Missoulians thought it was just another strong gust of wind Saturday afternoon when the flaps of the Caras Park tent billowed, but soon they realized that it was the result of two unusual visitors and their spaceship. Al and Ian, from Planet Alien, made a surprise visit to Missoula’s Clean Energy Expo on September 28th to understand how energy works here on Earth. Al and Ian spent time with community experts as they unraveled a series of confusing topics about our current technology and the future of energy on Planet Earth. They were kind enough to share their translators’ recordings with us so we could share it with everyone who was not able to meet our intergalactic guests at the Expo.
AL: Ian, you don’t have your translator on! No one can understand anything you are saying.
IAN: Shoot. Thanks, Al. Where are the enlightened ones? We need to speak with them. I have many questions.
AL: Yes, I want to know how they power their civilization. Our Great Leader provides energy for our planet only, so what do they use? Do they use the dinosaur juice?
IAN: Dinosaur juice? What are you talking about, Al?
AL: You saw it! The dinosaur juice from the pump. The sign said S - I - N - C - L - A - I - R. People used the plastic card and then they funneled the dinosaur juice into their spaceships.
IAN: Yes, yes. I remember now. I’ve found an enlightened one! Enlightened one, what is this dinosaur juice and how does it work?
Enlightened One: I think you mean gasoline, which is a fossil fuel. So you’re right - it is sort of like “dinosaur juice.” It may seem crazy to you, but for the past century we have been digging into the Earth for fossil fuels to power our civilization. We’ve used so much dinosaur juice though that it’s changing our climate, and it’s creating negative effects for people, animals, and plants all over Planet Earth. Luckily for you, you’re visiting at a time when we’re moving away from fossil fuels and towards other ways to power our civilization. We call it clean energy, and we’re celebrating it today at this Expo.
IAN: Clean energy? What type of juice is clean energy?
Enlightened One: Clean energy means things like power from the sun, wind, and water.
AL: Sun juice! Wind juice! This is very exciting. We know a little about sun juice from our own planet.
IAN: Yes, we also use sun juice, but we have three suns that bask our planet in perpetual light. We have to wear night goggles to sleep. I heard you have problems with something in-the-mittens?
AL: It’s nothing about mittens, Ian! You mean intermittency. Is intermittency a problem? I only see one sun here and my understanding is that your planet is only lit for part of the day. How do you power your civilization at night? And, could you please explain what intermittency is to Ian so they don’t bring up mittens again?
Enlightened One: Intermittency is the idea that energy from renewables isn’t constant - the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing, but there are still things we can do to lessen the impact of intermittency. The main things we’re focusing on here one Earth are creating dispatchable renewable energy, load flexibility, geographic balancing, and storage. You’ve probably already heard of storage, and there has been a lot invested in storage here. We’re trying to make better batteries so we can store energy when the sun is shining a lot, for example, and use it when it’s dark outside. As for the other three things we’re working on, dispatchable renewable energy comes from sources like hydropower, which can be used on demand. We can also locate our different sources of renewable energy in different geographic locations, and we have models that can show us how to balance our generation sites appropriately. Finally, we can invest in load flexibility and demand response, which uses smart appliances and other technology to quickly lower energy demand and balance the grid.
AL: This is very innovative! We are impressed that you are able to do these things without a Great Leader who provides all of your energy. We are so lucky to have our Great Leader who not only provides clean energy but provides it for free. How do you pay for your clean energy?
Enlightened One: It’s great that you ask! Most people who want to buy clean energy in Montana install solar panels on their homes -
IAN: These panels make the sun juice?
Enlightened One: Yes, this is what makes the sun juice, or what we call solar energy. The price of solar panels continues to go down. It’s cheaper now than ever, and there are both federal and state tax credits available to help people afford to install the panels. There’s also low-interest financing available from both the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Clearwater Credit Union. With increased research and development, the trends indicate that it’s likely the cost of solar will continue to go down.
AL: You speak very excitedly about these descending numbers.
IAN: Of course, Al! It’s very exciting that the cost of renewables is going down. But if the cost of renewables is going down, why do they have signs that say 0 - 50 - 100. Those numbers go up! And 0 + 50 do not equal 100. What is 0 - 50 - 100?
