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Megafires and Floods: Making Climate Change Resilience Mission-Critical

climate change resilience
(Photo: View of the Las Conchas fire from the International Space Station. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

When photos from the megafires that blazed through New Mexico appeared on the screen, several people gasped. The Cerro Grande fire in 2000 burned 43,000 to 48,000 acres and cost Los Alamos National Laboratory $331 million, not including productivity. The Las Conchas fire in 2011 cost $15.7 million. Then two years later came the flood.

“It was 18 inches in 24 hours,” Kassidy Burnett Boorman, program manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory said during the “Climate Change Resilience Planning” track at the Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference in Denver. Photos showed black floodwaters since it occurred relatively soon after the last megafire.

Los Alamos National Laboratory covers 36 square miles and employs around 10,000 to 12,000 people. The lab is also responsible to the surrounding communities. Burnett Boorman cited a National Climate Assessment predicting more droughts, wildfires, insect outbreaks, reduced surface water, and extreme storms. “Our site has already been ground zero for what I call extreme natural events,” she said.

In December 2016, LANL initiated a resource vulnerability risk assessment after a screening in July of that year. For political reasons, the focus was on electricity and water, Burnett Boorman said.

“The end goal of the resource vulnerability risk assessment is to provide adequate information to decision makers, and to suggest solutions with a good ROI,” she said.

Turning Planning Into Action

Coming up with a plan doesn’t necessarily mean action will be taken, however. “We oftentimes identified stagnant projects that really needed to happen but hadn’t quite gotten going,” said Burnett Boorman, who was joined in the session by Gabriel Adams, sustainability program manager for Fluor Federal Petroleum Operations, and Lissa Myers, sustainable transportation and climate change resiliency practice leader at NREL.

When administrations change, getting approval for on capital investments for resiliency projects requires tie-in to the organization’s mission, the speakers agreed.

“A lot of our electrical and water increases that we’re projecting for the future tie into our supercomputing needs, which tie into the weapons mission,” Burnett Boorman said. The lab’s mission is to solve national security challenges through scientific excellence. “So you pitch it as mission security. You have to invest in understanding your resources or you might have to go to Washington and say, ‘I can’t meet my mission.’”

Showing an ROI aspect to projects also helps, she added. “We can say, ‘By doing this not only are we becoming more resilient but there will be some savings as well.’ That has been very successful.”

Stay tuned for more updates from #ELEMCON18.

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