Brian McInerney, recently retired Hydrologist for the National Weather Service, breaks down climate projections for Utah, his work with the Utah Climate Project, and the importance of including objective climate science in water management and planning.
Brian Lebrecht , President of Clyde Snow & Sessions 0:01
This podcast is brought to you by the law firm of Clyde Snow and Sessions based in Salt Lake City with offices in Oregon and California. For over 65 years Clyde Snow has represented clients throughout the West. Clyde Snow: Serious About Solutions.
Emily Lewis, Host 0:24
Hello, and welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast putting water into context. I’m Emily Lewis, your host and I’m a water attorney here in Salt Lake City, Utah practicing creative solutions to today’s and tomorrow’s water problems. Welcome to the conversation.
Hello, and welcome to the eighth episode of Ripple Effect, a podcast putting water into context. I am Emily Lewis, your host an attorney here in Salt Lake City, Utah, discussing complex water problems and creative solutions. I’m very excited today to have with me Brian McInerney, who is the recently retired but worked with the National Weather Service in the Salt Lake City Office weather forecasting position, he was the hydrologist and lead individual for addressing climate change questions. And the reason I really wanted to have Brian here today is because we have so much discussion about water, how we are going to fund it, how we are going to manage it. It’s really important to talk about how much we have. And Brian is an expert in the field and has always presented very creative and interesting presentations at various conferences and forums. And so this I thought would be a great thing to have him on the podcast. So Brian, if you would please would you mind giving a little background about who you are, what your posts have been what you’re doing now, and what the typical tasks of your job as a hydrologist and weather forecaster generally entail?
Brian McInerney, Guest 1:57
Yeah, sure. I was the hydrologist for the National Weather Service Forecast Office, at the airport in Salt Lake City for the past 30 years. I got the job out of graduate school in 1989. And there wasn’t a hydrologist at the office, they had opened these positions up, because they found that they needed help with the idea of all of the water issues that are affected by the weather and the meteorologists, they’re very good at forecasting weather, but they didn’t really have a hydrologist. So they planted five different new positions at that time. And luckily, I was fortunate enough to get the Salt Lake City job. And being the first one in the office, as a hydrologist, I would ask my boss, what what do you expect of me? And he just said, Look, it’s a new position. Why don’t you make it what is needed? We have certain parameters that we need you to do here, but why don’t you take it and run with it. And it was a little daunting because I started and I really didn’t know what was needed, how the weather service worked. So I got the feel of how the weather service works and what the position required from the weather service. But I think the biggest thing that I found was we as the weather service, and back in that time, for flash flooding, say, we used to say this is the forecast. And here’s a flash flood warning for your area, we’re the weather service and we’re smarter than you are and this is what you’re going to get. And I found that seemed kind of like a bad idea. So I went down and talked to the Rangers and said, What would you like from us. And they said, This is what we’d like we’d like you to not issue so many warnings. And we’d like you to kind of get a little better at areal extent of the warnings. And then they showed me where it flash floods. So I would go back to the office explain this to the forecasters and then we would take that information and try and do a better job. And I found it was really a good way to run the business. Ask your customers what they would like of you. And in most times almost all the time, we could provide what they wanted instead of just saying this is what we think you want. And so being the hydrologist at the forecast office, we do water supply forecasting with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and they’re in the same room as us they do the forecast but then I would take it and bring it to life and explain what that means for Utah. We would also do the flash flood program for Southern Utah for the national parks and monuments to explain the science of flash flooding, what that means how it’s going to affect you. And then to get a better communication between all the people down there and the weather service when this is going to happen and how bad it’s going to be, you know, up until like, you know an hour before the event. And then I integrated myself into the teams with the US Forest Service and the BLM for post wildfire debris flows because you get wildfires. And then you would have debris flows that came down with thunderstorm activity and these things killed people. And it was, it’s a pretty stressful time when you have these large thunderstorms or, you know, events that could kill people. And if you get it, right, they may live. And if you get it wrong, people may die. And that was always a very stressful part. But the job really lent itself to explaining science. And early on, people would say it’s, it’s dry, and we don’t have much snow. Is this something called climate change that I’ve heard? And I really wasn’t sure. So we found that my cohorts throughout the western US were getting the same questions. So they sent us to Boulder to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. And we actually sat down with the, with the researchers who do this type of science. And they explain how they came up with their results, their methods, the data they used. And then we went back to the office and explain climate change to people. So all of this really has evolved over 30 years of work. And it’s been incredibly fulfilling career to have, really, for anybody to work in science, I was outside a lot. I work with a lot of good people. It was an excellent career for 30 years, I was very fortunate to have this job.
