Life plus 2,000 meters

Mark Newcomb writes: 

I’m a county commissioner for Teton County, Wyoming, which is a gateway to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone (97% of our land is federally managed), destination for the rich and famous and 4 million more people per year (here’s our local magazine). I was born and raised here. I’m passionate about our community, but I’m concerned about its trajectory.

Life Plus 2 m for those of us living 2,000 m above sea level has a much different set of implications. (I co-authored this report on local climate change impacts.)

One implication is that soon, apparently, our elevation will be 1,998 meters 🙂

Another is that the snowpack above 2,500 m that now reaches depths of 3+ meters and stores an entire reservoir (or two) of water is now coming down out of the mountains sooner and sometimes more rapidly than when water rights were established. Early, fast melt has implications for irrigated agriculture in the valleys, aquifers that drain into bigger rivers and streams (such as the Snake River), and water allocation.

Early summer runoff used to flood irrigate alfalfa fields at about the right time to get the crops off to a good start, and much of the water was utilized. Earlier runoff has reduced use by upstream farmers and helped downstream big ag expand. Upstream farmers are becoming less productive so they are more inclined to subdivide into sprawling, dispersed development that ultimately harms communities that want to preserve their character, open spaces and wildlife.

As a policy maker, I’m constantly pondering good policy in the face of these challenges we face. (Here’s an interesting example of how the right efforts in the right context can bring about good results.)

Please get in touch if you have ideas. I’ll reward you with a few stories from the “good ol’ days.”