Faces of Adaptation: Meet Ronda Strauch

Ronda Strauch is the Climate Change Research and Adaptation Advisor at Seattle City Light. Ronda recently obtained her PhD from the University of Washington in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, specializing in landslide and hydrologic modeling. She received an MS from UW’s College of Forest Resources, where she studied the effects of climate and other factors on high-elevation tree establishment following fire, while her BS focused on Environmental Planning and Management from the University of California at Davis.

Ronda is closely connected to the NW CASC. After completing a NW CASC Research Fellowship as a PhD student at the University of Washington, Ronda went on to become the NW CASC’s Actionable Science Postdoctoral Fellow, leading the 2017-18 cohort through the Research Fellowship Program.

Ronda previously worked for King County’s Road Services Division for 12 years and spent several years working as an ecologist for consulting firms and federal agencies in the Northwest, specializing in environmental and biological assessments. When time allows, Ronda enjoys kayaking, gardening, hiking, biking and mountain climbing.

What led you to work in the field of climate adaptation?

As an undergraduate student, I learned how fast a forest can be altered by wildfire and how our response can substantially influence a fire’s impacts. I realized that fire created a clean slate for external factors like climate to mix things up in the regenerating forest – new patterns, new species, new communities. So by studying past regeneration following fire under varying annual climate, we could get a glimpse of how climate might shape forests into the future. This sparked my interest and led me to pursue an MS in forestry at the University of Washington. That was back in 1989, the same year of the Cairo Compact. At that meeting of nations, the ‘climate crisis,’ as it was called even then, called for collective action on an unprecedented scale to address climate change. I resolved then to do what I could to understand and promote climate science in our foreseeable need to adapt, just as the forest would.

What does your day-to-day work look like?

I now work at Seattle City Light as a climate change adaptation advisor. My path to the energy sector from my forestry days was convoluted but always looked forward. I was essentially adapting to evolving needs and opportunities, of which there are plenty in the energy industry. I now work every day towards maintaining my climate science knowledge in this rapidly-moving field and facilitating awareness of the many connections between climate and the business of providing electricity services. I also work collaboratively within my organization to identify where our utility is vulnerable to changing climate, what science is needed to inform our decisions and what adaptation strategies can reduce these vulnerabilities. I am also fortunate to be able to support new science that helps guide our adaptation efforts, as well as share our efforts with other utilities in the country.

How does your organization support climate resilience in the Northwest?

City Light is integral to supporting climate resilience in the Northwest. Electricity supports a thriving socioeconomic environment and a thriving natural environment supports renewable power generation, our primary energy source. Thus, our business depends on being resilient in a changing climate, which depends on a resilient ecosystem. Reliable power also helps people and businesses cope with changing climate, such as the use of air conditioners during heatwaves. We are also water managers: how we operate our dams can influence aquatic habitat for salmon and downstream users such as farmers that may be more impacted by floods and drought in the future. We support restoration of watersheds, including forest, streams and wetlands, so that these ecosystems transition robustly with the changing climate. Our hydropower facilities provide the foundation for supporting a renewable electricity grid, including integration of variable wind and solar power.

What is your favorite thing about your work?

My favorite aspect of my work is taking part in endeavors that prepare communities for changing conditions – doing something that I believe makes a difference. Years back I would never have predicted that I would be working for a utility, but this is a very exciting time to be in the energy industry. I love being a government employee, working with wonderful people to facilitate strategies that benefit the community and the ecosystem that I live in.