Enlightened One: 0 - 50 - 100 summarizes our main sustainability goals as a community. 0 means Zero Waste. With the help of our Zero by Fifty plan, Missoula’s pathway to Zero Waste, we hope to send almost nothing to the landfill by 2050. 50 means that 50% of Missoula-area trips are made by sustainable modes by 2040: walking, biking, busing, scootering, skateboarding, or carpooling. Anything but steering your spaceship by yourself! Finally, 100 means 100% clean electricity for Missoula by 2030, 100% of Missoulians are engaged in sustainable actions, and climate solutions work for 100% of Missoulians.
IAN: 50% sustainable trips, hm. Can you travel intergalactically?
AL: No, of course they can’t Ian! You know we’re the first to do it. Even though they can’t yet visit us on Planet Alien, I see them move at incredible speeds. Are there clean ways to power your movement?
Enlightened One: Yes! We have a very exciting new addition to our community transit system: Mountain Line’s electric buses. Six, 35-foot zero emission buses arrived in Missoula in July of 2019, and there are plans to transition more of the fleet to electric buses. As our grid has cleaner generation, these buses will be even more environmentally sound. In addition to riding the bus, you can also bike or walk if you want to opt for cleaner transportation. Making sure that people can safely and easily bike or walk to work is something our urban planners think about a lot here. We’re also trying to promote denser and smarter urban development so people can live near where they work, grocery shop, play, and all of the other things one needs to live a happy and healthy life.
AL: Wow, there is much possibility!
Enlightened One: Yes, it’s very exciting! We’ve made a lot of progress but there is still much work to be done. Hopefully we’ll be using even more sun and wind juice the next time you come.
IAN: Yes, and I hope you stop using all of that dinosaur juice.
Enlightened One: Me too, Ian. Me too.
The other day, I was talking to someone who recently moved to Missoula from the southwest. “There are so many trees here!” she exclaimed.
Missoula does have a lot of trees - over 30,000 just on city-owned right of ways! - but that fact is no happy accident. The robustness of our urban forest is a result of dedicated folks in local government, community advocacy organizations, and regular citizens who are committed to keeping this cornerstone of our local ecosystem thriving. And it’s not just trees, either - it’s shrubs and grasses and native plants of all kinds in our urban and surrounding areas that contribute ecological diversity, habitat, and ecosystem services that support climate resiliency and community health.
Urban forestry was the focus of October’s monthly meetup, and we were thrilled to be joined by Marie Anderson with the City of Missoula’s Urban Forestry division and Karen Sippy with Trees for Missoula. As always, the conversation was wide ranging and inspiring, but also raised plenty of questions and highlighted opportunities to do more on this issue.
Trees as a climate solution
Trees in particular have recently occupied headlines as researchers have attempted to calculate just how much potential they have to store carbon. We know there’s no silver bullet when it comes to climate action (if hunting season metaphors are your thing, climate solutions are more like silver buckshot). But it’s no wonder people are excited about trees: they have a whole host of benefits beyond taking CO2 out of the air.
Here in Missoula, Climate Smart has partnered with the City and County over the last year and a half on a comprehensive Climate Resiliency Planning process, and it turns out that trees - and shrubs and green infrastructure - are so integral to building our community’s climate resilience that they are part of 8 out of 9 sectors represented in the plan (draft to be released this fall for community input - stay tuned!).
Growing our urban forest and green infrastructure: education
Whether on public land or private, how do we maintain the health of our urban forest given its importance to ensuring a climate-resilient Missoula?
As with so many things, education is key. Some of the education that’s needed is at the citizen level: for example, Trees for Missoula has been working to ensure residents have all the information they need to care for new trees that have been planted on city boulevards, which are generally the responsibility of adjacent property owners - not everyone knows this! Even well-meaning folks with water conservation in mind don’t always know that watering trees and shrubs (and yes, even reasonably-sized lawns!) is okay here, because excess water generally makes its way through our porous valley soils and back into the resilient Missoula Aquifer under our feet. In fact, many of our street trees (there are over 116 species in our public urban forest!) require additional water beyond annual rainfall. Learn more about watering trees HERE.
