Numerous western Coloradans were part of a group that has presented U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., with recommendations for how to increase resilience to climate change in the West.
Bennet said in a news release that he plans to use the recommended priorities to drive his policy work in the Senate and in working with the Biden administration on its national climate strategy.
“The terrific work this group has done to reimagine climate policy is already informing my team’s work. I plan to share their framework with my colleagues in the Senate and the Biden Administration to help them understand why climate resilience is so important to Colorado and the rest of the Mountain West,” Bennet said in the release. “I will do my part to ensure these priorities are part of every discussion going forward about climate and the country’s economy. I think this framework will be an important tool to demonstrate to the country that climate change isn’t a future condition in the West — it’s here now. And the survival of our economy and our way of life depends on tackling this challenge.”
The group was formed in November and chaired by Andy Mueller, general manager of western Colorado’s Colorado River District, which has been focused on dealing with the challenges of diminishing water supply in a warming climate, and the implications that may have for Western Slope agriculture and communities.
“There is no debate that climate change presents real and unacceptable risks to our water security and our way of life in the West,” Mueller said in the release. “If Coloradans from all walks of life can come together to agree on durable solutions that address the challenge, then our leaders in Washington should have no problem doing the same.”
Locally, some of the other group members include:
n Sarah Shrader, owner and co-founder of Bonsai Design;
n Bruce Talbott, orchard/vineyard manager, Talbott’s Mountain Gold;
n Bryan Hannegan, president and CEO of Holy Cross Energy, based in Glenwood Springs;
n Former state lawmaker Russ George of Rifle, director of the Colorado Interbasin Compact Committee water policy organization;
n Steve Beckley, owner of Glenwood Canyon Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs;
n Steve Anderson, Olathe farmer and manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.
More broadly, members range from Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead to Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Becky Mitchell, to commissioners from Gunnison and Grand counties, and conservation, tribal and university representatives.
The group made recommendations focused on three overall priorities, saying:
n Resilience is dependent on strong local economies in the West, and a climate resilience strategy must include tools for local economies to adapt to changing climate and economic conditions and build long-term prosperity in a future powered by a clean economy.
n Supporting healthy soils, forests, rangeland, rivers and watersheds will make communities more resilient and help maximize the climate mitigation potential of western landscapes.
n Climate resilience is dependent on a thorough and science-based understanding of actions needed to sustainably adapt to and mitigate climate change.
A wide range of more specific recommendations within the framework of those priorities include:
n Helping communities transitioning from fossil-fuel-based economies through measures such as job training, support for building broadband infrastructure, and investing in forest restoration, clean energy and outdoor recreation to attract new business, jobs and tax revenues;
n Modernizing and building new infrastructure, including water infrastructure that protects and enhances rivers and habitat, and provides water for communities and agriculture while enhancing a vibrant outdoor economy;
n Updating federal management of natural resources so it is informed by the best available science;
n Increasing funding for research and development programs throughout the West that focus on developing climate change solutions.
Bennet’s office said he already is taking action based on the recommendations.
He recently urged the Biden administration to prioritize locally driven economic development solutions for communities transitioning away from fossil fuels. He plans in coming weeks to reintroduce a bill to invest in $60 billion in forest and watershed restoration across the West.