Jersey Strong: Preparing for Climate Change and Flooding

November 21, 2012

On October 29, Hurricane Sandy dealt us a severe blow.  As we continue to rebuild our lives and communities, it’s a harsh reminder that sustainability is not just an abstraction. Sustainability is about rising to make big decisions today so that we can have a prosperous and secure life in the future.

For the past two years we have been working on a new set of resources and Sustainable Jersey “actions” to help municipalities deal with the impacts of increased flooding that is predicted to occur. We will be unveiling beta-versions of these resources at workshops scheduled for January 2013 (see below).

New Jersey has already begun to experience the effects of a changing climate, including increasing temperatures, more frequent and intense storms, variations in precipitation and a rising sea.

While one year of extreme weather events or one storm like Sandy does not indicate, in and of itself, a trend, these recent extreme weather events demonstrate the importance of not only planning for short-term emergency responses, but beginning the long process of making our communities resilient and strong for generations to come.  Municipalities are often the first line of defense in dealing with the impacts and we need them to be prepared.

Sustainable Jersey Climate Adaptation Task Force

In 2011, Sustainable Jersey formed a Climate Adaptation Task Force to develop actions municipalities could do to assess their town’s situation and then prepare.  The Task Force includes participation by NJDEP’s Coastal Management Office (CMO), Rutgers, including the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve (JCNERR) and the Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA) and the Barnegat Bay Partnership.

Adapting to a changing climate encompasses a broad range of issues including public health, downtown revitalization projects and flood insurance rates.  The Climate Adaptation Task Force brainstormed on many of these issues and determined that some initial education of communities about climate adaptation was necessary.  It’s important for communities to have a baseline understanding of the expected changes to New Jersey’s climate system and the challenges those changes  present to New Jersey communities.

Two documents were developed to provide the critical information.

  1. New Jersey Climate Trends Projects and Projections Summary
  2. Climate Change and Adaptation Glossary of Terms

After expert consultation, research and tireless Task Force coordination, the first slate of Sustainable Jersey Climate Adaptation actions are scheduled for release in early 2013. The first actions deal with coastal and inland flooding preparedness.  In the future, the Task Force anticipates adding other impacts such as heat, public health and drought.

Identifying and Preparing for Flooding Threats

In order to get points toward the Sustainable Jersey certification, municipalities will be asked to identify their vulnerability to flooding impacts (both coastal and inland) and develop ways to improve their community’s overall resiliency.

Free, On-line Tools Coming Soon

Two new on-line tools will provide local decision-makers with a wealth of information about the current and future resiliency of their communities.  Currently in final design, these tools should be available to towns in spring of 2013.

  • NJ Flood Mapper Tool: In development now, this resource is an interactive Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tool that will provide visual representations of different flooding scenarios.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and the user will get an accurate picture of the most vulnerable areas now, and predictive views of what could happen over time with sea level rise at different increments.

  • Getting to Resilience: Community Planning Evaluation Tool: This resource will highlight steps the municipality has already taken (success stories) on its path to resilience, as well as define specific strategies the community can implement to improve its resilience to flood related hazards.

For example, if municipal and emergency planners are not trained in risk mapping, then this would be highlighted as a recommended strategy as an action the municipality can pledge to accomplish by sending its employees to a workshop or training session where they can learn how to use these important tools. The resource helps to identify the importance of localized hazard assessments and their necessary link to planning, outreach, adaptation, response and recovery.

While the first action is designed to help communities identify their vulnerability to flooding impacts (both coastal and inland) and ways to improve their community’s overall resiliency, this companion action asks communities to commit to implementing certain identified actions that will increase their resiliency to flooding concerns.

To give you an idea of what might be proposed, below are some examples of strategies that could be implemented:

  • Requiring the community floodplain administrator to attain Certified Floodplain Manager credentials (Association of State Floodplain Managers CFM credential)
  • Conducting outreach to floodplain residents at least once a year
  • Community participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) which provides incentives to reduce flood vulnerability
  • Creating an emergency warning system
  • Designating a storm shelter that is located outside of flood hazard and possible storm surge inundation areas
  • Developing an evacuation plan that includes assisting those with special needs, e.g. the elderly, disabled
  • Providing property owners with guidelines for retrofitting existing development for flood or wind risks
  • Engaging in dune and/or wetland restoration or other natural resource adaptive measures, e.g. living shorelines

By using these tools, local leaders can identify means and implement strategies to improve their resilience through existing planning, outreach, adaptation, and response mechanisms.

Upcoming Forums on Climate Change and Flooding

Sustainable Jersey is hosting two upcoming forums to present what to expect and how to prepare for climate change and flooding.  Participants will learn how New Jersey’s climate is changing and speakers will present the new Sustainable Jersey actions.   At the end of the forum, the group will participate in a facilitated discussion on the next steps.  Speakers include David Robinson, New Jersey’s State Climatologist, Christine Schell and Veda Truesdale, Sustainable Jersey’s Climate Adaptation Task Force Chairs, Lisa Auermuller, Watershed Coordinator-Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve and Randall Solomon, Co-Director of Sustainable Jersey.

Sustainable Jersey Climate Adaptation Forums

  • Wednesday, January 16, 2013 ~ 8:30AM – 12PM

Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy REGISTER HERE

  • Wednesday, January 18, 2013 ~ 8:30AM – 12PM

Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) REGISTER HERE

Regardless of the causes of climate change, or any policy debates about the solutions, we should all be able to agree that we must prepare for the expected changes.  But, because there are limits to the ability to adapt, the actions to mitigate climate change must also continue.  Moving forward, Sustainable Jersey will continue to couple adaptation with actions to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

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Sustainable Jersey staff and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog

Images courtesy Sustainable Jersey