GAO Issues Report on Supporting Local Infrastructure Decision Makers through Federal Adaptation EffortsSubmitted by Gabe Weil on Mon, 2013-06-17 13:38
In April 2013, the Government Accountability Office issued a report, Future Federal Adaptation Efforts Could Better Support Local Infrastructure Decision Makers. The report discusses potential climate change impacts to the nation’s infrastructure (roads, bridges, and wastewater treatment facilities); and examines the extent to which adaptation is being incorporated into infrastructure planning. Through several case studies, the report details how climate change was incorporated into the design of infrastructure projects (e.g., Interstate 10 in Louisiana, the design of green infrastructure in Milwaukee, and NASA facilities in Texas and Virginia). The authors find that decision makers have not systematically considered climate change adaptation in infrastructure planning, and that adaptation is occurring only in a limited and ad hoc manner. Decision makers face challenges implementing adaptation because of nearer-term competing priorities such as maintaining aging infrastructure, and difficulties accessing actionable, quality climate data relevant to their process and at the appropriate scale. The report details the key factors that have allowed decision makers to successfully incorporate consideration of climate change into planning: weather related disasters that created demand for additional resiliency; access to local expertise and translated climate information; willingness of decision makers to act on uncertain data; and the use of existing planning processes to “mainstream” adaptation. While the authors acknowledge various federal programs designed to encourage adaptation, the report notes that federal agencies could better support local decision makers by making climate information more coherent and accessible.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has clarified how federal highway funds may be used to respond to increasing threats from climate change impacts, including extreme weather.
FHWA authorized state Departments of Transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, local agencies, and federal land management agencies to use federal aid and the Federal Lands Highway funds to consider the potential impacts of climate change and extreme weather events and to apply strategies to adapt to those changes. Examples of eligible activities include:
- Vulnerability and risk assessments of federal-aid-eligible highways related to climate change and extreme weather events;
- Consideration of climate change and extreme weather events in highway project development, environmental review, and design work;
- Construction of projects or features in existing eligible assets to build resilience against impacts and damage associated with climate change and extreme weather events; and
- Evaluation of potential impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on asset management cycles, life cycle costs, etc.
FHWA clarified its position in a September 24, 2012 memo, entitled "Eligibility of Activities To Adapt To Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events Under the Federal-Aid and Federal Lands Highway Program." The memo was sent to the agency's field and division office personnel and clarifies how federal highway funds may be used to plan, design, and construct highways to adapt to current and future climate change impacts.
The memo responded to questions received from transportation agencies since last year and says, “...division offices and Federal Lands Highway Offices may allow state DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations, local agencies, and federal land management agencies to use federal aid and the Federal Lands Highway funds to consider the potential impacts of climate change and extreme weather events and apply adaptation strategies, both at the project and systems levels.”
Disaster relief funding presents an opportunity for state and local governments to rebuild in a manner that anticipates and responds to future changes in the climate. In most cases, programs funded through disaster relief appropriations, such as the Sandy Relief Act, provide administering agencies with enough authority to prepare for climate changes during the rebuilding process.
As part of a Georgetown Climate Center analysis of the Sandy Relief Act, which is available for download below, the Center has identified the opportunities below to use direct disaster relief funds for adaptive projects that help communities prepare for future climate change impacts.
- FEMA could use its authority to “modify” eligible costs or to allow for hazard mitigation under the PA Program to more specifically allow for improvements to public facilities that will increase their long-term resilience to impacts from climate change.
- FEMA could change its method of calculating “cost-effectiveness” to greater account for the long-term threats to facilities posed by climate change.
- Other federal agencies could consider including criteria when issuing grants (similar to those applied by HUD in administering CDBG funding) to encourage communities to assess the long-term vulnerabilities of projects that will be funded with disaster relief.
- FHWA and FTA could consider the entire design life of a facility when reimbursing state and local governments, which may permit these agencies to allow for improvements that strengthen the resilience of the facility to future impacts during the rebuilding process.
- State and local governments could use CDBG funds or HMGP funds to make up the cost difference needed to adapt facilities.
- State and local governments can use SRF funds to improve wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities.
- State and local governments can prepare for future disasters by enacting codes and standards that require public facilities to be constructed to higher standards.
- State and local governments could work with entities that develop design standards or model codes (such as AASHTO and ICC) to assist them in devising higher standards for the construction of certain facilities.
- State and local governments can prepare for future disasters by incorporating consideration of climate change in hazard mitigation plans.
The State of Adaptation in the United States surveys activities underway to help communities prepare for climate change and identifies needs, challenges, and potential actions that communities can now pursue.
The report was commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation and was undertaken by EcoAdapt, the Georgetown Climate Center, the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, and the University of California-Davis.
The report provides examples of societal responses to climate change in our planning and management of cities, agriculture, and natural resources. These examples include regulatory measures, management strategies, and information sharing.
