Our unique little town could set an example of sustainability for others
Ryan Summerlin January 26, 2013
Sundance is here, during Martin Luther King week, and the town is full to the carrying capacity. The load on our infrastructure is visible. Traffic jams, gridlock, packed buses, no place to park and no place eat or get a quiet beer. What about the load on our unseen infrastructure, our water supply and delivery systems?
Second only to Christmas week, the Sundance culinary water demand is tremendous, although it is only a fraction of our peak summertime irrigation demand. Luckily, water managers have planned for these loads and for future loads, with multiple well and mine sources, treatment facilities, water importation from the Weber and Provo rivers, storage capacity, weatherproof delivery systems, as well as backup systems and redundancies.
As this winter marches on, it is becoming evident that the weather pattern is closer to 2012 than to 2011. A series of cold, clear, high-pressure systems punctuated by timely but brief disturbances have dominated the forecast and we are slipping towards below-normal snowpack rather than the record accumulations of ’83, ’84, ’97, ’08 or ’11. We had above-average precipitation in October, November and December, but much of it came as rain as high as 10,000 feet, and is probably a result of the systematic shortening of our ski season, on both ends, by climate change. The high pressure inversions have also choked the Salt Lake Valley with killer smog while we blissfully enjoy blue skies.
On the other hand, we are having some of the old cold spells that historically kept the dreaded bark beetle at bay. This may give the local conifer trees a chance to avoid becoming "dead and red," even though they are weakened and vulnerable to our short-term and long-term drought.
The short-term drought is evidenced by lagging local reservoir storage volumes, and the long-term regional drought is evidenced by lower water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. There are 60 million acre-feet of storage on the Colorado River system that only flows an average of 15 million acre-feet of water each year, and it is the poster child of our water issues in the West. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates that there will be 10-20% less water in the Colorado by the end of the century. Will there be enough water in the river for climate change, population growth, agriculture, fish, recreation, energy development, or pipelines to St George, Denver and Las Vegas? Probably not. Will there be enough water in our local drainages to sustain Park City and Sundance into the future. We hope so.
Are we part of the problem or are we part of the solution? Ultimately we should strive to shine the Sundance spotlight on our environmental sustainability of the supply and demand of our local natural resources. Park City is a good place to start. If we can’t do it, no one can. Our unique little town could be an example of sustainability for the country and the world. Sundance shows us time and again: Out of small things, sometimes, big things come.