We can also improve education within our schools. Kids may learn about trees in biology class or understand how they take in CO2 and provide oxygen for us to breathe, but the practical tools to grow and care for trees are a gap that Trees for Missoula and the City Forestry department are working to fill with a new educational course for Big Sky High School’s agricultural cohort. This class has the potential to be replicated in other schools, so kids across our community are equipped to be tree stewards.
Education is also needed within local government agencies tasked with supporting our urban green spaces and builders and developers. The good news is that this education is happening, and even within the last few years, there’s been a shift in how city departments consider green infrastructure, from planning to development to permitting, Missoula Water to Development Services and engineering. Going forward, it’s even more essential to integrate these kinds of climate resiliency considerations into development and redevelopment projects. Silva cells are an interesting example of this: a “suspended pavement system” that allows sidewalk trees to root much more deeply and thrive, Marie and Karen shared how this technology is now becoming the default for many of the redevelopment projects downtown, where more trees can help make pedestrian areas cooler and actually extend the lifetime of asphalt and pavement.
A lively group came together at Imagine Nation on Thursday for our monthly meet-up on Green Building and Energy Efficiency. The group spanned the fields of architecture, real estate, finance, concerned citizens, and some Lord of the Rings aficionados that dropped some references (which this author didn’t fully understand).Green building can sometimes be seen as a daunting and overwhelming topic, especially considering its potential for emissions reductions. Residential and commercial buildings comprise 52% of our community carbon footprint; the opportunity is massive, but it can be difficult to understand which point of intervention will be the most impactful.
Where are the “pinch points,” we asked? What changes can we make that will ripple outwards and push the built environment towards a net zero future? The conversation was wide ranging, but ultimately we coalesced around the following ideas because of their potential to drive change in the building industry:
What if when every home was posted on the market, it included a transparent, easy-to-read label that told you about the home’s energy usage, the materials used to build the home, and what you would need to do if you wanted to make your new home more energy efficient? If you were selling a home, how would knowing your efficiency score change what you did before you listed your property? Conversely, if you were looking to buy a home, how would a label factor into your consideration of multiple properties? The group was very excited by the potential of this idea to create market-driven change, starting from a point of voluntary disclosure and possibly moving towards a requirement to include a label in every sale, as is the case in Portland, Oregon.
The creation of a label program spoke to Thursday’s broader discussion of which sector of the building stock we should focus our efforts. While Missoula is certainly growing and new houses are being built, older structures (pre-1980) make up a much greater percentage of our energy usage, and they are also ripe for cost-effective, energy efficiency improvements that could make a big difference. As a community, we’re getting better at educating homeowners and renters so that they are aware of the potential for energy efficiency and motivated to take action, but we’re lacking a robust workforce to evaluate, advise, and implement the steps needed to move an older home away from “energy hog” status. A few programs that we love from across the country include Oregon Energy Trust and Efficiency Vermont, both of which benefit from strong support from their state government and utility.
Finally, we can’t forget that energy efficiency is also a social justice issue and that green buildings do not exist in a vacuum. Low-income renters and owners are more likely to find themselves in older, more affordable units (often considered naturally occurring affordable housing or NOAH). Older housing is abundant in Missoula, but it often brings cold drafts in the winter, hot air in the summer, and high utility bills throughout the year. These higher bills can lead to energy insecurity, a situation when a household has received a utility shut-off notice for failure to pay bills, foregone a basic necessity like food or medicine in order to pay utility bills, or opted to keep their home at an unhealthy temperature in order to reduce energy bills.
Reducing emissions in our building stock has major implications for human health, job creation, and creating a more equitable Missoula. If you want to join the conversation, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
April was Earth Month - and it was a busy one! We kicked it off with a great conversation as usual at our monthly meetup, on the topic of Local Food & Agriculture. Just in time for the beginning of outdoor farmers market season!
We talked about everything from efforts to protect local farmland via the Missoula Area Mapping project, to the many environmental benefits of mushrooms, to saving seeds and supporting our local farmers. Here's a few links to some of the people, organizations and ideas that were part of the conversation:
We're grateful to be part of a community of locavores who understand and value agriculture and local food as important tools in Missoula's climate resilience toolbox!
We hope you also had a chance to take part in some of the great community festivities around Earth Month. From the International Wildlife Film Festival, to MUD's Annual Earth Day Celebration, to celebrating trees and their climate benefits, we had fun out and about in April.