“From Sandy and extreme weather to droughts to rising sea-levels, it is tough to ignore the changes that are happening to our climate – changes that we know will only accelerate over time,” said Vicki Arroyo, Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center and one of the report’s authors. “While forward-thinking communities are already making adjustments and planning for a different future, there is still a big gap between planning and action, and we need more focus placed on the implementation of policy changes if we are to protect our communities. This report highlights some of the important actions that governments and the public can take to help prepare all of us for the climate change impacts that are now inevitable.”
Federal agency sustainability plans released on February 7, 2013, include climate change adaptation plans that outline initiatives to reduce the vulnerability of federal assets, programs, and investments to climate change impacts such as sea-level rise and more frequent and severe extreme weather events. Executive Order No. 13,514, issued by President Obama in 2009, set environmental and energy goals for federal agencies and required them to develop annual sustainability plans outlining how they will meet these goals. Agencies are required to reduce petroleum use in vehicles by 30 percent by 2020, improve water efficiency by 26 percent by 2020, divert or recycle 50 percent of waste by 2015, and meet other targets under the order. The climate change adaptation plans and broader sustainability plans will be open for public comment for 60 days.
The Georgetown Climate Center recently hosted an important webinar about how communities can become more resilient to extreme weather and prepare for climate change through floodplain regulations.
The Dec. 6 webinar featured a discussion of a model sea-level rise ordinance developed by the Georgetown Climate Center and insights from three experienced planners from Iowa, New Hampshire, and Mississippi. Practitioners shared lessons learned and their experiences enhancing regulatory standards in floodplains in the wake of extreme weather events - lessons that may prove particularly valuable as the northeastern United States recovers from Superstorm Sandy.
- Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center
- Jessica Grannis, staff attorney for the Georgetown Climate Center and author of “Adaptation Tool Kit: Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use”
- Julie LaBranche, senior planner for the Rockingham Planning Commission in New Hampshire
- Marty Ryan, city planner of Cedar Falls, Iowa
- Mike Smith, fire chief of Waveland, Mississippi
- Emily Maus, Georgetown Law student
Additional Materials Referenced During the Webinar
- Zoning for Sea-Level Rise (Executive Summary)
- Adaptation Tool Kit: Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use
- The Adaptation Clearinghouse
- Sea-Level Rise and Property Rights: "The Cathedral Engulfed: Sea-Level Rise, Property Rights, and Time"
- City of Waveland Flood Prevention Ordinance 342
- Cedar Falls: Buyouts Case Study
- FEMA: Changes in the Flood Insurance Program – Preliminary Considerations for Rebuilding
- FEMA: Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast – Floodplain Management Regulations, Building Codes, and Standards
- New Floodplain Maps for a Coastal New Hampshire Watershed, and Questions of Legal Authority, Measures and Consequences Executive Summary | Full Report
Influence of Potential Sea Level Rise on Societal Vulnerability to Hurricane Storm-Surge Hazards in Sarasota County, Florida
This article was published in the journal 'Applied Geography' in 2010.
Abstract: Although the potential for hurricanes under current climatic conditions continue to threaten coastal communities, there is concern that climate change, specifically potential increases in sea level, could influence the impacts of future hurricanes. To examine the potential effect of sea level rise on community vulnerability to future hurricanes, (the authors) assess variations in socioeconomic exposure in Sarasota County, FL, to contemporary hurricane storm-surge hazards and to storm-surge hazards enhanced by sea level rise scenarios. Analysis indicates that significant portions of the population, economic activity, and critical facilities are in contemporary and future hurricane storm-surge hazard zones. The addition of sea level rise to contemporary storm-surge hazard zones effectively causes population and asset (infrastructure, natural resources, etc) exposure to be equal to or greater than what is in the hazard zone of the next higher contemporary Saffir–Simpson hurricane category. There is variability among communities for this increased exposure, with greater increases in socioeconomic exposure due to the addition of sea level rise to storm-surge hazard zones as one progresses south along the shoreline. Analysis of the 2050 comprehensive land use plan suggests efforts to manage future growth in residential, economic and infrastructure development in Sarasota County may increase societal exposure to hurricane storm-surge hazards.
The objective of this research is to determine if and how sea-level rise predictions may alter the potential socioeconomic impacts of future storms and how these impacts may vary among communities. Information and methods presented here further the dialogue on understanding societal risk to sea level rise and hurricane storm-surge hazards and can be used by land-use planners in their efforts to balance population growth and community resilience to these hazards.
Reporter Mireya Navarro discusses the steps municipalities are taking to address sea-level rise in a Sept. 11 blog post, following up on her recent story entitled "New York Is Lagging as Seas and Risks Rise, Critics Warn".
Navarro interviewed the Center's Vicki Arroyo for the piece:
“Different cities are ahead in different things,” said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, a research center that assists cities in adapting to climate change. Still, she said, few municipalities feel fully prepared, and most struggle to come up with the funds they need to shore up their resistance.
“There’s no federal requirement, there’s no law that’s compelling anyone to do this, much less pay for it,” she said. “No one would say we’ve got it covered.”
Ongoing efforts to adapt to sea-level rise in New York and San Francisco are highlighted in the story, which can be read here.