Easily my favorite part of commuting to work is crossing Higgins Bridge for my daily glimpse at the Clark Fork River. We are fortunate enough in Missoula to be at the confluence of three beautiful rivers, a healthy aquifer, and fairly reliable rainfall. It’s also safe to say the Clark Fork is integral to the identity of our town. So how are these waterways impacted by climate change? Last night, we gathered at Imagine Nation Brewing for our August Monthly Meetup to discuss the nexus of water, energy and climate in Missoula.
It was only about a month ago that we were feeling pretty optimistic in our Climate Smart office about water flows and fire potential this summer. Those heavy spring rains had us daydreaming of high rivers and minimal wildfire smoke, but no such luck. Last August, our water Monthly Meetup was all about the impacts of extraordinarily low flows we were experiencing at the time. Though we haven’t seen the same growth of algae blooms this year, we are starting to see lower flows and fishing restrictions as hot temperatures persist and drought conditions worsen throughout the state.
Last night, we were excited to discuss the City’s recent acquisition of Mountain Water, and the opportunities a city owned water system opens up. Though it may not be the first thing you think about, a lot of energy goes into pumping water from the aquifer below us to our taps. We know that our pump system is old, inefficient, and in desperate need of upgrades. According to Chase Jones, acquiring the water system adds about 90 Northwestern Energy accounts to the municipal portfolio. We now have an incredible opportunity to improve the system’s efficiency with innovative strategies and technology and to engage the community on water and energy conservation.
Speaking of water conservation and energy efficiency, have you check out our Energy Smart Challenge yet? Our theme for August is all about the connection between water use and energy! This week’s Energy Smart email focused on how to reduce your water use outside while still keeping your garden and plants alive. It’s important to note that, though saving water is the goal, we don’t want to skimp on watering our trees. As we discussed in June’s Monthly Meetup, our urban forests provides so many benefits it’s worth the resources to keep those trees healthy. So please take time to water your trees! They will repay you in countless ways.
Our other focus of conversation was an important one. We had representatives from Montana Trout Unlimited and Montana Conservation Voters present to discuss the Trump Administration’s decision to repeal the 2015 Clean Water rule that protects headwater streams and water sources. This rule not only protects 60% of stream miles in the country, it is provides vital protection from pollution of the cold, clean waters that make up 50% of Montana’s trout streams, includes exemptions to ensure farmers and ranchers do not get penalized for using the water they need, and safeguards the drinking water sources of one in three Americans.
The 30-day comment period is open until August 28th. Follow this link to learn more and take action. You can also join Montana Trout Unlimited for a beer on August 8th at Great Burn Brewing and August 15th at Imagine Nation Brewing to learn more and submit comments.
We know cold, connected streams are already at risk due to increasing temperatures and longer fire seasons. Repealing protections that keep our waters clean would have dramatic impacts on ecosystems and our access to useable water on top of losses due to increased drought conditions. Stay tuned for a detailed map from Trout Unlimited to see what streams would be at risk if the Clean Water Rule is repealed.
Water is major part of our way of life in Western Montana, it is important that we protect our water resources and work to mitigate the effects climate change can have on them. Be honest, can you imagine a Missoula summer that does not include fishing a floating? So let’s celebrate our healthy aquifer and rivers and remember it’s up to us to keep them flowing! Stay cool out there.