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Keeping up with Maine’s changing climate

Sen. Susan Collins talks with University of Maine professor Brenda Hall from UMaine's Climate Change Institute during her trip to Antarctica in this January 2006 file photo.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS' OFFICE
Sen. Susan Collins talks with University of Maine professor Brenda Hall from UMaine's Climate Change Institute during her trip to Antarctica in this January 2006 file photo.
Posted June 25, 2014, at 12:46 p.m.

Around Maine, people are taking note of increasing rainfall and encroaching sea levels, and they are working to mitigate the effects of more extreme weather:

— Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative at the University of Maine has developed a Maine Futures Community Mapper. The online tool allows people to see the best locations for development, conservation, agriculture or forestry in Maine, and then it shows what future landscapes would look like under different scenarios.

— Last year, a report compiled by Catalysis Adaptation Partners anticipated damage caused by higher tides, storm surges and flooding would cost $32.9 million by 2050 and $111.5 million by 2100 to buildings along Commercial Street in Portland’s Old Port. It described which parcels would be “inundated on a daily basis [by high-tide flooding] if no changes are made.”

City officials have since discussed how to plan for rising sea levels — to protect infrastructure and the local economy — such as by constructing berms, improving drainage and revising zoning rules.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, that became law without Gov. Paul LePage’s signature, will establish a commission to study ocean acidification and how it has affected or will affect the harvest of shellfish. Studies show that, when the ocean absorbs more carbon emissions, its chemistry changes, lowering its pH.

— And Maine coastal communities are working with the Sustainability Solutions Initiative to update their stormwater plans and identify culverts that are too small for an increasing amount of rainfall.

These and other efforts are important, and they are only the start. Given the economic and cultural importance of Maine’s coast, and the fact that much of the population lives near water, the state has an imperative to lead on climate adaptation planning.

It’s clear that municipalities and relevant organizations shouldn’t expect too much help from state government under the LePage administration, which hasn’t championed the issue.

But towns must push on. The University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute is one organization with the expertise to guide community leaders in their climate adaptation and sustainability plans. There will be a workshop at the Wells Conference Center on that very issue on Thursday, Oct. 23, to help Maine communities build climate change planning into their everyday operations.

And they can look to national resources. On June 14, the president announced a National Disaster Resilience Competition where communities that have experienced natural disasters can apply for funding for creative projects to safeguard against future disasters.

About $820 million will be made available to states and local governments that experienced a presidentially declared major disaster in 2011, 2012 and 2013. (Disaster declarations were made for Maine during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and during a severe winter storm in February 2013.)

The Northeast has seen a greater increase in “extreme precipitation” than any other region in the country, according to a National Climate Assessment report, produced by a 60-member advisory committee and team of more than 300 experts. Between 1958 and 2010, the amount of precipitation falling during the heaviest weather events increased more than 70 percent.

Regardless of what people think about climate change, they should understand the need to adjust to what is happening and continue to plan for the future. But more than that, Maine should strive to be a national leader in research, technology and community planning that responds to climate pressures.

 

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