Next Monthly Meetup is Health & Climate - hope you'll join us on Thursday, May 9!
One month since my last blog post, and the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the snow is melting away--quite a shift from the height of February winter blues! Some things have changed, but here at Climate Smart we're doing the same work: plugging away, advocating, and educating for a resilient, climate and energy smart community. As always, an ever-important part of that transition to cut our greenhouse gas emissions is our ever-popular bucket of Zero Waste: the topic of this month’s meetup!
I’ll set the scene: We’re in Imagine Nation Brewing’s cozy community room, standing room only. Drawings of happy planets and solar-powered spaceships are scattered across the tables, courtesy of the fifth-grade participants of Home ReSource’s Zero Waste Ambassadors Program (ZWAP!). The prompt for the drawings was simple enough: what kind of world do you want to grow up in? Based on the many colored pencil masterpieces we passed around, the students had no trouble answering the question. When Jeremy Drake, Home ReSource’s Community Engagement Manager, asked us what kind of world the adults in the room wanted to live in, however, it gave folks pause. We all know the issues and problems climate change and a dependency on fossil-fuel products presents us, but how do we envision a future beyond the issues?
One idea that resonated with folks was a world where we’ve reduced the barriers to doing the right thing: where composting and recycling services are accessible and it's possible to function throughout a day without needing a single-use plastic item. What a magical world, right? But how do you go about reducing those barriers?
One way Home ReSource and partners are trying to do just that is through the development of the Zero by Fifty Missoula website--Missoula’s one-stop shop for all things waste! When I moved here last summer, it was so difficult to find information about recycling and composting providers, as well as what to do with different harder-to-recycle items like batteries and light bulbs. This zero waste website aims to avoid all the google searching and phone calling by keeping that information accessible and, most importantly, up-to-date.
Not only will you find service providers listed, but the website also provides an awesome tool called “What do I do with…” that allows you to type in an item you’re not sure how to recycle and be directed to information about how to reduce that type of waste, how to reuse it, and how to recycle it if all else fails. Right now, the website has information on over 20 different items, and that number will continue to grow as more feedback comes in on what recyclables people need more information about. The energy behind the development of this web-source comes from the creation of Missoula’s Zero By Fifty plan to move the community towards zero waste. Details of the plan can be found on the website, and future tracking of Missoula’s progress will also be available there once an initial baseline study of our community’s waste is completed (hopefully by this year!). Check it out.
After we were taken through a tour of the new website, folks shared the inspiring ways that their organizations and businesses were taking on zero waste structures and transitions. From the replacement of plastic water bottles with recyclable aluminum bottles at Logjam Presents (woohoo!), to local artist Bonnie Tarses collecting bottle caps to make big beautiful art pieces, our community is bursting with energy and new ideas. And there are so many ways folks can plug in! This spring is chock full of opportunities to learn about zero waste, so bare with me as I lay them all out for you:
Whew. That’s all for now. As we move into what we’ve dubbed Earth Month (aka April), keep checking out our calendar and Happenings page for all the info on what’s going on. We’re grateful as always for such an engaged and active community--it’s a true privilege to be so busy.
One theme we touched on several times throughout our conversation was the intersection of sustainable transportation and health. Beyond the seemingly obvious connection that the physical activity of walking and biking is good for you, fuel emissions from vehicles have a large and negative effect on our air quality. Because of how inversions affect Missoula, vehicle emissions, especially during the winter time, have a significant effect on the city’s air pollution, and consequently community health.
That is why Mountain Line’s unveiling of its six soon-to-be new electric buses is exciting on many levels. Not only do these buses represent the city transitioning away from carbon-dependent transportation, a necessity for electrifying our grid and transitioning off fossil fuels, but the shift will also positively affect air quality by 1) those buses not contributing emissions, and 2) a thriving public transportation infrastructure encouraging more ridership and subsequently less people to be driving their cars-- how good can it get? We celebrated these transitions at our meetup, and discussed other ways to make both the Mountain Line and UDASH bus systems more efficient.
