hurricane sandy

Preparing Communities for Climate Change

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy barreled into our city of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Damage was significant, and many of our neediest residents lost everything they had. Immediately after that devastating event, our community began the long process of cleanup and recovery.  With assistance from federal and state agencies and through the concerted efforts of local businesses, civic groups, and our citizens, Bridgeport has not just recovered from that event; Bridgeport has taken steps to create a brighter, more resilient future.

As one might expect, that experience has taught us important lessons.  One of those is the need to look ahead to try and anticipate and prepare for whatever the future may bring.  And that includes a changing climate.  Today, Bridgeport is taking action that can help us continue to thrive even as the climate changes.  For example, our BGreen2020 Initiative outlines policies and actions to improve the quality of life, social equity, and economic competitiveness of the city, while reducing carbon emissions and increasing the community’s resilience to the effects of climate change.

New EPA training opportunities can help other communities prepare for a changing climate.   The Climate Adaptation Training Module for Local Governments shows how climate change will likely affect a variety of local environmental and public health protection programs.  The training module also communicates what some cities and towns across America are already doing to prepare.

This new training doesn’t promise all the answers we may need to address the impacts of climate change. But it does provide a host of valuable information that can help start a process – and conversation – that could be invaluable to the future welfare of your community. I would encourage all local officials and their staff to check it out. I think you will find that it was a wise investment of your time, one that can help you meet your responsibilities and protect many more investments that lie in and around your community.

About the author:  Hon. Bill Finch was first elected as Mayor of the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut in 2007.  He serves on the EPA Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) and chairs the LGAC’s Climate Change Resiliency and Sustainability Workgroup. Also active with the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), Mayor Finch Co-Chairs the USCM Task Force on Energy Independence and Climate Protection.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Resilience, Smart Growth and Equitable Development on Long Island

Destruction and debris on Oak Beach in Suffolk County, NY after Superstorm Sandy

Destruction and debris on Oak Beach in Suffolk County, NY after Superstorm Sandy

By Joe Siegel and Rabi Kieber

Last of a five-part series on climate change issues.

It has been nearly two years since the shores of Long Island were battered by Superstorm Sandy, leaving behind devastation across Nassau and Suffolk Counties. What emerged in the aftermath was an unprecedented collaboration that went beyond simply rebuilding by incorporating the principles of resilience, smart growth and equitable development into long-term planning for Long Island.

Within months after Hurricane Sandy, EPA, FEMA, New York State Department of State, Suffolk County, Nassau County and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) formed the Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership to discuss options to help Long Island rebuild in a smarter, stronger and more resilient fashion. This group was, in part, an outgrowth of a broad collaboration through the National Disaster Recovery Framework, Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-8 and the Recovery Support Strategy that was written for the Sandy recovery process. One of the key goals of the Partnership is to encourage economically, environmentally and socially sustainable development in low risk areas away from flood zones and along transit corridors in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

Over the past year, the Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership has embarked on a number of projects to achieve its goal of merging resilience, smart growth and equitable development. It organized a ground-breaking conference, Accepting the Tide: A Roundtable on Integrating Resilience and Smart Growth on a Post-Sandy Long Island, which took place last May and brought together a wide variety of stakeholders. The Partnership also trained communities in community outreach and stakeholder engagement, and Health Impact Assessments (HIA) for recovery. Additional training for communities and federal recovery workers is being planned on tools such as Community Viz, a participatory scenario planning tool for decision-making on smart growth andEPA’s National Stormwater Calculator.

As part of the Partnership, EPA is working with FEMA to support sustainable rebuilding in specific communities such as Long Beach, Long Island. Long Beach received technical assista

nce from Global Green which was funded through a grant from EPA’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program. The Partnership also helped to secure law students from Touro College’s Land Use and Sustainability Institute to assist Long Beach in implementing some of the recommendations from both the Global Green Technical Assistance and a New York University study on green infrastructure and storm water management.

As an outgrowth of the May 2014 Roundtable, the Partnership has begun to focus efforts on ecosystem services valuation and health impact assessment to guide post-Hurricane Sandy redevelopment and recovery on Long Island. In doing so, the Partnership has added to its cadre of experts, representatives from Stony Brook University and The Nature Conservancy. At a meeting in July, the group launched a number of projects including a pilot that will not only generate important ecosystem-related economic data on improving resilience, but will also encourage green infrastructure and promote strategies to maintain and enhance ecosystem resilience. Ecosystem services valuation is a very useful tool because it can help us better understand, for example, the economic benefits of restoring wetlands to prevent impacts from future storms.

