Coastwide
Ellicott City, Md., is in the process of implementing a flood mitigation plan. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWARD (MD.) COUNTY GOVERNMENT

Communities Seek Answers, Money for Climate Adaptation

Nationwide, communities are becoming cognizant of the need to plan for the impacts of climate change, but too often, they aren’t sure how to implement climate adaptation plans, particularly in smaller, rural areas with fewer resources, according to officials at a climate leadership conference.

“We have many people who are very passionate about the environment, but they don’t know what to do in terms of adaptation,” said Sushma Masemore, deputy assistant secretary for environment and state energy director for the North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Quality, at the Climate Leadership Conference, held March 20-22 in Baltimore.

Engineering and construction professionals have a special role in educating these communities about ways to include resilient designs into plans, said Doug Huxley, climate-change practice leader for CH2M, now Jacobs. “If we have the expertise … to know how to reduce greenhouse gas impacts, [though] we can’t mandate that on our client … it is at least an obligation to be providing those alternatives and options,” he said.

Communities are in different stages of developing climate adaptation plans. “We are in the beginning stages of asking the difficult questions,” Masemore said.

In November, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed an executive order calling for the development of a master plan to protect the state’s coastline from sea-level rise and extreme weather. Josh Saks, deputy secretary of natural resources for Virginia, noted that the Hampton Roads region of Virginia is second only to New Orleans in needing to plan for a lethal brew of subsidence and sea-level rise. He said state officials plan to release a first version of a coastal master plan next year.

Other communities have developed plans, but those plans languish on shelves because of a lack of financing or political will to carry them out.

“There are a ton of plans; now we have to move toward the implementation phase,” said Geoffrey Danker, policy and environmental strategy manager, SoCalGas/SDG&E.

Rhode Island has developed some novel approaches for financing projects. “We are seeing climate change from all sides”—both inland and along the coast, said Shaun O’Rourke, director of stormwater and resilience, Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, and chief resilience officer for Rhode Island.

In November, state voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to fund a $47.3-million green bond to pay for coastal resiliency projects and climate-related wastewater treatment plant improvements. Additionally, the state is tapping into the Environmental Protection Agency’s state revolving fund program. “The state revolving funds aren’t always utilized to their full potential” for resiliency related projects, O’Rourke said.

Saks called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to step up their efforts to provide support that surpasses state boundaries. “It is hard for a state government to figure out what to do within its own borders,” Saks said. To that end, what is most needed is federal leadership, he said. “Without federal leadership, we’ll always be behind the eight ball.”

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