Regional solutions needed to deal with climate change

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Courtesy photo of Jack Toevs by Cameron Karsten

As an orchardist and a longtime member of the Quincy community, I’m seeing changes in our weather patterns that concern me. The drought of 2015 brought home how important water is for us in Eastern Washington, where families and livelihoods depend on a reliable supply.

We’re dealing with hotter, drier summers, a declining snowpack and earlier meltoff. That means less water is available in summer and fall. These and other impacts of a changing climate are expected to worsen over time. We need regional solutions that will assure plentiful water for agricultural and community needs. We’ve seen our neighbors in the Yakima Valley confronting this problem through an integrated strategy, and we know it’s expensive. But we also know the costs are worth solving the problem.

We have an opportunity to invest in preparing our communities for our future water needs, and at the same time address the underlying causes of this problem.

Right now, SB 6203, a bill to reduce carbon pollution, invest in our natural resources’ ability to adapt to the effects of climate change, and transition to a clean-energy future is working its way through the state Senate. The bill is a step forward in addressing the problem of climate change at its source and in investing in our communities’ resilience.

The policy currently under development tackles these interconnected issues in several ways. It aims to:

· Generate revenue to invest in working farms and forests that store carbon in trees, soils and plants – and at the same time drive dollars into rural communities.

· Improve our water supply through investment in irrigation, conservation and river restoration.

· Fund flood-protection projects in communities where they are needed most to protect homes, businesses and agricultural lands.

· Invest in forest restoration, creating jobs in the woods and helping prevent catastrophic wildfires. (Our state spent $500 million battling forest fires from 2014 to 2016, and we don’t yet have the bill for 2017.) Healthier forests are better at storing water, too – helping prevent droughts and shortages affecting our ability to water our crops and livestock.

· Invest in clean energy and economic development that will bring good paying jobs to Central and Eastern Washington.

This legislation is still a work in progress, but it has momentum. Thanks to people from rural communities speaking up, the bill now includes a rural economic development section. This includes expanding broadband services, offering small-business grants, and supporting low-carbon innovation and entrepreneurship.

I’ve always said that Eastern Washington was an ideal place to grow apples. But like my fellow farmers, I’ve already started seeing my crops and growing seasons impacted by changes to the climate. These aren’t “someday” problems to us farmers, these are “today” problems.

It’s time for us to share with our state legislators our own ideas about solutions that work for our communities. Together we can help inform legislation that takes our concerns into account while investing in the future of our farms and a fruitful agricultural system for Washington state.

Jack Toevs is an apple grower from Quincy.

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