Emily Lewis 6:18
Well, it sounds like you got to kind of create the job, which I think is, on one hand, incredibly scary, but also extremely exciting, especially because I mean, you said you started in 1989 and retired in 2019? That was last year?
Brian McInerney 6:33
2020, I let it ride a little bit longer.
Emily Lewis 6:36
But you could have had such a good book end! Haha In terms of like scientific advancements and scientific understanding of kind of like how our atmosphere works. And you know, the burgeoning science of climate change. I mean, that’s pretty much like the peak period of, you know, from beginning to where we are now. So that’s pretty exciting. Okay, so, can you tell us a little bit about kind of like, what you’re doing now, how you’ve transitioned from your role, as, you know, kind of a government service role in providing information to the public and packaging that information in a way that’s tangible. What are you doing now with your time? And what are the projects you’re working on?
Unknown Speaker 7:18
Yeah. So I’m the Co-Director of the Utah Climate Project with Andrea Brunelle, and Summer Rupper from the University of Utah, they’re two professors. And what it is, is, I found that climate change science over time, really has evolved. And it’s been on a steady course, it’s happening, and we’re causing it, and we’re feeling effects right now. And a lot of my water supply job, when I was the hydrologist was talking to the agricultural community, about their, you know, the annual runoff, the peak flow timing and volumes. And, I would talk to them about climate change. And what I would find is they were very reluctant to embrace this science. And at first, it was surprising, and maybe I was a little naive. But over time, what you find is they would come to you in small groups and say, you know, our farms and ranches aren’t behaving like they used to, we don’t see similar weather patterns, is this going to get worse, but they wouldn’t say it in a group setting, they would come to me and talk in small groups. And what I found was, this information is needed in a way that’s objective, it’s non threatening, it’s non political. It’s just the information that’s out there. And so I did this, I think quite well over time. Because I was able to integrate myself into these communities and find out what was happening, look at the science and then explain what was going to happen in the future. And it was really a very good part of the job very fulfilling, to impart this knowledge on a group that was very reluctant to hear this. And then I found more people would come and talk to me about if we could change the political landscape here in Utah. So they would at least listen to the science and see what it means for the people who live here. Because it’s happening now it’s gonna get worse. So when I finished the job, I found, you know, you want to go ride your bike and you want to go ski a bunch, and you want to travel and do all the things you do when you retire. But I found that this need is still out there. There are people who call me now in retirement and ask me these questions. And so I was with Andrea Brunelle from the University of Utah and a panel discussion and we decided to form this nonprofit together. And we then took it into two directions. One was to educate on how the science works and what it means to you. And the other is to make small mountain towns and desert towns, carbon negative There’s a book called Drawdown where you can change how you do business by switching from carbon based energy to green energy. And when you look at where we are with coal in Utah, the economics indicates that that industry is going to go away, well, what happens to the communities at these towns that are based solely on coal? We thought it’d be a nice thing to to educate people and really come up with a game plan how you can get out of this, and really make your town carbon negative and make and save money in the process, kind of educate people, again, in a very non threatening way. It’s not political, it’s just the science of what’s happening. And then what does that mean and how you can adapt to what’s going to happen. And I think that’s kind of our main goal, right now. Funding is extremely hard to come by, just in the climate we’re in right now. It’s difficult to get moving. So we’re stuck right now with COVID. And that’s understandable, everybody’s trying to figure out their way with COVID. But once we move out of this, climate change is still marching on, it’s getting hotter, and it’s getting drier. And we have to kind of adjust to this, and we have some strategies on how to do that.
Emily Lewis 11:25
That’s awesome kinda like an education and action organization?
Great, that’s awesome. Well, I definitely want to come back to that, because I think one of the things I like to end these podcasts on are, where do we go from here? And so, I definitely want to come back and ask about some of those specific examples. Because, you know, I’m from Wyoming originally, and you know, Wyoming is a cool state. And so, you know, these are really active and live conversations. And then I had a really interesting conversation a couple weeks ago with Brett Bovee, just talking about water markets, and where water is moving. And he specifically mentioned the retirement of coal plants as an interesting driver for water markets, because they hold such large water rights. And so, it all kind of comes full circle. Well, on that front, then if, you know, if I can kind of follow up on you know, like, the first prong of your new effort in terms of education, I was really hoping to have this podcast be an opportunity to kind of set the stage a little bit for people who are, you know, most of the listeners, I think, probably have some fluency in water. Otherwise, they’d be real bored. And an interest, but I do think it’s always important, just kind of go back to like, the basics, and like, where do we get our water? How is our water system working, and then how is climate changing, affecting those trends? If you could just kind of give us an overview of where Utah sits and kind of how our hydrologic cycle works, typically in Utah, and then we can kind of move into how that’s changing as climate change becomes more and more apparent in our day to day lives.