Our meetups provide awesome opportunities for collaboration with local organizations already fully invested in the work of each climate action plan “bucket” that Climate Smart is committed to advocating for. We were joined this month by one such group, Missoula in Motion, a program of the City of Missoula’s Transportation Division that encourages and educates Missoulians about sustainable transportation. After leading us in a rousing round of sustainable transportation “speed dating” (tis the season, what can we say?), they told us about their many initiatives and how to get involved, especially their Way To Go! Missoula program. By using their Way To Go trip planner, you can find all the ways you can get where you need to be by using sustainable transit. For each transportation method, it will even tell you how many calories you burn and the pounds of CO2 you save from being emitted--how cool is that? On top of all that, you can log those sustainable trips on their website and receive awards to different local businesses each month for free or discounted food, vouchers, and gifts. I’m still dreaming about the incredible free Chai latte I got from Lake Missoula Tea Company last month! Check it all out.
Finally, we rounded out the night with some updates from Bob Giordano, the director of MIST (Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation). MIST is committed to developing infrastructure in Missoula that makes sustainable transportation options safe, accessible, and equitable. We heard some awesome statistics from him about roundabouts (or traffic circles..whatever you call them) that are too cool not to share. We learned that a well-designed roundabout can lead to a 65% decrease in idling and 95% fewer crashes at that intersection, let alone the electricity that is saved from not needing stoplights! Personally, I’ve never been more interested in roundabouts than after our conversation.
In addition, Bob alerted us to an action item: the Higgins Avenue Bridge Rehabilitation. Wouldn’t it be great to actually walk side-by-side with someone on that walkway? What a dream. The city has been working away to come up with a rehabilitation plan of the bridge, and they have proposed designs. Check it all out here, and please take a moment to leave a comment on the project here. Public comments are truly read and considered in these processes, and are an excellent opportunity for direct action! We’re urging the city to keep bike and walk lanes wide, and cut down to two lanes of traffic, or at least maintain the bridge to be able to be retrofitted in the future through this process as our city continues to grow and develop in new ways.
That’s all for now! Stay warm out there, fellow Missoulians--you’ll see me walking to work bundled up in a giant scarf this month, racking up those Missoula in Motion points: free latte at Clyde Coffee, I’m coming for you.
A new year. With so much uncertainty of what the next few will bring for environmental and climate work, it’s understandable to feel unease as we press onward. Still, this past year brought important media attention and discussions to climate change in a way that motivates and excites us to keep the conversation growing. So, what better way to kick off a year of renewed focus and activity on climate change than with a beer, a handful of popcorn, and a community meetup on renewable energy? We thought so, too.
Our January meetup was jam-packed with updates from some of Missoula’s key players in the renewable energy world. Diana Maneta, Missoula County’s Energy Conservation and Sustainability Coordinator, gave us the run-down on cryptocurrency and how its current effects on Missoula County could continue to worsen. Cryptocurrency mining, such as the digital currency Bitcoin, is a major energy user that is steadily finding a foothold in Montana. Our state’s cool temperatures and low energy prices have been too good to resist for this industry, and we are already feeling its effects. A cryptocurrency facility in Bonner is estimated to have already increased the county’s energy use by 20%, and representatives have stated publicly that they intend to triple the size of the facility in the near future.
Cryptocurrency is a daunting issue, but our own Missoula County is at the forefront of addressing the industry’s effects, as Diana and others work to understand options to regulate the industry’s impacts and ways to motivate companies to make greener decisions (what if these facilities were required to have solar panels on their roofs to offset their energy use?). We’ll be closely following any developments on this issue and we encourage you all to do the same. For more info, check out our Advocacy page.
After a crash course on Bitcoin, we transitioned our discussion to some direct action items and things to look out for during Montana’s 2019 legislative session happening right now. Andrew Valainis, the Executive Director of Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA), and his team are watching closely for bills that could help and harm renewable energy transitions throughout the state. We’ll do our best to keep you updated (again, via our Advocacy page), but we also recommend getting on MREA’s email list. MREA does an excellent job here of summarizing the situation and laying out what they expect to see in the coming months. Here are two big things to look out for:
Despite potential challenges, Andrew reminded us that now is still a good time to go solar if you can! We’ve got resources (including 2 new short videos!) HERE.
