Earth is getting warmer, scientists say. Higher average temperatures will bring stronger storms, longer droughts and shorter winters, all of which could cause problems for cities not built to withstand those extremes. Durango is no different, and city officials have been thinking about how to address those issues for at least three years.
City officials identified 181 actions in 2015 that the municipality can take to make the city more sustainable and resilient to climate change. Those suggestions range from infrastructure improvements to energy efficiency, conscious conservation to thoughtful transparency. Some of the suggestions have been implemented, more are in working stages and others have yet to be started, said Imogen Ainsworth, sustainability coordinator for the city of Durango.
Some of the measures are small, such as reminding employees to turn off the lights when they’re not in use, while others are more significant, like installing solar arrays atop government buildings.
In 2015, the city installed electric vehicle charging stations at the Durango Transit Center. The three stations can charge two cars each. The stations, which cost $1.50 per charge, saved 907 gallons of fuel in 2018, Ainsworth said.
In 2017, the city helped collect used pumpkins and gave them to hog farmers in La Plata County. The effort diverted organic waste from landfills, helped prevent bears from coming into the city and helped feed the hogs, Ainsworth said.
“A lot of these things save the city money, as well, so it’s not just about the emissions,” she said.
EngagementThe city hosted a community engagement meeting about climate change weeks ago, the first such event held by the city in an effort to solicit ideas about how the city can be more resilient to the potential impacts of a warming planet. Those symptoms include warmer temperatures, more droughts and wildfires and extreme weather events, all of which can negatively impact the community, infrastructure, economy, housing, natural resources and health.
“Part of the aim of the resilience event was ... collecting information about the community as a whole and what the city is doing to prepare for climate change,” Ainsworth said.
City officials are also working to implement energy-tracking software for all city buildings, Ainsworth said. The software is expected to measure the amount of electricity, gas and water each city building uses and make that information available to the public, she said.
SustainabilityConservation is the name of the game when it comes to sustainability, and the city is doing what it can to conserve where it can, Ainsworth said.
She has had conversations with each department about how it could make minor changes to improve conservation efforts. That could be as simple as turning off a light or as complicated as installing more efficient pumps for water treatment, Ainsworth said.
The Recycling Department tuned its bailer so that it turns off after a period of time without use. The Santa Rita Waste Water Facility is doubling its capacity for generating energy with reconstruction of the plant. And all the waste materials from that construction site are recycled.
All new lights the city installs are LEDs – a brighter, more efficient and longer-lasting alternative to traditional bulbs. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are replaced with more efficient air-quality and temperature regulators. City officials are also investigating the feasibility of solar panels for city buildings.
ResilienceAverage temperatures in Durango could rise by up to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, according to the National League of Cities. Higher temperatures bring increased evaporation, more frequent heavy rainfall, an earlier spring melt and drier soil conditions.
These predictions have practical ramifications: More droughts and wildfires mean less water availability and worse water quality; warmer temperatures increase cooling needs and related energy consumption; extreme weather can cause soil erosion and degradation, and problems with stormwater runoff; and drier soil can mean more mudslides.
Heavier storms will dump more water on impervious ground, creating more stormwater runoff that has to go somewhere. The city is in the second phase of drafting a stormwater master plan, one that is designed to address the impacts of more frequent, heavier storms.
“Sound management of drainage and water quality is needed to protect the mountain environment, wildlife and scenic beauty surrounding Durango,” the master plan says.
While the city does have plans in each department and with La Plata County about how these symptoms of climate change will affect the region, it has yet to perform a risk assessment of city operations. Ainsworth said she thought it would be more appropriate to train city employees about the potential impacts of climate change before asking them to assess the risks that may be associated with it.
“Now, were in a better position to assess on an organizational level what the impact may be on operations,” she said.