EPA Region 2 has already begun working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the Partnership on an island-wide ecosystem services assessment, a pilot health impact assessment in Suffolk County, and a project to develop a set of health indicators that can be used for long term evaluation of health impacts of projects, polices or plans. Health impact assessment is an important decision-making tool because it can illustrate how a particular plan, action or policy under consideration, will impact the health and well-being of a community. Health indicators can be used to evaluate the long-term health impact of the project, policy or plan.

Hurricane Sandy was devastating for Nassau and Suffolk Counties, but the Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership has turned lemons into lemonade by incorporating not only climate change resilience but smart growth and equitable development into long term planning on Long Island. The groundbreaking work of the Partnership will no doubt serve as a model for other recovery efforts in Region 2 and beyond.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Climate Leaders Collaboration

Understanding Climate Change impacts in the New England region is one thing, and actually working to improve vision, capability and capacity to confront climate change and make our communities more resilient is an even bigger challenge. It is a challenge that the New England states are focused on because the vulnerabilities we are facing are real. We have seen a 74 percent increase in extreme precipitation events between 1958 and 2011. Hurricanes and tropical storms are increasing in intensity and that is expected to continue. We saw our vulnerabilities come to life in our inland states after Tropical Storm Irene. We saw the coast get slammed after Hurricane Sandy. Fifty percent of New Englanders live in coastal counties, and depend on critical infrastructure there. With sea level rise, and increased extreme precipitation events, these areas are vulnerable to flooding and storm surge in ways that they have never been before.

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Resiliency In The Face Of Stronger Storms

By Josephine Chu

We all remember Superstorm Sandy, especially those of us who live along the East Coast. My parents, who reside on Long Island, were very lucky and did not have any major damage to their home. They did, however, have to live without electricity for two weeks.

Seeing the impact on my parents during this time made me realize just how much we depend on electricity to run the daily tasks in our lives. My parents could cook at home on our gas stove, but without a working refrigerator, they couldn’t store perishables. Long lines at the gas stations meant that even the simple task of driving to buy supplies became difficult. Some of my friends didn’t have running water since there was no electricity to operate the water pumps. These stories made me wonder: will we be prepared if another Sandy hits? Are more Sandys in our future?
 
While there is uncertainty about the impact of climate change on the frequency of hurricanes, scientists have evidence documenting how climate change will intensify storms. According to the US Global Change Research Program, it is very likely that increased levels of greenhouse gases have contributed to an increase in sea surface temperatures. The intensity of North Atlantic tropical storm activity for most of the mid- to late 20th century has increased, too (see the orange “Power Dissipation Index” line in the figure above). This trend is associated closely with variations in sea surface temperature (see the dashed purple line). As sea surface temperatures are projected to continue increasing in a warming climate, we can expect that warm waters will fuel more intense storms.

Government agencies, including EPA, are working together to implement the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, with the goal of accounting for the impacts of more intense storms. Cities are also taking action; in June 2013, New York City mayor Bloomberg proposed a $20 billion plan of flood barriers and green infrastructure to build a more resilient city.

Check out EPA’s page on adaptation efforts for more information about how we can work together to build climate-resilient communities. With better adaptation efforts, hopefully, my family and other communities can be better prepared for the next storm.

About the author: Josephine Chu is a fellow with the communications team of the Climate Change Division in the Office of Air and Radiation. She recently earned her master’s in Global Environmental Politics at American University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Building Climate Resilience and Adapting to a Changing Climate

Just a few days ago, we observed the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. We remain committed as ever to helping communities along the eastern coast recover and rebuild after one of our country’s worst natural disasters.

A key part to this recovery and rebuilding is making sure our communities are resilient to a changing climate, and can better adapt to devastating climate-related impacts.  With a mission as critical to protecting public health and the environment, EPA is helping communities across the country do just that.

Earlier today President Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to take a series of steps to make it easier for our neighborhoods and communities to strengthen their resilience to extreme weather and other impacts of a changing climate. And that’s why today EPA is releasing its draft Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plans for public review and comment.

