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Resiliency and sustainability are built in community By Nichole Baker, City of Ellensburg

When you think of Ellensburg WA, what comes to mind? I think of a community with a big welcome and a small-town feel, rich in a history of traditions that have not been lost to time. I think of the surrounding landscapes, one of agriculture crops that help to sustain economic prosperity and the other, a diverse native shrub-steppe that exemplifies nature’s resilience and balance within a semi-arid climate. 

Our shrub-steppe is not only important to our area, but also to the expansive Columbia Basin ecosystem. Its smaller, yet significant role plays a part in the overall health of our environment and open spaces. Like our local shrub-steppe, our local community is a part of the bigger picture and has made significant steps toward positive contributions for our natural world.

One such step was made by the City of Ellensburg in response to the increasing amount of greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with state regulations; the Clean Energy and Transformation Act (CETA), and the Climate Commitment Act (CCA). The startling statistics that carbon dioxide is the top greenhouse gas, and the United States is the second-largest emitter, reminds us of our responsibility to start making a change. With climate change uncertainties and the hefty task to curb adverse effects to our environment, it only made sense that the City of Ellensburg wanted to be a part of the solution. 

Considering more than one demographic, diverse interests, concerns, and goals was important to build a community plan. Our community took on that challenge through local engagement, all the while thinking regionally. This city advisory team set a precedent on how the City of Ellensburg will approach climate change initiatives and policies. Composed of diverse backgrounds, this team of stakeholders aided in the development of the 2024 Sustainability and Energy Plan (SEP). The process involved extensive research, information sharing, meetings, material evaluation, feedback, and input. 

After all that work, their job was still not done. They continued with the review process of draft plans. The story behind the development of the SEP is a true testament of how our community can work together to build an optimistic and agreeable outcome in guiding climate change strategies. After a year of effort and collaboration, the City of Ellensburg Resolution 2024-02, Sustainability and Energy Plan, was adopted on January 16th of this year by the City Council. Thanks to this group’s ability to work together for a common goal, the City now has a plan to guide future decisions and actions to address local impacts of climate change, creating a sustainable and resilient community. 

Looking to the future, the next big step is to implement the actions set forth by the SEP, and with multiple actions within five categories, this is no small task. The categories, Energy, Green Buildings, Transportation, Water, and Land Use are comprised of actions related to their subject. Some actions over-lap, some are independent, yet they all work toward the same outcome of reducing our carbon emissions, curbing climate change for a more sustainable future. 

Studying the Water and Land Use categories of the SEP, one can reach a conclusion of its connection to the adaptive shrub-steppe range and its significance to our environment. Included in those two categories, actions call for Xeriscaping and carbon sequestration at the municipal and community level. Water and land use are what our native shrub-steppe has already dialed in on efficiency, carbon sequestration, water retention, and resilience over years of adapting and thriving in not always kind conditions. If we can take what the shrub-steppe can teach us, supported by the Sustainability and Energy Plan, we can start making a difference, one square foot at a time. This is one of many ways that we can start changing how we treat the world around us, starting with our personal spaces within our community. 

Climate change, carbon emissions, wildfire, water quality, supply shortages…the list goes on and can seem overwhelming. Yes, it is a lot to take in, but where there is an issue, there are just as many encouraging options and innovations that will assist in finding solutions. 

That brings me back to my thoughts of our surrounding native shrub-steppe landscape and our community. More specifically, I think of a lone arrowleaf balsamroot I spotted while out on a hike and its vibrant yellow, bold against the dry mountainside. As I made my way around the bend, the trail opened itself up to a hillside of yellow blooms teaming with life around them. It was a sight that would cause most to stop and take in. 

My thoughts then travel to how that one flower made such a striking impact on its own, while around the corner, the collective group of flowers lit up the hill. I often visualize this hike when I contemplate how I can make a difference to all these big issues, professionally and personally. I think of an individual that makes a change as that first bloom I encountered, making a noticeable difference. I then think of our community as the collective group of blossoms that share the same slope, shaping the outcome for our environment, building a future toward clean air, sustainability, and resilience. As a community, we can work together to let our world shine, one change at a time.

To learn more about the Sustainability and Energy Plan, it is available on the City of Ellensburg website. For more information regarding carbon emission reductions and decarbonization regulations in the state of Washington, visit the Washington State Department of Commerce website Clean Energy Transformation Act and Department of Ecology State of Washington website Climate Commitment Act

Nichole Baker

Sustainability & Energy Coordinator

Public Works & Utilities Department

501 N. Anderson St. | Ellensburg, WA 98926


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