Climate Adaptation Planning: Communities for Resiliency

The Santa Fe River is an important element of life in Santa Fe, NM. Photo by Michael Clark.

The Santa Fe River is an important element of life in Santa Fe, NM. Photo by Michael Clark.

by Gretel Follingstad, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Climate adaptation planning provides a solution to the historic lack of integration of environmental (natural resource) stewardship, land use planning, water resource planning and economic development. We have an opportunity to rethink and prepare for the impacts of climate change and create resiliency of the natural environment. 

Moving forward through the 21st century, planners are faced with many complex issues that require a keen awareness of how the world may look and feel for future generations.  The realities planners are faced with illustrate a myriad of environmental and social challenges that require a global effort to mitigate. This complex era of climate change, economic, and sociocultural challenges has lead to the emergence of a complex decision making environment. It is unclear how fast or severe the impacts of climate change will be, but the last three decades have been recorded consecutively as the warmest on record while scientists continue to anticipate that climate change impacts will increase. Community and natural resource planning has a role in addressing these challenges with smart solutions that create sustainable communities for future generations. 

The Rise of Adaptation Planning

Adaptation planning has risen to the surface of priorities for communities as natural resources become scarcer and weather events have greater impacts on our infrastructure, economies and revitalization. Adaptation is defined as the process of adjusting natural or human systems in response to actual or expected changes in climate and subsequent changes in availability of natural resources. Adaptation planning is focused on preventative measures to slow down the progression of climate change and reduce the effects and/or improve response strategies, both proactively and reactively. Adaptation planning includes developing and implementing new policies and procedures for local, state and federal governments to allow for alleviation of the impact of climate change. 

The process in adaptation planning augments the understanding of climate change and the real on-the-ground effects faced by local communities. In addition, incorporating mitigation strategies in communities requires coordinated action on the part of climate change scientists and professional planners to address the following priorities: 

  • New opportunities for conservation, water-use efficiency and environmental enhancements
  • The frequency of water-use restrictions 
  • Water quality
  • Regional and statewide water activities
  • Priorities for improving and maintaining the water treatment and distribution systems
The Southwest Climate Change Initiative shows that adaptation efforts can be effective if they are focused at the local scale, employ learning networks and engage in ecosystem-based adaptation.
— Gretel Follingstad, Santa Fe, New Mexico

In the Southwest, the predictions for increasingly drier conditions highlight the importance of water resources planning for the purpose of climate adaptation. Efforts in the Southwest to address climate change and adaptation planning include the Southwest Climate Change Initiative (SWCCI),1 led by The Nature Conservancy. This effort engaged local stakeholders to reduce adverse impacts on ecological and social systems using scientific findings and predications. The initiative focused on the importance of planning for resilience through strong scientific partnerships, broadening the scope of conservation activities, and widespread communication of findings to adopt climate change adaptation. SWCCI shows that adaptation efforts can be effective if they are focused at the local scale, employ learning networks and engage in ecosystem-based adaptation. The intent is to sustain ecosystem services through conservation and restoration to allow people to thrive in changing environments.

Addressing Climate Change in New Mexico

My experience with initiating efforts to address climate change as it relates to water planning in New Mexico includes a statewide campaign in 2009 to update the 2003 State Water Plan.  At that time, I was working with the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission as the State Water Planner. Our charge included acknowledging and addressing climate change in the State Water Plan. I wrote the draft chapter on climate change which addressed localized scientific findings predicting the long term effects of climate change and the public’s response to this information. The intent was to give local communities a better understanding of what climate change impacts mean for water resources in New Mexico and to provide a guide for local communities who were interested in planning accordingly for the future. The 2009 State Water Plan update remains in draft form, delayed after a change in administration occurred and is still awaiting approval. 

Currently, as a water planner with the City of Santa Fe, I see climate change as an important element getting increased attention because of the potentially increasing demand and resulting decrease in available water supply that could leave the city in a deficit with respect to meeting future water needs. While Santa Fe is one of the leading cities in the U.S. for water conservation, using on average 105 gallons per capita per day (GPCD) as compared to a national average of 200, the city (and region) still lack a climate change adaptation plan. However, the City of Santa Fe does have a Sustainable Santa Fe Plan that is quite comprehensive and the mayor of Santa Fe is very supportive of efforts to implement elements of that plan incrementally.

A wide variety of supply and demand management methods, that are addressed by the city, should be included in the adaptation planning process include conservation, non-potable water recycling, expansion or development of new water supply and storage projects, system refinements and cooperative projects with other entities. These efforts are aimed at meeting future water needs. In addition, basin studies on water resource availability are taking place to assess how the city can plan for the future. These studies could play an important role in development of an adaptation plan for the community and surrounding area. 

As a water planner, I believe the top priority is to help guide decisions related to our water systems for future generations. Planners are one of the key professional groups that have the ability to mainstream climate change adaptation strategies in their communities. An adaptation plan is intended to plan and delineate strategies for resiliency with respect to local landscapes and water resources, and support viable local economies that rely on these resources. The plan should also account for a water supply “safety factor” in case extraordinary or unforeseen circumstances. An adaptation plan includes the engagement of a diverse stakeholder group including the appropriate scientific and academic expertise, local government and agencies. This includes conducting the appropriate public outreach to engage other parallel efforts that may be under way.  

Source: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Map updated Dec. 12, 2012. To read more about state plans, visit http://www.c2es.org/us-states-regions/policy-maps/adaptation

A Solution for Planners

Climate adaptation planning provides a solution to the historic lack of integration of environmental (natural resource) stewardship, land use planning, water resource planning and economic development. As our communities evolve, greater awareness and scientific knowledge has revealed that living in balance with our natural resources is a top priority. Planning as a discipline looks at how to contribute to creating more sustainable human settlements. We have an opportunity to rethink and prepare for the impacts of climate change and create resiliency of the natural environment. Adaptation planning provides a positive outlook for the challenges planners face and gives us the opportunity to continue to create beautiful places that will sustain the planet and its communities. 

Potential Effects of Climate Change on New Mexico

On March 6, 2012, the City of Santa Fe and the County of Santa Fe, working with the Bureau of Reclamation, held an interactive climate change workshop. The final product of the workshop is a preliminary assessment that investigates how projected climate change impacts may influence some of the key natural and human systems in the watershed. The assessment also explores the adaptive actions that area, as stewards of this watershed, may consider implementing and details many of the ongoing activities that will increase the resiliency of the community. 

The final draft of document, Climate Change and the Santa Fe Watershed: A Preliminary Assessment, contained the projections of late 21st century New Mexico climate below. The projects are based on the assumption that global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase in a “business as usual” fashion, with no measures undertaken to reduce emissions globally:2

Temperature

  • Average New Mexico air temperature substantially warmer
  • Greater warming of winter temperatures, nighttime minimum temperatures, and higher‐elevation temperatures
  • More episodes of extreme heat
  • Fewer episodes of extreme cold
  • Longer annual frost‐free periods

Precipitation

  • A higher proportion of winter precipitation falling as rain; earlier snowmelt where snow still accumulates
  • More extreme events (torrential rain, severe droughts)
  • Potential exacerbation of historical patterns of wet and dry cycles, including likely recurrence of multiyear drought (like the 1950s)

Source: Technical State Agency Working Group, State of NM, 2005.  This effort includes the evaluation of Southwest climate experts Dr. David Gutzler and Dr. Overpeck.


Gretel Follingstad is currently a natural resource planner and economic development specialist with the City of Santa Fe, NM. Prior to that, she served for four years as one of the two State Water Planners in the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer.

Endnotes

  1. McCarthy, P. D., 2012: Climate change adaptation for people and nature: A case study from the U.S. Southwest. Adv. Clim. Change Res., 3(1), doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1248.2012.00022.

  2. October 2012 Climate Change and the Santa Fe Watershed: A Preliminary Assessment http://www.santafenm.gov/DocumentCenter/View/38659


Published in the February/March 2013

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