and how they make their living,” said Julie Tate-Libby from the economic subcommittee. That includes smart water management, investing in clean energy, developing land appropriately, and affordable housing.
Among the proposals in the plan are expanding public transportation and ride-share programs, adding walking and biking trails, increasing recycling and composting, and developing a weatherization initiative to make homes more energy-efficient.
The plan also recommends education for tourists about activities and practices that support resource conservation. This education campaign is part of the plan’s goal to promote socially, environmentally and culturally responsible tourism.
Among the most urgent steps identified by the climate task force are more water storage and keeping water rights in the valley, treating forests for health and wildfire prevention, becoming a fire-adapted community, and planning for physical and mental health during periods of smoky air.
The plan incorporates preparations for emergencies, including road access for evacuations and first responders and ensuring the availability of essential supplies like food and fuel.
The plan proposes a fund to help farmers conserve water and improve the health of soils.
Even when the “final” plan is released next year, it’s designed to be a living document that will adapt to evolving circumstances and needs.
As the pace of climate change intensifies, the group stressed the urgency of taking tangible steps to make the valley resilient.
“My whole idea is that we need to move forward. We can’t keep talking about ideas — we need to just actually make ideas happen,” Winthrop Mayor Sally Ranzau said. “And when ideas happen, then the climate will come along — or we will be able to help with some of these different things.”