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Climate Change Impacts for Claverack: How do we adapt and build resilience?

By John Bradley and Tom Helling


The local impacts of climate change are evident on a monthly if not daily basis. It serves us to discuss the threats to our communities and what it means to adapt and build resilience. These comments draw on our general readings on climate change and ecology and also from the discussion in the countywide project to develop a Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan (CARP) led by the Columbia Green Cornell Cooperative Extension. A CARP draft report was recently released to solicit feedback and will be revised and released as a final report to the public later in 2024. Tom Helling and I have participated in the CARP project as well as Tom Paino and Tobi Farley from Philmont. Our intention here is to further the discussion of what climate change means for our communities.



Climate Change Threats

Many of the climate threats and impacts in our region are shared by all towns across the county.  The mix, of course, will vary between towns. Claverack, for example, does not have concerns about sea rise that affects riverside towns.  The county’s historical climate experience includes a range of extreme weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes, nor’easters, droughts and heat waves. Most climate forecasts from national weather service and other sources predict a continuing increase of these trends, posing significant threats to all our communities. These adverse trends demand that we pause and consider how our town will adapt and build resilience to these impacts.

 

Climate change threats include more severe storms with heavy rains and flooding, more wind storms, winter storms with heavier snow and ice causing tree and power line damage, and more droughts and heat waves. It also includes changing habitats, new invasive species and public health implications. All of these trends of climate change have broad implications for every aspect of the community, including all habitats and landscapes.  

 

Water is a critical variable.  The Claverack Creek watershed includes the entire Town, contains many different habitats, and accommodates all the increased rainfall. The town Highway Dept. is increasingly busy replacing culverts that are not sized for the increased flows, especially the surges from extreme weather.  Heavy rains and flooding often damage farmlands. Land that is not ecologically well managed will suffer more soil erosion and will not retain the water as well as healthier soil and may not be as effective in replenishing aquifers. Stream banks without effective riparian buffers of trees erode more readily, and may suffer subsidence loss of creek banks. Flooding also can threaten wells and water supplies and result in contamination. Flooding impacts many residences and business buildings.


Good landscaping, construction and site planning promotes climate resilience as our region is impacted by flooding and storms, including high winds that down trees. Wetlands play a significant role in mitigating the effects of heavy rains and should be protected from development.

 

Extreme heat and drought are another side

of the climate smart coin. The data shows the increasing trend of heat extremes in the summer months. Prolonged heat waves pose a serious threat to many people’s health, especially for vulnerable populations. Risk increases according to older age and lower income. Providing relief is increasingly a public health issue at the local level. Energy efficiency of local housing and availability of cooling centers are now public concerns; action is within the reach of local governments and some homeowners. The County and NYSERDA have programs to encourage actions at the lower income scales.

 

Consistent, above average temperatures also threaten many habitats, as species of plants (especially trees), insects and wildlife are forced to migrate. Climate change also provides opportunities for invasive plant and insect populations to increase, which have disruptive effects on native ecosystems, agriculture and public health.

 

Drought poses risks to meadows, forests, farms, yards and gardens. Good ecological practice can minimize the damaging effects of drought. Healthy soils with biodiversity hold more moisture longer than degraded land. Drought can be costly in terms of crop loss and damaged landscapes.  Intact wetlands are critical for slowing heavy rain runoff and retaining surface water.  While larger wetlands (12.5 acres) are protected, many local zoning ordinances do not protect small ones. This is an idea worth exploring further as it is a small change that could have major positive impacts on town resilience.

 

There are mitigations to consider both in nature and human intervention. Beavers have a long history of maintaining ecologically healthy landscapes, but their population has been decimated over the centuries, and they are often considered a pest. Agroecology (sustainable farming that works with nature) is a useful knowledge resource for good stewardship and managing land for sustainability and resilience to these water threats.

 

These threats of climate change translate into significant costs to infrastructure, private property, personal and public health, and the natural ecologies and habitats. The increase of wildfires is just one area where costs can be significant. The Hudson Valley is fortunate that this threat has been limited so far. Every level of government needs to increase its attention on the collective processes of adaptation and building resilience, a significant aspect of the Climate Smart Commitment adopted by most towns in the County. Early movers hope to minimize their future risks and costs. It is not an inexpensive process for anyone, and many believe that ‘cheap’ will be the costliest alternative down the road.

 

One concern we have had in the CARP work groups’ discussion is how to frame the challenge of building resilience.  In our view an important principle for building resilience to these threats is to protect and restore the region’s natural ecologies. The references at the end of this article draw from prominent writings on ecology and regeneration. We hope that this theme will play a more prominent role in community discussions.


 

Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan (CARP)

The CARP draft outlines a set of recommendations that emphasize ways town governments can take action. Each of the bullets below is elaborated in more detail and we expect the final plan will be a very useful guide:


  • Build on the Emergency Services framework already in place;

  • Conduct public outreach and education, using websites, social media, newsletter and community events;

  • Identify opportunities to strengthen local codes and plans, especially regarding building codes and wetlands;

  • Review and enhance disaster preparedness, including hazard mitigation - building on the existing regional systems;

  • Identify multiple Climate Smart Climate Actions in the Certification Framework; Multiple actions address resilience, vulnerability, outreach, and planning; 

  • Identify potential funding sources;


The issues for adaptation and resilience significantly transcend the limited range of activities typical of local government. Hopefully raising these issues will serve the positive purpose of broadening discussion and will broaden the basis for engaging volunteers from the community.

 

In Conclusion

Broad community education about climate change can help us learn about adaptation and resilience.  We are dealing with uncertainty in part because the climatologists, economists, business leaders, politicians and ecologists are still trying to figure it out. The coin tosses are real, as are the controversies. SO, with ongoing climate uncertainty what we choose may come down to which mistake or error would we rather live with and pass to our grandchildren.  Kicking the can down the road gets harder and costlier every year. More discussion will help us with these difficult issues. 

 


References/Notes:

 




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