We’re so grateful for everyone who showed up to delve into these complicated issues with us at this last meetup. These conversations always end in an electric atmosphere (pun intended) with folks riled and ready to get stuff done. In addition to those topics discussed at the meetup, we need to give one more shoutout to an important event happening this week. Our community is currently in the midst of developing Missoula’s Downtown Master Plan, an exciting and meaningful process where community members have the opportunity to share their visions and hopes for the future of downtown Missoula. Some things we’re personally advocating for are more sustainable transportation infrastructure, energy-efficient buildings, climate resilient roofs, and more urban trees to combat the heat island effect. Again, check out our updated Advocacy page for more details on how you can get involved in-person, or share your comments and thoughts through this online form.
At November’s monthly meetup, we tackled a big, daunting, but important bucket: sustainable economic development. What does that even mean? Good question. That’s where our conversation started!
Katie Deuel, Executive Director of Home ReSource, joined us to help facilitate the discussion. She and the HR team have done a lot of work around this topic over the years, and consider it part of their organizational mission to spur opportunities for sustainable business growth across the broader Missoula community. Katie asked us to consider what a sustainable economy would look like in Missoula. Ideas that people shared included:
All of these ideas and more mentioned were great to consider, and we had a lot of new faces at the meeting to help spur some brainstorming. But jeez: with such big visions for a more economically sustainable Missoula, where do you even begin?
The short answer: we don’t know! But we do know that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. When it comes to climate change and the economy, there are lots of great resources nationally and in other communities that Missoula can draw on, in addition to the wisdom of our homegrown sustainable entities and enterprises.
Over the course of our conversation, three main sustainable economic development pathways seemed to emerge:
Programs and policies that recognize and incentivize existing local businesses and buildings to become more sustainable
Strategies and policies to attract sustainable/climate-friendly businesses and industries to locate in Missoula
This is an interesting approach, another one that has tons of potential for Missoula. How might we attract businesses or industries that are compatible with our community’s short- and long-term climate and energy goals (and on the flipside, disincentivize those that are not, such as energy-intensive industries like cryptocurrency mining). The time seems ripe for more of an intentional conversation among “economic development” professionals and organizations - like Missoula Economic Partnership, Missoula Downtown Association, Destination Missoula and more - to think about how Missoula can become known for building the green, climate-friendly economy of the 21st century.
Policies and approaches to ensuring that expansion of our community’s physical infrastructure (e.g. residential and commercial buildings and services) happens sustainably
There are a lot more folks that we would like to have join this conversation going forward!
We unfortunately didn’t have time to draw up an entire plan. But we did discuss what has already been done and the clear need for a way to connect the sustainability efforts that are already happening in our community. A big bucket like sustainable economic development requires cooperation and partnerships between all facets of our community--including businesses both local and non-local, nonprofits, municipal agencies, and our creative community members. As we more forward with discussions about our city’s growth, it’s important to keep in mind something we all share: we all love Missoula, and we all want it to grow in a sustainable, forward-thinking way!
And on that note, come celebrate these developing partnerships and love for community with us at our Year 3 Celebration on December 6th. Details HERE. We hope to see you there!
-Abby & Anna
As a former Midwesterner and a two-month-old Missoulian, I was excited to talk and connect with community members at Climate Smart’s Monthly meetup on transportation. As I began navigating my new home in pursuit of used furniture and cheap bulk foods, I was excited to see the level of accessibility Missoula provides (zero-fare buses, wow!) but also acknowledged ways it can improve (what’s up with the tiny walkway on the Higgins Bridge?). Our conversation on transportation this month echoed that feeling of hope and excitement at what has already been accomplished, as well as reminded all of us of what work we can still do to make our community more sustainable and healthy.
With a room full of experts, there’s so much to discuss with so little time. Much of our conversation focused on ways the city was (or should) be transitioning its streets into more walkable and bikeable avenues for the community. Missoula has been developing its public transportation infrastructure since the 1970’s, which luckily allows plenty of room for green development. Bob Giordano, the director of Free Cycles and the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation, discussed the idea of “complete streets,” streets that are usable for all people, no matter their form of transportation or accessibility needs (cars, bikes, crosswalks, sidewalk ramps, etc.). He also talked about “road diets,” decreasing the number of lanes on a street, and how they provide benefits for all commuters, whether driving a car or riding a bike. He along with Aaron Wilson, a Transportation Planner with the City of Missoula, emphasized that we’ve done a lot to develop these types of infrastructure, but there are always ways we can improve.