Whenever I travel the country, I see the steps cities, states, and businesses are already taking to prepare and adapt to climate change. The plans offer a roadmap for our Agency’s work to support those ongoing, local efforts. They will inform brownfields investments and local cleanup activity, build climate resilience into Hurricane Sandy recovery activities, and support city programs to strengthen water infrastructure facing the threat of climate-related impacts like floods, droughts, and storm surges.

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A Look Back at EPA’s work in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Among the communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy exactly a year ago today was Sayreville, New Jersey and its wastewater pumping station. As the super storm pounded the East Coast, untreated sewage from a pump station for the Sayreville station began flowing into the Raritan River and Bay system – a source of drinking water for many in the area.

In order to stop the toxic flow, two highly-trained EPA contractors were called in to install a six thousand pound gate under water. They performed extremely dangerous dives into 25 feet of raw sewage in a confined space with no visibility and hazardous debris.

They succeeded in installing the gate, which accelerated the restart of the Sayreville Pump station and prevented the discharge of hundreds of millions of gallons of more raw sewage into local waters. This critical work is just one example of countless EPA efforts rising to the occasion during one of nation’s most destructive natural disasters.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Rebuilding Stronger in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Photo credit: HUD

Photo credit: HUD

Hurricane Sandy tore through the mid-Atlantic coastline of the United States late last year, devastating communities throughout the region. Today, I’m proud to share that the Obama Administration has announced the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy to ensure that those areas rebuild stronger than ever.

Our water treatment systems simply weren’t built to manage the record-breaking storms like Sandy that are becoming ever-more frequent. During the storm, floodwaters and loss of electricity combined to cause wastewater treatment plants to fail up and down the mid-Atlantic coast — sending billions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into the region’s waterways and endangering people’s health.  In addition, many water utilities lost power, disrupting their ability to provide safe drinking water to area residents.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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New York City Re-blooms

By Bonnie Bellow

With New York City street trees in full bloom, I can’t help thinking about my street tree, the one that went down with an unceremonious thud on the night of Hurricane Sandy. For more than 15 years, I have looked out the third floor windows of my Upper West Side apartment and marked the change of seasons by the leaves on that tree. I was awakened many a morning by the chirping of the motley crew of urban birds that sheltered in its branches. Now all that’s left is a monument to that scruffy tree – a stump in a small square of dirt cut out of the sidewalk, framed by a rod iron fence the height of a small dog.

The loss of one tree is really nothing compared to the people who died that terrible night and the vast destruction across the region. But it is something when you realize it was one of an estimated 10,000 New York City street trees toppled by the storm and thousands more in city parks, woodlands and backyards across the city. Trees are critical to making New York City livable. The shade they provide keeps city streets and buildings cooler, making us more comfortable outdoors and reducing the need to use as much energy for air conditioning. Reduced energy use translates directly into improved air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Trees also remove pollutants from the air, absorb and filter stormwater, reduce noise and just make the city more beautiful.

Now that my tree is gone, I look out on the brick façade of the school across the street. The sun is already streaming unfiltered through the windows, turning my apartment into a hothouse and forcing me to pull down my shades even during the spring. I can only imagine my electric bill this summer when I need to use my air conditioner. I will probably even miss the noisy insects that took up residence in that tree every July.

With the coming of spring, people in our area are starting to rebuild after losses to Hurricane Sandy much more serious than a tree. But sometimes in a disaster, it’s the small things that touch our hearts. I look down my street and see all the trees that survived the storm, some with broken limbs, but still popping with blooms. It gives me hope that sooner or later, a new tree will be growing in that empty patch of dirt and New York City will recover as it always does.

About the Author: Bonnie Bellow has been the Region 2 Director of Public Affairs since 1995, responsible for intergovernmental, media and international relations; community engagement; environmental education; Freedom of Information Act requests; social media and public information. She previously served as Public Affairs Director at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, ran her own media production business and worked as a radio reporter. Bonnie received her Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is a born and bred New Yorker who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Super Storm Sandy Restores Habitat in Sunken Meadow Park

By Mark Tedesco

The storm surge associated with Super Storm Sandy wreaked havoc on coastal communities, altering both human and natural structures.  However, coastal ecosystems have evolved with, and have been shaped by, the forces of coastal storms over the centuries. Periodic storms can even have beneficial effects on certain aspects of the natural ecosystem.  One such example is the restoration of intertidal flow and habitat in Sunken Meadow Creek at Sunken Meadow State Park, New York.

The storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy destroyed a man-made berm across Sunken Meadow Creek that was constructed as part of the development of Sunken Meadow State Park in the early 1950s.  The berm created a road and walkway to nearby woodland for park visitors, but the undersized culverts that were installed restricted the natural tidal flow to the creek from Long Island Sound.  As a result, saltwater fish were prevented from swimming and spawning upstream, and an invasive form of the common reed, Phragmites, proliferated along the now freshwater creek.  Using EPA funding provided through the Long Island Sound Study, New York State Parks was planning to remove the berm to restore tidal flushing to the creek.

But on October 29-30, 2012, Hurricane Sandy decided that Mother Nature knows best, impatiently breaching and eroding away portions of the berm. As a result, Sunken Meadow Creek has returned to its natural state, an estuary where fresh and salt water mix.  The fresh water common reed, Phragmites, will most likely die back and be replaced by saltmarsh grasses.  Saltwater species cut off from the creek, including alewife, striped bass, juvenile bluefish, winter flounder, weakfish, silverside, killifish, American eel and various shellfish, waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds will all benefit.  Although intertidal exchange has been restored by the force of Sandy, planning is now underway to control bank erosion and restore access to the other side of the creek for park visitors.

About the author: Mark Tedesco is director of EPA’s Long Island Sound Office.  The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act.  Mr. Tedesco has worked for EPA for 25 years.  He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Eco-Friendly Weekend Activities – Special Holiday Edition!

It’s that time of year again! We want to wish everyone a fun and sustainable holiday season. Since the world didn’t end when the Mayan calendar said it would, we compiled some extra suggestions for how to spend your time in the New York City area for the rest of December. See you next year!

Christmas Morning Bike Ride: Neither rain nor snow nor holiday will keep the Five Borough Bike Club from their ride through three states. Approximately four hours of great fun and comradeship. George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, 178th St. at Ft. Washington Ave, Manhattan, 45 miles, C-14 pace. Ride ends at the Willis Ave Bridge in the Bronx. Leaders: Jesse Brown and Rodney Millard. Call 917-578-2244 with inquiries. Tuesday, December 25, 8:30 a.m. (see link above for other options available).

Ice Skate at Van Cortlandt Park: The caption says it all! Open daily during the holiday season.

Holiday Open House at the Queens County Farm Museum: Warm up the winter season with mulled cider, tours of our decorated historic farmhouse, and craft activities for children. The event takes place from Monday, December 26th until Wednesday, December 28th and is free of charge.

Midnight Run in Central Park – Celebrate the New Year with a toast to your health by participating in a four mile annual fun run. Monday, December 31, 10 p.m.

Needlecrafts: Before video games, movies, and television, indoor games and projects helped pass the long winter days. At Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, you can try your hand at needlepoint! Wednesday, December 26, 1:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m.

Presents to the Animals – It’s the last chance to see animals at the Prospect Park Zoo pounce on their presents of treat-filled bags and boxes. Saturday and Sunday, December 29-30, 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Volunteer – For many New Yorkers, it’s been a very tough year. Rather than just donating money, there are many ways you can donate time or other services. We’ve provided several ways you can get involved to help make sure that 2013 is a better year for everyone. (Note: The following list does not reflect EPA policy or endorsement.)

City Harvest – From nutrition education to food distribution, help make sure that all New Yorkers get well fed this holiday season.

Disaster Response – New York Cares is perhaps the city’s largest volunteer organization. Check out their special activities targeted toward ongoing Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.

Friends of Firefighters – Volunteer to help firefighters and their families who may need extra support this holiday season.

Holiday Volunteer Projects – Several food prep and package delivery activities for individuals, families and large groups.

NYC Service – Launched by the mayor, this citywide initiative helps coordinate volunteer initiatives.

Occupy Sandy Recovery – Sign up for volunteer opportunities with this on the ground organization.

Red Hook Initiative – Help out in this Brooklyn neighborhood that was affected by the recent storm.

Roberto Clemente Park Cleanup – Head to the Bronx to volunteer at this ongoing park cleanup opportunity. Wednesday, January 2, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Volunteer in Staten Island – Some of the communities in Staten Island are going to be recovering from Sandy for a long time. Target your time in a hard-hit area by checking out this extensive list.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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