Brian McInerney 12:56
So, when you think of water, when you look at it, just a tap in your kitchen, you know, turn the tap on, the water comes down, it’s clean, and it’s plentiful, and you always know what’s going to be there. If you step back to where it came from, the majority of our water supply comes in the form of spring snowmelt runoff. In northern Utah, the storms come off of the Pacific Northwest by Alaska. They’re moisture laden, it’s cold, there’s dynamics, it moves into the coastal regions and rings out at good amount of water over those areas. And then the storms continue out of the Pacific Northwest or the West, and then hit the Wasatch range. And the range there is perfect. It’s a perfect lifting mechanism to produce heavy amounts of snowfall, with very light densities, and it works great for skiing. But these storms historically used to come on a regular basis, they would – there was very low variability of whether they were going to show up or not. There was years where we have more than less. But you’d have kind of this small range of variability on these storms. The water is in the form of snow melt, when it’s in snow, it’s up on the hillside, and it’s clean. It’s gravity fed and it waits. It’s like a storage unit. When it starts to get warmer in the spring, early April, we start seeing snow melt, the water comes down channels that have been formed over 1000s of years. And we’ve built reservoirs right at the outlets of these places, and it fills up the reservoir then when snow melt stops, we have the stores then we don’t get out during the summer months. And we have agreements on who gets what, and it works really well. We’ve thrived under this system, what you find is with a warming climate, and this is about since 1980, the storms are less frequent, but when they get here, they’re more intense. And what we’re finding is the fraction of winter precipitation which used to be solely in the form of snow is now in the form of rain. So what we’re doing is changing our snow driven hydrology in the winter months to a rain driven hydrology. And the way the storms get here, they’re much more intense. So with rain we’re going to see deluges of intense rainfall during the months that may or may not be over a watershed that has a reservoir below it. And eventually, by about – when you look at the timeline, the research has shown that about 2035 to 2065, during that timeframe, areas that are 100% snow covered in the Wasatch are going to be 50% or less during December, January and February. So if we have less snow in the mountains, how are we going to get water? If it’s going to rain during the wintertime, then progress that timeline to about 2080 to 2100. Again, research has shown that 80% to 90% of the snowpack will be gone. We won’t even have it during that time. So if that’s the case, how do we get water if it’s going to rain very hard during the winter months, and we won’t have spring snowmelt runoff, we’re going to have a change in vegetation on the hillsides, plants are not going to be as dormant as they were during when it was really cold. And you know sub zero temperatures at the higher elevations, our infiltration rates are going to change our evaporation is going to be heightened, transpiration as it pulls water into the roots and transpires it out through the leaves is going to be much greater. Our losses are going to be much bigger. If you look at the years that we’ve melted prematurely in March, when it got warm in the spring, you could lose up to 50% of your snow water equivalent. And it goes into the atmosphere is evaporation and transpiration and sublimation. You have the years where it was cold all the way in May. And then it snowed and it rained and it was it was storming and then you flip the switch, turn the heat on and bring the sun out in May, you get a much more efficient runoff that was with some of the biggest flood years we had, we’re headed toward that inefficient run out scenario where we melt earlier, we have more evaporation and when you think of the the quantity of water that’s being lost, it’s quite significant until the point where we have to come up with a different scenario to deal with rain in the wintertime. And that is problematic because the way we do it now works wonderfully. It’s going to change – how do we do this? Do we build more reservoirs? Do we store water underground? Well, what’s going to happen is the agricultural community is going to take the hit first and they’re taking the hit now, when we have shortages of spring snowmelt run out due to these conditions. And they’re the ones that have the hardest time and they’re on such a margin with their farms and ranches, that it’s going to be quite difficult in the future.
Emily Lewis 18:06
Yeah, we’ve had a lot of discussions about you know, I mean, agricultural, such a huge industry in Utah, it’s you know, somewhere around 80% of the water now. And so, you know, it’s already kind of looked at as the main for future water needs. I had Jeff DenBleyker and Representative Tim Hawkes on a while back where he talked about the ag optimization committee, and, you know, I just feel for agriculture, because they are on the margins so much, you know, they’ve got steel disruptions from tariffs, they’ve got tariff disruptions from, you know, port production, they’ve got, you know, COVID with migrant workers, they’ve got all this incredible, you know, uncertainty with water supply. And the other thing is, it’s a large part of our economy, it’s not something that we can turn a blind eye to. And so, you know, I think that as part of our water policies, and as we make these adjustments for the future Utah, you know, agriculture has to be front and center of how we how we deal with that. So,
Brian McInerney 18:59
Yeah, yeah, totally.
