SALT LAKE CITY — The city's pursuit of renewable energy for power and its construction of streets and sewer systems to withstand extreme heat or high runoff helped land it among the most "resilient" cities when it comes to bouncing back from extreme weather events.
Salt Lake City was named one of the 20 leading resilient cities responding to climate change and extreme weather by being on the "front line" of dealing with multi-pronged challenges, according to the group ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability.
The organization's list was released in advance of Earth Day on Monday and to highlight the need for communities to plan and prepare for destructive weather events.
"A resilient community is able to bounce back from disruptions — climate, energy, economic — in a sustainable way and maintain a good quality of life for all," according to the organization.
The group pointed to three key vulnerabilities that cities are exposed to: Record-breaking extreme weather fueled by a changing climate, energy security and reliance on costly foreign energy that exposes people to volatile price spikes, and ongoing economic uncertainty that has left millions unemployed and communities "starving" for investment.
Cities can reduce that vulnerability in a variety of ways, such as turning to renewable energy as a power source to reduce reliance on the energy grid during heat waves.
Salt Lake City, according to the group, is facing a long-term warming trend that will have less precipitation falling as snow in the surrounding watersheds, which means a decreased drinking water supply. Those temperature spikes could boost temperatures by as much as 5 degrees, leading to reduced flows by as much as 15 percent, the organization said.
"It is no different than planning for the next big earthquake. We have to find ways that we as a city can minimize the impact to the budget and our citizens."
The city has responded through its adoption of a long-term planning strategy that incorporates future climate scenarios, including a Water Conservation Master Plan.
Vicki Bennett, the city's sustainability director, said Salt Lake City has been actively working the past year among its department heads to adopt long-term strategies to deal with climate fluctuations.
"It is a matter of prudently planning for what can happen in the long term," she said. "It is no different than planning for the next big earthquake. We have to find ways that we as a city can minimize the impact to the budget and our citizens."
Such management shifts can be made in how the city spends its money for storm impacts such as snow removal or how it gears up for flooding, she said.
"We are having these 100-year storms every year practically," she said.
The resiliency report also points to the city's plans for sewer pipes and new roads that will be built to handle warmer temperatures and higher runoff volumes.
Beyond its emphasis on "net zero" buildings and embrace of renewable energy such as solar photovoltaic systems, the city has also incorporated an aggressive approach to transit oriented development projects, ICLEI said.
The group also singled out Denver, Tucson, Ariz., the San Diego Bay area and King County, Wash.