Yes, it could happen to you. Like the water -2-
Tackling environmental injustice extends from air pollution to reliable water, and more. It’s an issue that many have made a priority, including in the just-passed congressional spending law, which is in addition to last year’s infrastructure law. All told, the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” provides $369 billion for climate and clean energy provisions, the most aggressive climate investment ever taken by Congress. Environmental justice initiatives within the law, such as making grants conditional to use in underserved neighborhoods, amount to more than $60 billion, but mostly are earmarked to address the unequal effects of pollution on low-income communities and communities of color.
Previously, in Alabama, the Biden administration had tagged Lowndes County as a test case in environmental justice. As residents there struggle with antiquated waste removal and sewer drainage, sometimes relying on their own makeshift answers to municipal shortcomings, the federal government applied a never-before-used provision from the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It’s an effort that advocates say could lay the groundwork for how the federal government addresses some of the worst problems plaguing communities of color around the country, as MarketWatch previously reported
What can we do about climate change?
How does climate change impact the water we use for drinking and washing?
Generations-old sewers are routinely overwhelmed by bigger storms. Algae blooms and excess sediment may contaminate reservoirs amid high temperatures and prolonged drought. Rising sea levels also risk interfering with septic systems, and cause saltwater to leach into wells. Even fire poses risk. When wildfires destroy water mains and spread chemical contamination, it may take months for drinking water to become safe again.
Nonprofit First Street has created a Risk Factor tool meant for real-estate professionals, but also individuals, businesses and anyone who wants granular risk data on heat, floods or wildfires. In fact, its Flood Factor site for Jackson shows the city’s critical infrastructure as being at “Major Risk” from flood. This includes services like hospitals, police stations, fire stations, airports, seaports, power stations, wastewater station plants, superfund/hazardous waste sites, and wastewater-treatment facilities.
Clearly, cities too often respond to flooding, drought and water impacts as an emergency, after the fact, with damage already occurring. Increasingly, experts say, cities will have to plan for the scenarios worsened by climate change and rethink the location of vulnerable people, in vulnerable landscapes.
That’s where climate science and urban planning can sync.
“We use scenario planning to help officials examine several plausible climate futures as they develop strategies to deal with specific management challenges,” says the Michigan professor, Rood.
In his teaching, Rood stresses that people, and where they can access shelter, matters.
“In most exercises I have participated in, local officials’ instinct is to protect property and persist without changing where people live,” Rood said, in a commentary. “However, in many cases, that might only buy time before people will have little option but to move. Scenario planning can bring focus to these difficult choices and help individuals and communities gain control over the effects of climate change.”
For sure, water issues challenge the Western U.S. where persistent drought conditions strain municipal water usage.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought has extended across over half of the U.S. this year; drought in the southwest U.S. is the most extreme in 1,200 years. The frequency, intensity, and duration of droughts are increasing, leading to a myriad of issues, including regional wildfires, and this pattern is expected to continue with climate change.
Major reservoir Lake Mead’s water levels have sunk to record lows. Nearly 6 million people in the Los Angeles area are feeling the crunch as authorities enact unprecedented restrictions on water use.
Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which is created by the Glen Canyon Dam, not only provide water and electricity to tens of millions in Nevada, Arizona, California, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Mexico, but they also provide irrigation water for agriculture. Experts warn that as the crisis deepens, water cuts will need to be introduced, but this may not be enough.
Homeowners might think of actions such as upgrading to water-efficient appliances or growing low-water use plants. But for the Urban Land Institute, cities and developers, and ultimately the residents who buy into such plans, need to completely rethink water. ULI highlighted this research in a report out earlier this summer.
“Historically, practices that addressed drought focused on acquiring new sources of water through infrastructure like diversions and dams,” said Marianne Eppig, the lead author of the report and director of resilience at the ULI Urban Resilience Program. “Recently, there’s been a shift. Communities are recognizing that efficiency improvements and conservation are the most cost-effective and least environmentally damaging ways of meeting collective water needs.”
Eppig and her team call out specific examples that could be scalable elsewhere, such as in the “urban village” of Civita, in San Diego, Calif. It was developed with mandatory water reuse, low-flow fixtures, smart meters, native plants and water-efficient irrigation.
And, at the Denver Water headquarters, in Denver, Colo., the state’s largest water utility, efforts aim to use the most appropriate source water for each use, like rainwater for irrigation and toilet flushing, in addition to reducing as much water demand and discharge to the environment as possible through much broader recovery and reuse.
Ethic’s Korte aims to steer investments and investors toward infrastructure improvements.
“Climate models can aid in siting new reservoirs where rainfall is expected to increase, as well as making the case against new hydropower investments in areas that will suffer more drought,” he said.
“There’s also much more room to use existing water resources more efficiently. Some municipalities, like Orange County in California, use treated wastewater to help recharge local groundwater systems; further north in California’s Salinas County, advanced treatment technologies process municipal wastewater effluent, urban and agricultural runoff, and water from food processing plants into drinking water,” he added.
These goals may feel far off in Jackson this week, as most residents just hope to stay safe.
“I love doing business in Jackson, and I like the people of Jackson,” said Emerson, the restaurant owner. “I just — I hate dealing with the problems.”
The Associated Press contributed.
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-Rachel Koning Beals
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