Giordano brought up many exciting opportunities for community engagement in our city’s transportation decisions. This fall, the city council will be voting on whether to shift 5th and 6th streets from a two-lane road to one, with a buffered bike lane. (Head here for more info.) This will increase bike and pedestrian safety without cutting down travel times for car drivers. The vote is happening at the council meeting at 7pm on Monday, December 3rd in City Council Chambers --feel empowered to come share your voice or simply be there for support! The issue will be heard in committee the previous Wednesday (11/28), and supporters would also be welcome there. Please email Bob directly if you have further questions about how to be involved - and we’ll also do our best to remind you of these opportunities for action.
Additionally, the first open community meeting of the year on the revitalization of the city’s Downtown Master Plan is happening October 18th at 5:30 pm at the Wilma Theater. The master plan is a comprehensive strategy set to strengthen and invigorate Missoula’s downtown into the economic and cultural center of the city; it covers everything from housing and retail to transportation and parking. This will be a great opportunity to hear how downtown Missoula might be changing in the coming decades--come share your vision! If you want to get more involved in how transportation will look in the updated plan, consider joining the Transportation Focus Group starting in mid-October. Contact Bob Giordano at email@example.com for details.
Did you know that we are in the Top 10 list for biking accessibility in U.S. communities our size? How cool is that! And we’re not finished yet. As part of Missoula’s Long Range Transportation Plan, the city has committed to an ambitious mode split by 2045 that would triple the number of bikers, walkers, and public transit users while cutting the number of drive-alone commuters by about 30%. Not only does this increase road safety and community health, but it also decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emissions our community is releasing into the atmosphere. Are you interested in shifting your commuter mode of travel but you don’t know how? Katherine Auge, Missoula in Motion’s program specialist, told us all about the organization’s exciting program, Way to Go! Missoula. By simply entering your starting and ending points on their website, you’ll be provided with information on all the different modes of transportation and routes you can use to safely arrive at your destination including distance, travel time, and the pounds of carbon that are emitted from your chosen method (hint: biking and walking emit zero!). This includes ride-sharing or carpooling opportunities. You can also participate in the organization’s Commuter Challenge to motivate those at your workplace to try a different mode of commuting to work every day.
Not only do Missoulians bike, but we love our public transit. Ever since the Mountain Line Bus system went zero-fare in 2015, ridership has increased 70 percent! Vince Caristo, Mountain Line’s Project Management Specialist, filled us in on some of the exciting developments they are considering for the bus line. More expansive routes as well as buses running on Sundays were a few of the possibilities he mentioned. Mountain Line is currently strategizing to expand their services even further. Check out this recent article in the Missoula Current for more details on what Mountain Line’s future could look like.
The meetup made it clear that Missoula is passionate about transportation and accessibility. Not only does a diverse transportation mix lead to better environmental and community health, but it just as importantly provides options and amenities for low-income, disabled, and elderly community members. Providing better and safer transportation options for everyone is important for the prosperity of our beautiful city.
I was as excited as anyone about our conversation. I’m happy to be here in an engaged community with such ambitious goals for safety, sustainability, and health. Join us next month for a discussion on how to develop Missoula’s economic prosperity in a sustainable, equitable way. I know I’ll be there!
-Anna Weinberg, Energy and Climate Educator
Call me biased, but our monthly meetups are pretty great. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting and wide-ranging conversation anywhere in town. Where else can you talk about pumped hydro energy storage technology, the virtues of lentil farming, the perils of human urine, and industrial-scale composting, all in the span of an hour and a half?
If you couldn’t tell, the common thread running through these subjects is water – more specifically, the implications of climate change when it comes to our rivers, our drinking water, and our wastewater. That was the theme on tap for our August 2, 2018 monthly meetup - here's a recap of our conversation.