Emily Lewis 19:02
Yes, that’s, yeah. Well, thank you for painting that very positive picture for us for the future.
Brian McInerney 19:09
When I was the guy, whenever we go talk at conferences, you know, people would just be like “why did we invite this guy?”
Emily Lewis 19:15
I teach water law at the law school. And I had a student who did a really good paper actually on kind of what the impact of climate change is going to be on the ski industry. And, you know, she kind of referenced some of those same data points regarding snow and I think the one that just like keeps on coming back to something like like, 2085 there will only be snow on like Ben Lomond peak, and like, Superior, and I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is terrible. It just kind of brought it home of what that means, you know, when we talk about 50% less or you know, what the percentages are, you know, visually, what does that look like from the ground? And how do we conceptualize that and so it’s kind of a sad, sad state, but the reality is, it’s the state that’s coming you know, and One of the reasons why I wanted to have you here is because we have so many discussions about water management and so many discussions about, technical innovations or moving to drip lines, are we doing secondary metering? This water supply and infrastructure nexus is really a pretty large one. And so in your conversations, and as in your former role, and I’m assuming as you move into, like your new role, do you work with policymakers on kind of like, informing them about how does that conversation go, because you’re kind of coming at it from the science side, and you say, Here’s what’s coming. But the people who actually have the control over, you know, the reservoirs or building potential new reservoirs, or really kind of changing the face of our infrastructure to meet these demands are not the scientists. And so, you know, how do you see those two communities interacting in from your perspective, how do we get everybody on the same page about understanding the data, and then making plans that account for it?
Brian McInerney 20:59
Yeah, that is a big part of what I did throughout my career was explaining the science and what that means for your operations. So the decision makers could make better decisions on so many fronts, economically, engineering, water, how they could make better decisions to do the best they can for their customers. And what you found was that if you spoke to the engineers who run the water districts, way back in the 90s, they weren’t on board with climate change. And so when I would talk about it, I would get a lot of blowback, I would get people giving me the stink guy when I would talk about the science. And it was a difficult time, because there would be people who were unsure in the audience. But yet, you would have some people who were very vocal would kind of drowned out what the science was. And I would say it the Utah water users, I was giving a talk in it, there was a representative from the Utah government who stood up and just said, Don’t listen to this guy. He’s not telling you the truth. This is a bunch of misinformation. And it was a an opportunity that I said, Let’s, let’s talk about this. I’m here. Now I’ve got another 20 minutes, let’s have a discussion. What part of this do you want to talk about? And what you find is, they don’t want to do that part. They they didn’t want to talk about the actual science. So then you take the next step. And I’ve, I’ve worked with certain representatives in the government of Utah. And they are interested, a select few, not a lot, but they want to know what this is and what’s going to happen. But the problem with climate change, it’s been politicized. Back in the 90s. You were just told, don’t listen to this. It’s a political agenda. And so the people like myself, who have nothing to do with politics are just trying to convey climate change, like I would do hydrology, or flash flooding, or debris flows. Everything else was well accepted. And then they could make better decisions with climate change. There was a reluctance to embrace the science, they weren’t sure as time has gone on, the engineers have embraced it. And they’re planning for it, and they’re trying to get after it. But for the most part, the legislature still is reticent to embrace climate change. And that’s unfortunate, because these are happening now. And it’s going to get worse, and we need to plan for this. And we need to do it in an educated fashion, that will lead us down the proper path instead of a way that’s just gonna be like, holy cow. Now we’re really in a fix – what do we do now?
Emily Lewis 23:46
Yeah, we’ve had some discussions about the doubling down on the present is not preparing for the future.
Brian McInerney 23:53
Absolutely. And I think that’s the most frustrating part of my job, the Ken Gardner Institute, I was part of a panel to deal with the increasing amounts of high pressure over the western US that’s causing the air quality to become much worse with high pressure, you get a lack of snow, you get inversions, and lack of weather. But you also get these wicked inversions that are causing health issues, to the people who live in the valleys. And so I was part of this. And and so our end of it, we said, let’s, let’s talk about the actual high pressure, let’s talk about what to do about it. But there’s also we need to look at how a warming climate is increasing the incidence of high pressure, you’re going to get more inversions, you’re going to get more air quality problems. And the first run through we had to kind of say, you know, this isn’t enough, let’s put more about our changing climate how a warming environment is going to make this worse. They did that and then they sent this packet to the legislature and the climate change part was totally disregarded.
Unknown Speaker 25:06
Is that the roadmap that came out in January (2020), that’s your roadmap?
