Our water, our legacy

On June 7th, Mayor Biskupski addressed the annual meeting of Waterkeeper Alliance in Deer Valley.

The alliance is an international non-profit organization that monitors the world’s waterways to ensure their safety and purity. Waterkeeper Alliance is made up of more than over 300 Waterkeeper organizations and affiliates protecting rivers, lakes and coastal waterways on six compliments.

Robert Kennedy Jr. is the group’s founder and serves as its board president.

Mayor Biskupski was asked to discuss Salt Lake City’s commitment to a clean and safe water system and how the City protects the nearby canyon watershed to keep the water supply pure and plentiful.

Here are excerpts from the Mayor’s address:

Good evening, everyone.

I’m honored to be here, and to welcome the Waterkeepers Alliance to Utah …

… In 2015, after previously serving for 13 years in the Utah Legislature, I launched my campaign for Mayor of Salt Lake City. I was motivated then, as I still am, to be an agent of meaningful change in the City I love.

Tonight, the change I want to address is our responsibility to steward and safeguard our natural resources. A responsibility that concerns nothing less than our Earth’s survival.

Last week’s stunning announcement by the Presidential Administration to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement was a call to action:

The work we do for our environment, as individuals and as advocacy organizations like Waterkeepers, matters more than ever before.

It is abundantly clear that with a vacuum of national leadership on effective water policy, clean air, land use, and public health, the challenge to safeguard the planet falls on each of us.

I am an urban Mayor, whose city, stakes its very survival on the water that flows from our mountain snowpack each year.

I am also the mother of two young sons who breathe in the dirty air that blankets the Salt Lake Valley in an inversion dozens of times each year.

When the Administration chose to abandon the Paris Accord, I knew what had to be done.

Just an hour after the announcement, I joined in a public statement with 61 other U.S. mayors to ensure that we will hold fast to the principals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

That number of climate-conscious mayors has now topped 211, representing more than 56 million Americans.

Our message to the world is: we are still in!

We have agreed that as mayors, we will do all in our power to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

We are committed to keeping our water clean and plentiful by managing it wisely.

We will build a path to power our cities with renewable energy sources, like solar, wind, and geothermal.

Last year, I had already joined with dozens of other mayors across the country to address climate change as local leaders.

Through our discussions at the Conference of Mayor’s we formed the Alliance for a Sustainable Future, of which I have the privilege to serve as co-chair.

We were preparing for the worst—and the Administration once again delivered.

I have also become the co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Mayor’s for 100% Clean Energy, with our mission to encourage more Mayors to join in the effort to power our cities with clean, renewable energy.

Acting locally, we can leverage our leadership to make meaningful, environmental change when national leaders stall or even retreat from making the tough choices to preserve our planet.

In Salt Lake City, we are making these positive changes every day.

Our city’s Public Utilities Department was established in 1876, and is the oldest retail water provider in the West.

Our legacy of water stewardship has been handed down from every Salt Lake City Mayor to the next.

This is one of our most serious responsibilities.

Every Mayor has understood like I do, that you don’t manage a municipal water supply safely for 140 years without taking some tough stands.

The mountains that tower above us are our birthright – a birthright worth fighting for and vigorously protecting.

We depend on the snowpack from the Wasatch Range each year. In the spring and early summer, we welcome gradual warming as the snow melts and fills dozens of rivers and creeks that flow through our valley and ultimately to the Great Salt Lake.

But the harsh reality we face is that Salt Lake City, Utah is warming at a rate twice the global average.

This impacts water supplies, worsens our already suffering air quality, and threatens our world-renowned, billion dollar ski industry.

Now it is true that this past winter produced epic snow and unforgettable ski and snowboarding days. I hope many of you were here to enjoy them. 

But as each of us knows, and which the climate scientists continue proving — one or two seasons of massive snowpack do not equate to a cooler planet.

Climate change is making its mark on the quantity and timing of our spring runoff. This makes it harder to meet peak summer water demand. Worst-case scenario is more wildfires, extreme storms, prolonged droughts, and food shortages.

But, I am proud to say in Salt Lake City we are taking action to safeguard all of our natural resources.

We are vigorous planners, believers in science, and advocates for the environment.

Laura Briefer, the director of our Public Utilities Department and an expert on water science and resource management, is with me tonight. As water managers, we have recognized all of our stakeholders throughout our watershed.

Laura and her Utilities team are vigilant in their efforts to prevent private developers and water speculators from securing water rights that would allow them to develop our canyons and put our watershed at risk.

We meet these challenges head on. We don’t give an inch when it comes to protecting our water.

When you turn on the tap in your hotel room, you will understand why.

Unlike many cities, Salt Lake City’s water is known for being clean and delicious, straight from the faucet.

No filter system needed on your faucet, and certainly no need to purchase plastic water bottles that pile up in the landfill and pollute our water.

Because again, everything – water, air, land use, food production – are all connected.

Last fall, I partnered with our City Council on the first-ever joint resolution committing our City to 100 percent renewable energy by 2032 and an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

We are taking these actions because we must. We are concerned globally. We are acting locally.

Much credit goes to our community partner, Rocky Mountain Power. With this electricity supplier, we have a joint Clean Implementation Plan, which further specifies Salt Lake City’s clean energy objectives.

In these and many other ways, we will continue to lead.

We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Salt Lake City has invested in electric vehicle demand, and we have created systems for private businesses to construct cleaner buildings, and make existing buildings more energy efficient.

I am lucky to have as Mayor a team of experts in our Department of Sustainability to help lead the way on these efforts—along with Director Briefer.

I am Mayor of one of the nation’s most unique and beautiful cities. We will always be principled in the stewardship of our most precious natural resources.

We do this willingly, because we understand what a gift we have in our mountains, our streams, our open spaces, and our air. And we appreciate the symbiotic relationship that exists between the earth and our people.

States like Utah literally cannot afford to ignore our responsibility to protect the environment. Our economic prosperity depends upon it.

Our economy thrives on visitors like you, with nearly 142,000 tourism-related jobs in the state. These jobs are supported by skiing, and our state’s beautiful national parks and monuments—which are also under attack by the Presidential Administration.

I will continue to work every day for the health of my City’s residents, our local and state economies, and the well-being of the planet I am leaving to my sons, your children, and our future.

As we said in our Climate Mayors’ statement last week, and which bears repeating tonight to you:

The world cannot wait — and neither will we.

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