Dealing with change – Sept. 13 workshop looks at ways to plan for climate extremes

Posted on Sep 19, 2011 :: Up Front
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Mention global warming and images of flooded coastlines or changing animal habitats come to mind for many. But Paul Linzmeyer thinks in practical terms. He wants people to start thinking about such ideas as constructing larger storm sewer drains and other infrastructure changes to deal with the earth’s changing weather patterns.

“When you talk about global warming, there’s mitigation and then there’s adaptation,” says Linzmeyer, who is active on several environmental committees in the region, including serving as founding chair of the New North’s Sustainability Committee. “With adaptation, it’s about how we can take what we now have and make sure we’re able to handle what the future holds.”

Storm sewer drains are just one example. Most drains used by municipalities were designed during the 1960s and are not prepared to handle the heavy rainfalls that global climate change will mean to the region, he says.

“Climate change is a big issue for all municipalities and we need to plan now about how we’ll handle the changing climate in the years to come,” Linzmeyer says.

That thinking is behind an upcoming workshop on building local and regional climate planning capacity in Northeast Wisconsin communities, which will be held Sept. 13 at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The workshop is designed for planners and other professionals involved in land use, public health, storm water, emergency preparedness, utilities and natural resources.

“The goal is to provide them with the latest scientific information so they can take that back to their elected officials and to hopefully get a discussion going about what needs to be done to ensure our area is ready for what Mother Nature throws at us,” Linzmeyer says.

For example, research suggests that while Northeast Wisconsin will not see a dramatic increase in total precipitation, the number of catastrophic events – such as storms with heavy rainfall totals and high winds – will increase.

“The storm sewers we have may not be able to handle these potential heavy rainfalls,” Linzmeyer says. “Our infrastructure isn’t equipped to handle the changes that lie ahead.”

The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve, along with the Ohio Coastal Training Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and numerous local and regional partners, are collaborating on the workshop. Similar events are being held in Cleveland, Ohio, and Superior, says Patrick Robinson, interim assistant manager for the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve.

“It’s all about providing relevant, local information so we can begin planning for what lies ahead,” he says. “There will also be plenty of discussion of how you can take the planning for climate change and work that into your current planning process.”

Attendees will also walk away with lots of information and resources as they plan for the future, Robinson says.

“We’ll be having an interactive session that offers an introduction to assessing climate vulnerability for local communities so you can see what climate change may mean directly for your area,” he says.

“We really want to educate people and help connect people with the information they need to know as we move forward.”

Robinson says the workshop is focused on the science of what’s happening and what has happened.

“We’re not going to talk about what is causing the changes we’re seeing. We are just going to look at the facts – for example, the increased frequency of larger storms – and talk about ways to better plan for that in the future. There’s lots of talk in the media about climate change and this workshop will provide people with an opportunity to see what it means for people right here in Northeast Wisconsin,” he says.