Unknown Speaker 25:09
Yeah, that was the roadmap. And I was so disappointed that we, we don’t even just talk about it like open, you know, critical thinking, let’s all use critical thinking, look at it objectively. And then let’s talk about where there may be holes in the data, or there may be other discussions, there wasn’t any of that it was just kind of swept under the rug. And you know, that when you have increased inversions, the air quality is going to get worse. And the amount of ER visits are going to increase and they do increase, we had physicians on that panel, that would say just this with climate change, we’re going to dry up the Great Salt Lake, we’re doing that right now, if you look at the size of the Great Salt Lake, what that brings is an instance of alkaline desert, minerals blowing in is just on to the most populated parts of the state. And that’s going to cause respiratory problems. And this is out of my league. But I learned this from the physicians who are part of this panel, yet, we didn’t talk about this, because when I actually asked some of the legislators Why are you guys so reticent to talk about this? They would say I wouldn’t be elected, the people who vote for me, wouldn’t vote for me if I embrace this issue. And I think that that’s a difficult scenario.
Emily Lewis 26:31
Yeah. I don’t know if it’s I sometimes from a water policy perspective, you know, we often talk about climate change as well, you know, and how we address it. And the question is, I think it comes back to a comment you made earlier is, you know, how much of that is a perception? Or how much is that a reality? You know, because I do think you said something really salient where, you know, oftentimes it’s one or two loud voices that occupy the conversation. Whereas after the presentation, four or five people come up to you and say, Hey, this is happening, you know. And so the people that we worked with that I thought, I find that the people on the ground really understand that this is an issue, you know, that this is reality. And the people on the ground, are the voters and so so and that’s what always has been interesting to me. And I don’t, I haven’t really figured out how you address it. But it seems to me there is a disconnect between the on the ground operations and what’s perceived as who the voters are, who would vote for policies that are not climate friendly.
Brian McInerney 27:28
And really, that was one of the driving forces of this nonprofit, the Utah Climate Project. What if we made ourselves available to come to communities, and just talk about the science and explain to them where the science comes from, what that means for you and your families, because we will be judged by what we do now from our children or grandchildren. Let’s talk about the science. And that was the idea behind the nonprofit that was a big one.
Emily Lewis 27:56
And Utah loves to plan. We’re all about planning. It is built into the DNA of Utah to be prepared. So I find that that is a great term to package and put into everything you do.
Brian McInerney 28:08
Yeah, absolutely. And for good measure too.
Emily Lewis 28:12
Yeah, we’re gonna planning, it’s what we plan for, I think, is the question. Well, that’s a great segue, then Brian, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your nonprofit, because, you know, we’re running into roadblocks in certain areas of power, whether that be the legislature, decision makers, you know, that’s just one of many ways that you can execute change, and so I would love to hear about how you’re thinking that your nonprofit is going to fit into the solution in the conversation, and what are some of the concrete things that you’re doing to move those on the ground people to make changes or adopt, influence their legislators or their decision makers to make changes? Because, I do think, if anything, the last several weeks of civil disobedience and protests have shown that, there are power numbers, and if people are unified in division, there’s definitely a lot that can be done. And so what are some of the things that you’re doing on your front to kind of get those individuals engaged?
Brian McInerney 29:07
So when when we first started, I was asked to, to be on a panel discussion at the Kimball Art Center in Park City hosted by KRCL disc jockies – the people from Radioactive and you know, I thought that’s, that’s a great idea. So we went there, and I was on a panel with maybe seven people. And they talked to me who I was what I do, we went down the line, and we started and I noticed the the mood in the room was a lot of young people. And it was very festive. And it was very fun. And they were having contests to see who could recycle the most Starbucks cards. And the guy sitting next to me had LED light bulbs that he brought like, you can change a light bulb. And and it was very festive. And then they got to me, and at the time, I was 58 years old. So I was older than these guys a lot. And I just thought rolling through the science that we’ve spoken of so far on this podcast and the disc jockeys jokingly said, we’ve invited bummer Brian to be part of this holy cow. He’s really bringing us down and they all kind of laughed. And then I, I paused in my head, and I thought, am I being the bummer of a guy? Or am I just doing the science, you don’t want to be the doom and gloom guy, you want to give it objectively, and then went down the way and there was this professor from the University of Utah, Andrea Brunelle, who was part of of the panel, and she said, He’s right. And we have roughly 12 years to turn this around. And then it really got serious. And then we shifted the discussion to what’s going to happen. So Andrea, and I got together after it and said it, it’s surprising just how the young people see this as a festive, fun thing. And recycling, Starbucks cups really isn’t going to get us out of this. And so we had lunch later in the week, decided to do this. And we said, What if people were educated? How do we do this? And we thought about social media and how to do this, she put out an email to the University of Utah professors. And 80 wrote back to her and said, We’d love to get involved with this. So now we have this brain trust of people that want to do this. And Dr. Ed Clark, who’s the head of the clinicians at primary children’s in the University of Utah hospital, I mean, he’s the top guy he got with us and