Hotter weather, lower snowpack among concerns
The Methow Valley now has its own climate action plan, intended to help valley residents and businesses cope with threats from a changing climate — including less water and a lower snowpack; the impacts of hotter weather on farming, forests and wildlife; and the economic pressures that accompany these changes.
The plan is the culmination of two years of research and information gathering by Resilient Methow, a 60-member team of dedicated locals with expertise in areas from agriculture to tourism to forest ecology.
To help set priorities and goals, Resilient Methow drew on specialists in transportation systems, air quality and emissions. They also solicited input from community members — a diverse group of business owners, local government and tribes — and heard from 500 of them.
As befits a plan intended to carry the valley and its inhabitants through the next half-century, young people have been integral to developing the plan’s goals and strategies and will be instrumental in implementing them.
The plan outlines the impacts of climate change — many already being felt — and proposes immediate and long-term interventions that will enable the valley to adapt and thrive. Many interventions build on existing programs, such as water metering, public transit, and recycling and reuse projects. Others will take time to build and fund.
The principle of equity was central to all aspects of the plan and proposed solutions. The plan recognizes that people who are already struggling because of socio-economic factors or health issues are among the most vulnerable to climate change and have fewer resources to address those impacts. So the plan supports subsidized weatherization and home upgrades, making locally grown foods more affordable, and strengthening the economy with living-wage jobs such as appliance repair.
It also sets out ambitious fundamental changes in infrastructure and land-use policy that will require collaboration, policy changes and funding from county, state and federal governments.
The detailed plan may seem daunting, but it’s broken into sections that outline goals and priorities, list practical strategies for putting those goals into effect, and provide a road map for implementing the suggestions. A two-page summary highlights the impacts the valley can expect over the next several decades, goals and core values, and key immediate and longer-term actions.
The plan was released six weeks after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world is at a crisis point. Although the impacts of greenhouse-gas emissions are accelerating — and without immediate action, the consequences in just 10 years could be devastating — there is hope. Sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could quickly improve air quality and help stabilize global temperatures, according to the report.
Numbers in the plan show where the Methow needs to focus its efforts. A study commissioned by Resilient Methow provides a stark picture of the source of emissions in the Methow. The vast majority — 92% — come from transportation; 4% are from heating and cooling buildings, and another 4% are from aviation, waste and irrigation.
A detailed breakdown of the transportation sector shows that 62% of the transportation emissions come from light vehicles, 25% from tourist vehicles (light vehicles used by visitors to the Methow Valley), and less than 2% from heavy trucks.
With transportation taking up so much of the local energy budget, many interventions are geared toward decreasing vehicle use. These include a ride-sharing program, expanding existing bus routes, and shuttle services. The plan calls for infrastructure to support electric vehicles, including more charging stations.
Fire and water
The top priorities include treatments to make forests healthier and more resilient to wildfire through thinning and prescribed burning and acquiring funding to support these actions. The plan would work to restore floodplains, provide habitat for fish, and to encourage more beavers to help with water storage.
The plan calls for an expansion of Firewise principles to protect homes from wildfire. It advocates for reduced homeowners’ insurance fees for homes with these protections.
To ensure an adequate water supply, the plan calls for water metering, ensuring there is enough water for towns, and making municipal water hook-ups affordable.
Some strategies address multiple concerns. Plans for more trails to connect towns and provide a safe way for people to commute and for children to get to school would also provide nearby recreational opportunities, reducing trips to trailheads.
The plan acknowledges the importance of recreation for physical and mental health. One proposal is for an indoor rec center that would provide year-round recreational opportunities, including during hot weather and when air quality is unhealthy from smoke.
Plans to strengthen the local economy include support for bartering, lending programs for tools and other equipment, and education in repairing and reusing equipment. It stresses the importance of buying local.
The plan contains many strategies to help farmers adapt and thrive. These include a fund to provide grants to help farmers obtain improved seeds or breeding stock, protection from hot sun and wind, soil amendments, and finding ways to expand the local market for foods and other products raised in the Methow.
The plan also calls for funding to help farmers acquire more efficient irrigation systems to conserve water and supports Legislative actions to keep water rights in the valley.
Other sections focus on preparedness for natural disasters and emergencies.
The team hopes that these hyper-local actions will expand to a regional effort that involves additional organizations and local governments, one that ultimately translates into legislation and funding.
A local problem
Resilient Methow presented the plan at several events this past week — at a meeting of the planning and implementation teams and at the Twisp Art Walk on Saturday.
We often hear about climate change and “global warming,” climate-justice advocate KC Golden — and a speaker at the art walk — wrote in the introduction to the plan. But the challenge is also very local.
“We cause the problem locally, with our choice of transportation and energy systems. We experience the impacts locally, as we know too well here in the Methow, and those impacts fall heaviest on our most vulnerable neighbors,” Golden wrote. Accordingly, many of the solutions are local, based on practical steps we take in our daily lives.
Many towns and cities have prepared plans to ensure their resiliency in a changing climate, but virtually all of those were created by a municipality or other official body. Although Resilient Methow adopted some of these strategies and approaches, the Methow plan is the only one created solely by a community group, said Jasmine Minbashian, executive director of the Methow Valley Citizens Council, which convened the climate task force two years ago. Those local roots mean that the plan benefits from invaluable knowledge and awareness of our challenges needs, she said.
The plan will evolve as progress is made and the community learns more about what’s needed.
For more information or to get involved
Check out resilientmethow.org, where you can read the plan and the summary and sign up for updates. You can also volunteer to help.
For a paper copy of the plan, contact Riverside Printing & Design at 996-3816.