Guest opinion: Climate change could exacerbate the growth pressures on Summit County |

Guest opinion: Climate change could exacerbate the growth pressures on Summit County

Robin Filion

The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission gave a negative recommendation on the Highland Flats application because it did not see it as meriting an exception to the current moratorium on development in the Basin unless a project has a “compelling countervailing public interest.” That moratorium exists because the county does not know the impact on county services of developments that are currently approved but not yet built.

This is a serious problem and is only going to get worse with global warming. When we think of the impact global warming will have on Summit County, we tend to think of impacts to the ski season. That makes sense as many of us have already seen the ski season shrinking. But we can expect other consequential impacts from global warming.

An analysis of Salt Lake City weather under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 model, under even moderate carbon emissions (RCP4.5), predicts an increase in the number of 100-plus degree days in Salt Lake to go from around eight per year now to about 60 per year in 2100. Other heat indices likewise predict that the Salt Lake Valley will become much hotter and a less desirable place to live over time even if world governments are able to limit carbon emissions so that warming is not as extreme as it could be.

You might think that 80 years is plenty of time to plan for this warming, but we will not see a gentle increase in the number of hot days. Given the way weather and climate work, there likely will be times in the near future where Salt Lake will seem to some to be unbearably hot. Combine that with Salt Lake’s pollution problem and it is likely that an increasing number of valley residents will see Summit County as a more desirable place to live, and that this might happen sooner rather than later.

Currently, Summit County’s population is growing at about 1.5% per year. The impact of that growth can be seen on S.R. 224 and S.R. 248 and in the developments occurring in Summit County and around the Jordanelle Reservoir. Salt Lake’s population is over 1.5 million and growing. What would happen to infrastructure, health, water, education, land use and social justice in Summit County if as little as 5% of Salt Lake’s population moved here? And, in a warming world, Salt Lake isn’t the only place from which people are likely to come.

Over the next several years, we will see increased pressure for development in Summit County (as well as in other mountain communities). The problem is that the state Legislature is likely to see the moratorium, if it continues to block development, as poor management, despite the fact that state law is largely to blame for the county’s predicament, and is likely to further limit the county’s planning powers.

So if we don’t want to see Kimball Junction connected to Coalville by development in the way Salt Lake is connected to Provo — although that might be inevitable — then we need to be proactively working to determine, or at least generally anticipate, not just the impacts of currently approved development projects, but also the future impacts of global warming pressures on Summit County development, the level of services and infrastructure that are likely to be needed, and where and when growth should occur so that services and infrastructure are not overwhelmed. If we don’t start that process now, the county may lose the ability to control development in the future.

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