said, Let’s, I think it’s a great idea, because he’s looking at it for ER admissions into the Primary Children’s Hospital, and the amount of emphysema and asthma attacks that are going to increase, he thought it was a great idea. And so the feeling is, if we can put this out on social media, do TED like talks, and then actually go in person to whoever needs this information. And it’s an objective, non threatening environment that gives you the information and answers questions on this, maybe we can make better decisions for Utah, and a lot of it was aimed at the political structure, but then COVID hit and the funding has just been non existent for us to get anything moving. And then we thought, okay, Park City came to us and said, Could you make Park City a draw down city, which is a book that we mentioned earlier, that has 100 methodologies to change from a carbon based energy to a clean based energy, green based energy. And when we looked into it, there’s massive savings to be had. We also found that the coal industry, economically is struggling and is going to go away eventually. So why don’t we soften the blow for these communities, and see if we can come up with a strategy that doesn’t just leave them out in some of these areas without any industry. And so the thinking was, we would do Park City, then we could go to Moab, then we go to St. George small cities, because we’re small right now. And show them how they can save money on their heating budgets and their electric budgets, and also change the way they do business that’s sustainable.
Emily Lewis 33:12
And can I ask you a question on that, though, not by any means to dissuade you, because I think that this is awesome. But I mean, I’ve lived in Utah now since 2007. So 13 years, you know, a fair chunk of time. In that time, like, I feel like I’ve seen several reports that come out, particularly from Park City, I think there was like Park City Vision, something 2020 there, I don’t know, the actual titles. But then they have like a really good report about you know, ski industry and impacts of climate change at ski industry. And so I don’t feel like that town in particular has been, you know, asleep at the wheel. And so one of the questions I have is, like, how is this going to be different? How do we change things from being a plan on a book or a plan on a shelf to a plan in action? And maybe, you know, this is the chapter that you’re still developing because you’re so new. Because that is one thing that I wonder about, as from our side, because you know, on the water side, there’s also lots of really good reports out there, you know, the State Water strategy report, you know, in 2017 is a real in a lot of ways a great blueprint for how to reuse how to think about our water differently. And we’re seeing some of those methods come into action like water banking and splitsies and leasing. But for your project, how do you see moving from kind of the action list to the to the action items done?
Brian McInerney 34:34
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I thought the same thing when they when they first started talking about this you know, because you see the “save our snow”, and I did think – So you’re right, this is going to happen, but Park City’s small, when you think of a global problem like we have, it’s small. I would point this out to my wife and say, you know, this is such a big problem, we’re not going to wrap our heads around this, we’re not going to get out of this. When you actually look at the data. It’s It’s so daunting, that so what if Park City goes green, or Moab goes green. And I thought, you know, it just seems like this problem that you see all the time, like you’re talking about. And then Park City came to us and said, We need to be kind of this beacon that others can see. And that we can turn it around. Because really, we’re not doing anything, I think we were up to 418 parts per million, the average for CO2 is roughly about 250 parts per million for about a million years ago. This is the highest it’s ever been. So what if we do one place and we go to them with their sustainability director and they have this these people that are fabulous, that already have a game plan in mind? How do you get the restaurant industry to change how they do it? And how do you get the rest of the neighborhoods to do it. So you don’t use coal, you use green, wind energy, or some of these other strategies. And we actually implement like they give them incentives to change over and we actually make Park City carbon negative. Is that going to change climate change? No way. But what if Moab catches on and then maybe a bigger city like Grand Junction? Can we do it for them? And then maybe we can start moving in the right direction. There’s part of me that thinks it’s still folly, that we think we’re going to wrap our heads around this, but you kind of have to try, I find that just ignoring it is going to make things so much harder for our children or grandchildren. And they’re going to come up to you and say, Well, why don’t you do something about this? That’s what sticks in my head. And this is an actionable thing, we can actually change. And then maybe at the state level, we can incentivize electric cars, and make it easier for people to drive an electric car, I gave a talk at Weber State. And one of the kids in the audience said, Look, if I get rid of my truck, I can’t get to school, and I can’t get my degree. And I can’t stop driving. It was a diesel truck. And I said, You’re absolutely right. But what if Utah said, we’ll sell you an electric car, or you can get an electric car for a reduced rate with these tax incentives? And we put all of these charging stations, would you do it? He said I do it in a second. And that’s the difference. How do you incentivize this? How do you make it appealing because you can talk to the communities like what you’ve seen and what I’ve seen, and say it’s a good idea, or do the whole negative routine, oh, it’s going to be so bad, you got to, it’s just going to be terrible. And we’re the cause and blame game and pointing fingers. How about if we try and just change it. And then we can add a little more time to the timeline of this warming, because when you do the math on this, and I sat down with some physicists over dinner after a conference I was at that actually do the science. It’s pretty grim. It’s pretty daunting and scary bad.
