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Salt Lake County Develops Plan For Climate Change

Judy Fahys
Great Salt Lake water levels have declined with the hot, dry weather of the last few years in northern Utah. Impacts like these -- especially what they mean for health -- are the focus of a plan being developed by Salt Lake County.

Royal DeLegge can list all kinds of ways that global warming is expected to affect the local environment and public health.

“The quantity and quality of our water; our air quality; introduction of diseases,” begins the director of environmental health for Salt Lake County.

“We’re already being hit by these issues that we’ve never had to deal with before because the planet’s warming – and again, Utah is warming at twice the rate of the global average.”

Salt Lake County is just a few months away from releasing a new plan to adapt to climate change. The blueprint will look at everything from making sure there’s enough water to coping with heat waves and strange diseases.

It’s a sign that global warming isn’t viewed anymore as something that only happens far away -- to polar bears and people who live in coastal communities.

The presence of the Zika virus, poisonous algal blooms are other signs that climate change is already here.

It’s why the county Health Department hosted it third annual climate and health symposium this week to bring together researchers, government officials and climate advocates. Many of those who attended are working with the county on its climate adaptation plan.

The timing’s good, since new research from Yale University shows that nearly half of Utahns are worried about climate change and more than a third expect it will affect them personally.

“We’re looking forward to our future,” says Ryan Stolley, program manager for the non-profit, Utah Climate Action Network. “And you need to have plans and programs and things in place so we don’t have to scramble and patch something together.”

Salt Lake City already has a climate action plan.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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