Alex and Katie from the Clark Fork Coalition joined us to talk about what they’re seeing along the Clark Fork, here in town but also throughout our larger watershed. Alex was one of the authors of the Montana Climate Assessment, so he knows his stuff. CFC measures water all over the river, and this year there was a record snowpack in the upper Clark Fork, and a fairly wet spring. But this July was also the second driest on record – which, sure enough, was what the MT Climate Assessment predicted. Despite this lack of rainfall, we’re still seeing decent flow levels and relatively cooler water temperatures all along the Clark Fork because of something you might not have guessed: groundwater. In fact, we learned that 90% (!) of a watershed’s waterflow is actually underground. Whoa. So despite the trend of more spring precipitation and longer droughts in our region, the snowpack and rain may end up boosting the “natural storage” capacity of the watershed. That might sound good, but we’re definitely not out of the woods climate-wise when it comes to our rivers. Hotter temperatures mean higher rates of evapotranspiration, thus plants need more water to grow. More study is needed on what this means for the long-term evolution of our forest ecology.
Alex reminded us that 95% of our state’s water use is due to agriculture. This is where we wade into the complicated realm of water rights and Helena lobbying interests, and then wade right back out again, because we could really get stuck there. Suffice to say, even when a rancher wants to return their water right to in-stream, it’s super hard to do. And most of the agriculture in our state is low-value commodity ag, so it’s hard to economically justify efforts to conserve water. What we could really use is more lentils! No, seriously – legumes and other dry-farmed products are a growing sector of Montana agriculture, which is pretty cool, and water smart. (Check out the Lentil Underground!)
Ok, one last interesting issue at the nexus of water and climate that I hadn’t considered before. Katie from CFC talked about their recent studies on recreation on the Clark Fork river. As we experience more heat waves during the summer, more and more people are using the river to cool down. On one hand, dunking in the river is better than cranking the A/C. But in addition to bumper-to-bumper tube traffic on certain sections of the river, more river recreators means streambank erosion, more trash, and an overabundance of human urine. Yep. So it’s possible that we might we need more official river access points…with port-a-pottys. Thanks, climate change!
Avoiding overwatering outdoors is important too (those subdivided ranchettes with giant lawns don’t help...), but by all means keep your veggie patch green and water your trees - we need them to keep our city cool! If you’ve ever wondered about graywater systems (where water from sinks and laundry is recycled, either to flush toilets or for irrigation), they are allowed here but you’ll want to read up on the rules and regulations.
Our Wastewater Treatment Plant Rocks!
So, what about that last piece of the water+energy puzzle – the treatment of our sewage and wastewater? Turns out, our humble little municipal wastewater treatment plant is light years ahead of most facilities around the country! Our intern Mattie shared what she recently learned on a tour, which was that there’s resource recovery happening with all three different waste streams created by the plant: the bio-solids (solid waste), the effluent (liquid waste), and methane gas. The City-owned Garden City Compost, right next door, accepts treated bio-solids, which are then turned into compost that’s available for sale, as well as used on the neighboring plantation of poplar trees. The poplar plantation is also a destination for a large volume of the effluent. The trees and soil filter the effluent before it returns to the aquifer, and the nutrients benefit the fast-growing trees, which can then be harvested in succession and sold for wood products. And if that wasn’t enough, the wastewater treatment plant also recently put a new methane cogeneration plant online. This dual technology recovers lost heat as well as generates electricity from the recaptured methane – covering 25% of the plant’s usage at peak! All of these sustainable elements reduce the impact of the resource-intensive process needed to get wastewater to meet the high standards for discharge back into the river, and mean that ultimately less has to get discharged. (Mattie's been working on a "Storymap" project highlighting this story as well as other "energy stories" around town - we're looking forward to sharing her great work soon. In the meantime, check out this handy infographic on the WWTP resource recovery efforts that she created.)
Water, Climate, and Missoula’s Future
As our climate changes and our population here grows, keeping our rivers cool and plentiful for fish and humans, and conserving water and the energy embedded in it will be more and more critical. We’re grateful for the visionary and hard work of the Clark Fork Coalition, our Wastewater Treatment Plant staff, Missoula Water, Garden City Compost, and so many more great organizations that maintain this resource which is so important to our identity as Missoulians as well as to building climate resilience for a hotter, drier future that is already here.
Join us next month for our September meetup on Renewable Energy! Thursday, September 6th, 5-7pm at Imagine Nation as usual. Snacks, tasty beverages, and good conversation guaranteed!