Holly Alpert talks climate change at Native Plant Society gathering
While this year’s drought may not be the result of climate change, changes due to global warming have certainly been on the minds of Eastsiders as snowpack dwindles and water levels drop.
On Jan. 28, former Native Plant Society (NPS) Bristlecone Chapter board member and current Integrated Regional Water Management Program (IRWMP) Program Manager Holly Alpert delivered a lecture to NPS members on the impacts of climate change in the Eastern Sierra, and the need for further analysis to shape town and county water management in particular.
Alpert has worked for several years on climate change analysis for the Inyo-Mono IRWMP, a collaborative regional water planning team funded through State Propositions 50 and 84. IRWMP has more than 30 participating entities, and provides opportunities for rural communities to seek funding for water-related projects.
At the Jan. 28 lecture, Alpert explained that current climate change modeling doesn’t focus specifically on the Eastern Sierra.
“Much of the climate change research in the Sierra is done on the west side, because it’s aimed at the large reservoirs there,” she said. “Modeling studies of the east side are few and far between, and not updated very frequently.”
Without more specific modeling, Eastern Sierra communities will be challenged to accurately assess their vulnerabilities to climate change, and to create appropriate response and adaptation options, Alpert said.
“Changes in temperature and precipitation will affect hydrology, stream flow, groundwater resources; but that effect is largely unknown,” she said. She added that some existing information put out through State agencies simply hasn’t made its way to smaller communities.
“Groups like the IRWMP would be a natural way for the State to funnel down this information,” she said.
While Eastern Sierra-specific data might be lacking, Alpert did say she was able to use an ensemble of larger-scale climate change models to come up with rough projections for Inyo and Mono Counties. Alpert’s projections show a range of changes in temperature as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from 2010-2100.
Temperatures could rise from 2.4 to 4.09 degrees Celsius in the Lower Owens region, for instance, or rise 1.73 to 4.15 degrees in the Mono region.
These increases in temperature will undoubtedly impact snowpack, runoff, and groundwater in the region. That impact will be complicated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s continued reliance on water from the Owens Valley and Mono Basin; as Alpert noted in her lecture, Los Angeles’s demand for water is only expected to rise through about 2030.
That increase in demand does not yet take climate change into account, she said.
While conducting her own climate change analysis, “I don’t think any light bulbs went off,” Alpert said. “This is all information we knew, but I don’t think anyone had put it down in one place.”
Her hope, she added, is that the climate change models and vulnerability assessment she produced will end up in the hands of local agencies and water districts, inspiring them to conduct further research and initiate adaptive management strategies.
“We need to do more,” she concluded.
The public could also benefit from regional climate change information, she said. Alpert noted that at present, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, in spite of looming water crises, Inyo and Mono residents still use 3-4 times the national average of water per day, mostly due to landscape watering.
Although her lecture hinted at a challenging future for the Eastern Sierra, Alpert said Wednesday’s audience remained undaunted.
“In general, people seemed pretty positive,” she said. “There was a feeling that ‘It’s our responsibility to do something and make a change.’”