Emily Lewis 38:09
And is that the 12 year window that you referenced earlier, I think that also came out earlier in ICPP, or the International Panel on Climate Change, that the 12 year window came out like maybe last fall?
Brian McInerney 38:22
Yeah, they call that the tipping point and what happens, you, you have just runaway warming, and humans can live in this very small window of temperature and preset that we thrive. Once you move out of that window, then it gets pretty, pretty scary of for the human race, it’s going to be so hot. And we’re seeing this right now some places are getting so hot, they can’t even exist with the humidity and the heat that’s only going to go up. We’re anticipated to warm 10 degrees in Salt Lake and the surrounding Utah areas by 2100. Which isn’t that far away? What if we can slow the increase of this warming, and maybe give us a little maybe 50 year window to come up with better solutions? Because right now, we’re on track for a really hard future for our children and our grandchildren. So why don’t we make it easy for the actual change? And then engineer that change?
Emily Lewis 39:24
I think about this too, because, I mean, there’s been a lot of discussion about the Green New Deal and unfortunately, I agree with you that is unfortunately politicized, especially in a state like Utah where it shouldn’t be because this is planning, you know, like, we should have both in my mind, there’s a lot of state resources thrown at large scale Water Development project planning, you know, like the is for that like, well, pipeline just came out, you know, last week but it unison in simultaneous in parallel to that there also needs to be investment in planning for management, you know, planning for, you know, kind of a different way to look at our water than we have in the past. And, and so, I guess for me, it’s a, I’m not a pessimist, I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. But I just the inertia is, it’s a big ball of move up the hill, you know, of getting people to think about things differently and commit to it. And, you know, one of the things we’ve talked about in the past podcasts is the concept of like, trial balloons, you know, and getting out some trial balloons on things that kind of get some momentum behind them. And, you know, basically can can show and demonstrate on the ground that, hey, this is worth doing. And I think the ag optimization task force from a water perspective is like a really good example of that, you know, they got, you know, some funding for some small projects to see what we could do for ag conservation. And, you know, that’s a trial balloon that you can kind of point to. And so, you know, whether we have an electric car trial balloon or something, unfortunately, we’re living in a condensed timeframe. And you know, whether or not our trial balloons develop into a large scale change, by the time it’s needed. You know, I think that that’s one way to kind of start pushing that rock up the hill, it’s something I think a lot about, because it’s such a scale, the problem is so big, and everyone needs water, water, so interconnected to our overall environment. You know, just getting people not to give up, I think, is the first barrier.
Brian McInerney 41:36
Yeah, I think that is important – we can’t give up. We need to look at what we have intelligently, and then come up with the best game plan for what we have. How do we do this? And it’s going to lead to changes, and change is hard but with any change you know is coming, if you get on it earlier and you get a game plan, the change will be less. If you ignore the problem, you know, you can use this for medical purposes – I think I use a lot of analogies for the medical field, or if you gain weight – you’re gaining weight and you’re getting high blood pressure, diabetes, and your health is suffering. Well, how about if you figure out what is wrong maybe the best strategy to lose weight and then you’ll be back in that window where you’re doing well. If you ignore it, it’s just gonna get worse and worse. That analogy fits well with where we are with warming climate, especially for out water industry. When you think of the lack of spring runoff and increased incidence of high pressure ridging over the west, that deflects storms away from us – If you look at what it used to be from 1961-1990 compared to 1981-2010, we do 30 years averages for normally, we’re drying out. We’re getting much dryer and we’re getting much hotter and we’ve only started this process since 1980. As we continue it’s going to get hotter and dryer. Are we really looking at what is projected in the future or are we looking in the past and saying well, we sued to get this amount of water, so lets use that metric to plan for these big projects we have coming up. And I’ve found the water districts in Northern Utah tend to jump on those pretty quick and tend to figure out how to get around this. I don’t know if we have a great strategy but they’re very open to the idea. They’re open to the discussions of how to best deal with what’s coming down the pipe.
