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Local governments get a jump on extreme weather with planning

Published December 6, 2012 2:57 pm

Salt Lake City • Utah's capital leads in efforts to address changing climate.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Extreme weather this year could cost the nation as much as $235 billion.

And that would make 2012 the costliest in U.S. history when all the tallies are in from the drought, hurricanes, flooding, wind and other weather-related damage, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Statistics like these underscore why it is so important for Salt Lake City and local governments around the world to prepare now for dealing with the future impacts of climate change, according to ICLEI, which joined the wildlife group on Thursday in talking about the implications of the latest cost estimates.

This year "has a been a wakeup call for local governments," said Brian Holland, of ICLEI, a kind of best-practices clearinghouse for local governments concerned about sustainability.

Salt Lake City is a member of ICLEI, founded as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. And the city already is hard at work assessing the risk of extreme weather and looking for ways to soften its blow, said Vicki Bennett, director of the city's division of sustainability and environment.

"We're constantly doing our part to reduce emissions," Bennett said, pointing to transportation programs, planning and public education efforts. "And we're looking to adapt and become more resilient."

The city has focused on water, based on the scenarios that climate scientists have sketched out for water in the West. About 90 percent of local supplies come from surface sources and projections of higher temperatures are also expected to cut into availability.

"It's going to be our day-to-day issue, no doubt," she said.

City departments have been meeting for a year, she said, to talk about planning ahead for wind storms, disease patterns and other potential impacts. Now they are brainstorming ways to deal with it — when building new buildings, laying new streets and budgeting for emergencies.

"There are definitely costs to us," said Bennett, "when there are these extreme storms."

In Utah, Summit County and Park City also are part of the sustainability group.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah