Cedar City— Last Tuesday, two local officials attended Southern Utah University’s Conservative Climate Forum to discuss the impact of climate on business, water and politics.
Cedar City Councilman Tyler Melling and Central Iron County Water District General Manager Paul Monroe joined two other panelists to discuss climate change in the Chapel Auditorium at the Sharwin Smith Student Center.
Merlin said part of his interest in the forum is the need for the city to consider the impact of weather and climate on infrastructure.
“Just recently, we had to make some adjustments to our storm policy to accommodate stronger, shorter-duration storms rather than milder, longer-duration storms,” he said. “This has different infrastructure needs and we really have to take that into account if the weather patterns change.”
The Utah GOP platform states that “the power to tax is also the power to control,” Merlin said. The party believes that the best way to control the government is to strictly control taxes “imposed on the people”. The city avoids taxing residents by making “water users pay for their waste” through user fees.
In response to students’ questions about preparing for the future, Melling said the city has made “significant policy changes” in how it handles stormwater and water use, which will have knock-on effects on other decisions, such as how to build roads or how to incentivize stormwater Gardens This will reduce city heating through greenery while using less water.
Going forward, Merlin said, what makes Utah a desirable place to live may become less important due to changes in policy or weather patterns, which could affect tax rates as well as housing and economic policy.
“It’s been more attractive to live in this part of the country than in other parts of the country for the past 50 years or so,” he said. “If this trend reverses, due to these weather patterns, due to more frequent flooding events, muddy water is being fished out of basements and becomes a fact of life in this part of the country, then that will have a ripple effect everywhere.”
One participant asked how climate change solutions could be a “win-win” for business and the environment. Merlin said that after working with the Cedar City Regional Chamber of Commerce, he understands that climate change is “very low on the list” and that more and more businesses are battling the government’s “red tape.”
Business values predictability, and climate change could become a bigger problem as weather patterns become more erratic, he said.
Panelist Dr. Jacqualine Grant, an associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at SUU, added that while climate change discussions often focus on how solutions are harming businesses, one can also look at it in terms of how climate impacts can be harnessed to create jobs.
“(It’s) another way of thinking about this issue, and it brings some more positive perspectives to it, and makes us think about how we can incorporate climate change solutions while growing our economy,” she said.
Iron and Beaver counties have “a lot” of renewable energy, and the wind, solar and geothermal energy being produced could make Utah a “big exporter” of renewable energy, Monroe said.
The Central Iron County Water Conservancy District is an organization charged with looking into the next 50 years to make sure enough water is available, Monroe said.
An audience member asked him to compare current water scarcity with changing current policies.
Access to “resilient water resources” is important, Monroe said, and it will involve being creative and diversifying the region’s water mix.
Cedar Valley gets its water primarily from snowmelt, but snowfall has decreased over the past 20 years. Instead, most of southern Utah’s moisture is received later in the year in “monsoon form.”
“It’s causing some issues with some of the infrastructure mentioned, but it’s also having a major impact on our water sources and supplies,” he said.
Because the watershed at Cedar Breaks is often filled with debris and contaminated with salt, it needs to go through a sedimentation tank before it can be used, Monroe said.
New infrastructure is being built to capture cleaner tailwater in areas where the aquifer can recharge, Monroe said. In addition, the region is focused on completing the Pine Valley Water Supply Project, which will import water from the Northwest.
“The science behind that valley is that most of the recharge or water in the aquifer that makes it back there comes from summer monsoon storms,” he said. “So that’s again a focus for us to be able to be resilient and look to the future.”
For more information on the Conservative Climate Forum group, read Part 1 here. To learn more about the Tiezhong County Water Conservancy District, click here.
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