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Climate change could cost Wash. $10 billion a year; state crafting response

A visualization of Washington's future water supply, based on assumptions about population growth and climate change.
courtesy Wa Dept of Ecology
A visualization of Washington's future water supply, based on assumptions about population growth and climate change.

Climate change is happening, and not preparing for it could cost the state $10 billion a year by 2020.

That’s according to the Department of Ecology, which has just released a response strategyto changing climate conditions.

Extreme weather events, destructive wildfires, severe droughts and declining water supplies – these are the new realities of climate change. 

Time for new strategies

Ted Sturdevant, Director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, says after years of endless and politicized discussion on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there's been a shift. The state has realized it’s time for new strategies.

"So really this is just starting us down the road of, what do we do about it?" Sturdevant says. "You know, it’s like we’re standing in the path of an oncoming car here and trying to figure out what we do once we get hit."

The report outlines a series of responses needed. For example, with more flooding, fires and landslides, there will be more need for emergency responders. Bigger budgets will be needed to replace damaged infrastructure. And Sturdevant says, declining snow pack will require better water management.

"So whether that's increased storage facilities, having storm water soaked up by the ground rather than running off horizontally. Better conservation: how do we stretch water resourced further, so there's less demand?"

Focus on the cause

Activist groups agree there are some things that can be done now to limit some of the damage caused by climate change. KC Golden, with the think tank Climate Solutions, says it's great to see the state taking the issues so seriously. But he says of equal importance is how to reduce its root cause: greenhouse gas emissions.

"If we don't dramatically reduce emissions and really get our arms around the climate challenge, we can anticipate changes that will be so damaging that there really is no meaningful adaptation," Golden says.

Ecology director Sturdevant agrees and says he hopes that as agencies focus on the concrete consequences of climate change and the responses that are needed, more people will get interested and involved in reducing emissions.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to