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Climate change town hall centers on water, state plans

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

LINCOLN, Nebraska -- More droughts in the Southern plains and floods in the Northern plains are among the scenarios described in new a national climate change draft report.

After record high water flowing from the Colorado Rockies to the Missouri River in 2011, the U.S. experienced a significant decline in water flow in 2012, with nearly 65 percent affected by drought, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln.

"We've never seen that sort of a drastic change," Svoboda said.

Svoboda was one of about 145 people who attended a daylong town hall meeting Monday on the 2013 National Climate Assessment draft report at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with about 100 students sitting in during the morning.

The Global Change Research Act of 1990 requires an assessment report at least every four years. The two other reports were in 2000 and 2009. Instead of writing another report in four years, the next goal is making the U.S. anticipate, mitigate and adapt to climate change, said Glynis Lough, National Climate Assessment chief of staff.

The 60-member National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee released the draft report by consensus for public comment. The town hall in Lincoln is one of eight that will be held across the U.S.

Comments can be made online (http://review.globalchange.gov) until April 12 at 5 p.m. Then the document goes into review and is expected to be finalized by early 2014.

The U.S. is still in the planning stage of adapting to climate change, said Shannon McNeeley, a contributing author for the Great Plains Region and Adaptation chapter.

"It's a very new evolution in planning and practices in this country, and so you can't evaluate it if it hasn't happened yet."

States have been the least active in planning and none of the Great Plains states have plans. The plans are more regional and local. McNeeley gave three local level examples. Tulsa, Okla., has worked to reduce flooding, Texas has 20 communities better prepared for fires and Dan Gillespie, who works for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, made strides using no-till cropping practices to save water in Nebraska, she said.

Barriers to adaptation include a lack of financial support and inflexible laws, lack of leadership and negative perceptions of climate change.

"As I'm sure you all know, some people don't think climate change is much of a risk," she said.

Small group discussion in the afternoon focused on how the report could better meet their needs. Members of the Sierra Club, Lincoln's municipal water system, Clean Earth Apps, Friends of Niobrara and more gathered to talk about water issues. Dave Gosselin, director of environmental studies at UNL, led the group.

Most of the 10 people in the group didn't know much about the report before the town hall meeting.

Stu Luttich, who called himself an agricultural producer, said that he felt the data for the report was late getting released. He said that people are using up water, which will have an economic impact on local communities and the state.

Gosselin said that this late release could be because of the meticulous review the data undergoes before going into the report. Jerry Obrist, chief engineer of the Lincoln water system, said the report needs to help people understand that there is a "finite supply of water" and everyone must do their share to sustain it.

Group members agreed they need more scenarios for farmers in rural Nebraska, and they need the data faster to take action and so that others in the state will see the impacts of water shortages.

"Real scenarios translated for real people," Gosselin said.

After listening to the morning speakers about agriculture, land use and tribal, indigenous and native lands and resources, Roberto Lenton, executive director of UNL's Water for Food Institute, said the theme was water.

"The more you're able to deal with issues of climate extremes today, like floods and droughts, the better you are to adapt to longer climate change," Lenton said.

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