Emily Lewis 43:41
Yeah, and I think that we just need a conference on that! What’s coming down the pipe? I am constantly impressed with the professionalism and the ingenuity and the creativity of people in this field, you know? If you’re looking for heads down folks who just go to their job and do a really good job, the water field is just – there’s an abundance of them and it’s just great. I feel like, every single one of those people has some sort of side project like “Oh I could do this, I think this would be awesome, but I’m focused on my immediate tasks or task 1, 2, 3, and 4. Task 5 is creative and interesting but it’s not 1, 2, 3, or 4.” So, maybe what we need is some kind of task 5 incubator? Haha where all those people who are like “Maybe we should do an aquifer recovery and storage project at the gravel pit at the base of Big Cottonwood?” I don’t know if that’s actually a project, but I live in the area and I always think about that like what if we turned that one into a reservoir? You know?
Brian McInerney 44:53
Emily Lewis 44:54
And so maybe that’s – I was thinking this would be a little more brass tacks discussion about evaporation, the Colorado River Drainage, projected percentages. But maybe the conversation we really needed to be having is now that we know that, what are the next steps forward?
Brian McInerney 45:15
So the feeling is, instead of just coming out with an idea that we have and saying this is the best foot forward, what’s needed by the community out there in Utah? What would you like from us that we can provide? I think in my head that’s how I perceive doing this. And if they came to us, like, Park City came to us and said this is what we would like. And we have so many good professors and so much good science behind us, we said sure we can do that! And do we know how to do that right now? No, not really. But we could get the information and come up with a game plan and then do the work and then come up with an end point and make the change. That’s where we’re at right now. The idea is if we can start changing one place and move on and then move it, make it bigger, that’s the idea. Or should we do the education route and talk to people about the science, especially the political leaders and then figure out a non-threatening way to help with the increase of all of these health issues with high pressure – how do we get around this? We are in that point right now where we are trying to gauge the best place. because you know sometimes you have an idea that you think is a really good one, and then you find out, oh, maybe that’s not the best way to go. That’s I think where we are starting right now. I’m hoping when we get to the point where we can open up a little bit, we can start moving forward with some of the projects that we come up with but right now we’re between the funding for federal grants and these kinds of things, it’s dried up so badly. And then COVID has kind of taken over peoples minds, climate change is somewhere in the past, we need to get it back up and move forward with the best science possible be it communication or be it an actual project to actually change how you do things. I think that is where we are at right now. I’d like to get a little more focus but that is going to take a little bit more time, but that is where we are right now.
Emily Lewis 47:21
Well it sounds like you have all the pieces in place, I mean I love academia, do you have a water law attorney on the Utah Climate Project?
Brian McInerney 47:33
We do not.
Emily Lewis 47:34
I – this is the one thing about academia though – this is one of the reasons why I love teaching at the law school and I love the law school and they’re so fantastic, but academia also has to live in the real world if they want to have real impact, and I think that sometimes you can come up with a lot of solutions but if they’re not suited to the community or legally available then they don’t do anybody an y good
Brian McInerney 48:01
No, think of the state of academia, I mean these are really smart people that do great work, but what they do is they publish in accredited journals that nobody reads for the most part. I don’t know any of my friends that read scientific journals and sometimes you have to actually pay to read the papers and the research they’ve done. Why don’t we take that research, bring it to life and apply if to the community in the best way? I think that’s another way we’re hoping to go about. But you’re right, academia can be teaching in the classroom and writing papers that goes into a journal that isn’t really circulated that well – we’d like to bring that out to light and talk about it.
Emily Lewis 48:47
Yeah, I mean I think TEDX is a great venue, that’s kind of why I wanted to do this podcast too, new means of media you know? How do you get stuff out there in an informative and engaging way?
Brian McInerney 49:00
Emily Lewis 49:02
That is the task. Great, Well Brian this has been really interesting, I mean, a little bit different direction than what I thought the discussion would go, but that’s kind of why I like doing this. It sounds like you have some really exciting projects on the burner and some things that really look promising in the future I would love to check back in with you as they go. The Utah Climate Project has a lot of promise and I think the time is right – I hate to say this but you know with some demographic changes and just as the reality of climate change becomes more cognizant to people in their day to day lives, not only is the timing right in the science, but I think the timing is right for change as well. So, hopefully you guys capitalize on some of the movement for rethinking things and really get some good traction
Brian McInerney 49:52
Yeah, hopefully! That’s the goal. Talk to you again, bye.
Brian Lebrecht 50:14
Nothing said in this podcast should be taken as providing legal advice or as establishing an attorney client relationship with you or anyone else.
MacKenzie Nickles, Podcast Producer 50:22
This podcast was produced by MacKenzie Nickles. Find Ripple Effect on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai