Microsoft word - sarah eckhardt’s response to questions.docx

Sarah Eckhardt’s Response to Questions
on Climate Adaptation and Resilience

1) As an Austin and Travis County resident what do you see as the greatest
impacts, threats, and challenges posed by extreme weather events and
climate variability in our region?

The biggest local impact is the likely increase in extreme drought/flood cycles.
These cycles wil likely lead to continuing threats of water shortage, wildfires and
flash floods. Our chal enge in meeting these threats wil be:
• Honestly assessing how much water we have today and are likely to have tomorrow, how and to whom to distribute it, and how to pay for the distribution mechanisms; • Educating folks about how to reduce the threat of wildfire and flood even as they live in the midst of lakes, rivers, creeks, endangered species habitat and urban forest so desperately needed to offset the impacts of global warming; • Financing the emergency services necessary to respond to al Travis County residents in times of extreme weather. 2) In your view as a candidate for county office how well prepared is Travis
County to face current and future climate and extreme weather impacts,
threats, and challenges?

We have two areas where we are most in need of preparation – water
infrastructure and emergency fire and medical response.
With regard to water, we have already seen springs, creeks and wells run dry,
ground water contaminated, and whole neighborhoods suffering with inadequate
water supply. Neither human nor plant and animal life in Travis County can
continue to thrive among competing public and private water distribution
networks when we have market disincentives for honestly assessing how much
water we have and sustainably distributing it. Counties and municipalities must
create regional partnerships for the sustainable use of surface and groundwater
into the future. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO)
and the Capital Area Council of Governments (CapCOG) are two existing
partnerships that could take up the challenge of collaborative water management
for the region. I have served on both entities and was most recently the Vice
Chair of CAMPO. I look forward to continuing my work with both organizations on
our collective water challenges.
With regard to fire and emergency medical response, there are no finer or more
dedicated emergency responders than those in Travis County. Our Combined
Transportation and Emergency Communications Center (CTECC) includes all
Law Enforcement, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services in a single dispatch
facility resulting in effective and efficient response from the closest and most
appropriate agency in times of disaster. However, the quality of the closest and
most appropriate agency in parts of our county suffers from an antiquated system
that evolved from independent volunteer fire departments. The current system
consists of 13 independent Emergency Service Districts (ESDs) that levy their
own property taxes. Some ESDs in wealthy areas are well funded. Others in
poorer areas are meagerly funded. All ESDs strive to provide the highest level of
service no matter where and to whom disaster strikes. The County must step in
to help them achieve this goal.
3) What obstacles does Travis County face as it attempts to adapt to
current and future climate conditions?

We face obstacles of tradition and funding. County government was original y
created for a rural state and its traditional powers did not extend much beyond
jails, courts and roads. As a result, people who live outside of cities have no right
to publicly provided water or emergency protection. Even law enforcement by a
county sheriff’s department is merely optional rather than obligatory under state
In a state and a region that is rapidly urbanizing, counties can no longer remain
in their traditional role. State government is political y incapable of addressing the
threats we face from climate change. And the efforts of city governments cannot
extend beyond their borders. So, counties wil have to step boldly into water and
emergency management to cover the gaps.
These bold steps wil require funding. Since county revenues are essential y
limited to regressive property taxes, we wil need partnership with surrounding
counties and our cities to find innovative ways to fund solutions to the chal enges
we must face col ectively.
4) If you become an elected county official what policies and plans will you
develop for Travis County and its residents to become more climate

