It’s official now: we’ve broken the record for 90-degree-plus days in Cranberry. Back in February, as everyone here remembers, there was a once-in-a-generation snow event which essentially shut the region down for days at a time. This past spring, we were hit by rain storms more intense than anything we’ve been accustomed to. And it’s not just a Cranberry thing.
Last winter, Washington DC was paralyzed for more than a week. This summer saw torrential storms with record floods battering New England, Nashville and Arkansas. Outside the U.S. the weather extremes have been even worse. Pakistan drowned. Russia baked. And so did parts of Africa and East Asia. If this turns out to be a long-term trend, it will have real implications for municipal governments everywhere. This year alone, our staff spent hundreds of hours addressing problems that weather extremes caused for our residents. And we’re learning from that experience.
For example, we manage land use according to topographic flood levels – by how frequently we expect our streams to overflow. A 100-year flood level means we only expect that to occur once a century, and we regulate land use accordingly. But already this year, we’ve had three 100-year storms, and we’re only three-fourths of the way into 2010. And when you’re personally affected by weather extremes like that, official frequency projections become hard to believe. So does that mean the federal government should direct municipalities to revise their flood maps in light of weather shifts? And should they declare land which was formerly considered developable to be unsuited for building? Perhaps.
But is climate change for real? Or is it just a fluke? We’ve heard arguments on both sides. Problem is, discussions about it have become highly politicized. The political left sees it as nature’s wrath upon conservatives who resist greenhouse gas regulation. The political right, on the other hand, sees all the talk about global warming as a liberal smokescreen to expand control over the economy. Frankly, those discussions are way above my pay grade. At the local level, I work with people every day who have to deal with the impacts of weather on our residents and community assets. And there are a number of ways we feel that impact.
Municipalities are the ones who manage the storm water system and upgrade those systems when needed. We are the ones who prepare for winter weather with material, equipment and personnel. We are the ones who train and equip first responders to deal with emergencies that arise from extreme heat, cold and rain. We are the ones who administer flood hazard boundary zones and decide which areas are off limits to construction. We are the ones who enforce statewide building codes that incorporate weather related regulations. We are the ones who set design standards for local roads and maintain over a hundred miles of them – all of which are subject to stress from weather extremes.
We are also the ones responsible for managing hundreds of miles of storm water pipes, catch basins and detention facilities in the community. We are responsible for managing hundreds of acres of heavily used athletic fields and keeping them safe for our thousands of residents who participate in our recreational programs, including our award winning, popular, golf course. We are responsible for managing millions of gallons of wastewater collected daily through hundreds of miles of underground piping – all of which are directly affected by weather extremes.
So while Congress and pundits and scientists continue to argue whether climate change is real, our municipal governments are the ones obliged to constantly respond to bad weather and its impacts and to prepare for more of the same. This blog entry is not about the climate and if it is changing, it is to say when the weather is bad, it has an impact on local government, both on our finances and on our residents lives, and 2010 has been an exceptional year. At least here in Cranberry, we’ll continue doing our best to manage your assets responsibly in light of that impact – no matter which way the political winds are blowing.
I’d be interested to hear your take on this topic. Email me