I have and wil continue to:
• Pursue the creation of a Groundwater Conservation District to monitor and manage the drawdown of the Central Texas portion of the Trinity Aquifer; • Defend the tougher Travis County groundwater regulations I helped develop and pass while on the Commissioners Court; • Defend and increase the green spaces and species habitat managed by • Promote alternative transportation options to reduce tail pipe emissions that contribute to global warming. In my service on CAMPO and the Lone Star Rail District and my col aboration with CapMetro and our region’s cities, I have increased the availability of sidewalks, bike lanes, bus service, car-pooling and trains. I personal y ride a bicycle to work and walk to meetings as often as I can. • Develop the Travis County Land, Water and Transportation Plan - the first comprehensive long range plan addressing the interrelation of these county efforts (see The plan will include water infrastructure, transit options in addition to car travel, and expanding parkland and conservation easements to preserve the natural balance so necessary to global health. • Pursue regional partnership on water supply, distribution and funding so that we leave the next generation of people and the environment better off than we are today. • Pursue a countywide emergency fire and medical response system that provides the highest financially sustainable services no matter where disaster strikes.
5) What role should Travis County play, i.e. at the level of CAMPO,
CAPCOG, or some other way, to foster regional climate resilience?

As mentioned above, I have already been working and plan to continue working
with CAMPO and CapCOG to foster regional climate resilience. CAMPO is at a
crossroads with the “Centers Concept” championed by Senator Kirk Watson. The
Centers Concept would greatly enhance our regional resilience by clustering
development in agreed upon population centers. These centers would be more
effectively and economical y served with transit, water infrastructure and
emergency services. The land surrounding the centers could be used for parks,
agricultural production, species habitat and water recharge. However, the
Centers Concept is not wel understood by some of the five counties and their
cities represented on the CAMPO Policy Board. I have and wil continue to build
trust with col eagues on CAMPO who may not share Senator Watson and my
political affiliations so that we may reach renewed commitment to the Centers
CapCOG has perhaps done a better job than CAMPO of building credibility
among the ten counties involved in its governance on issues of climate change.
Through the creation of the Clean Air Coalition and the col aborative funding of
regional air quality monitoring (as wel as the effects of ozone-forming emissions
blown in from other regions), CapCOG has made the case for col aborative
action at least regarding air quality. With the devastation of the Bastrop and other
Labor Day fires, CapCOG is also poised to bring col aborative regional solutions
to emergency response.
I intend to build on the col aborative successes of CAMPO and CapCOG in the
areas of transportation, air quality and emergency services and add col aborative
water planning to their discussions.

6) How would you work with your counterparts in surrounding counties to
strengthen a regional approach to prepare for and adapt to climate

Although we do not always agree with our neighbors, we can build trust through
honest and productive engagement. While some of my regional col eagues may
not agree that human action is contributing to climate change, al of my
col eagues are wel aware of the effects of drought, wildfire, flood and gridlock
upon the people they serve. Republican or Democrat - city dwel er, suburbanite
or rancher – we seek solutions and a fair way to share the costs. I am proud of
my reputation for vigorously engaging my col eagues while honoring their
differing points of view.
7) What thoughts do you have about climate action at the state level in
Texas, either with mitigation or adaptation?

The State is political y incapable of addressing the chal enges of climate change.
The regions wil have to go around the State for partnership with the federal
government until the political climate at the state level improves.
8) The Obama administration has been making a big push for climate
resilience. How might Travis County take advantage of and become
involved with those federal efforts?

Travis County is already engaged in several partnerships poised to take
advantage of federal efforts:
• CAMPO; • CapCOG; • Combined Transportation and Emergency Communications Center • The Balcones Canyon Land Preserve (30,000 acres of endangered • The Clean Air Coalition; • Lone Star Rail; and • Project Connect (the region’s high capacity transit plan) Additional y, just before I resigned from the Commissioners Court to run for Travis County Judge, I spearheaded an effort to partner with regional neighbors on the creation of a Utilities Development Corporation (UDC) for water infrastructure. The current coalition includes Travis, Bastrop, Burnett, Llano and Hays Counties and seeks the additional partnership of Wil iamson and other counties. Through such partnerships, we stand a higher probability of receiving investment from the federal efforts and from the new State Water Implementation Fund (if the constitutional amendment ratifying it passes in November). Even without federal or state funding, such partnerships greatly enhance our chances for success in preserving our regional water resources and achieving climate resilience.  


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