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Source: Hartford Courant

State Gets Good Grades For Climate Change Preparations

Connecticut gets A-minus rating on preparing for climate change, only B on coastal flooding

BY GREGORY B. HLADKY
CONTACT REPORTER

Posted: November 30, 2015
Originally Published: November 30, 2015

Connecticut is doing better than most other states in preparing for the potentially dangerous impacts of climate change, but must do more to deal with the threat of coastal flooding, according to a new report.

The study, entitled "States at Risk," lists Connecticut among the top five states in the nation that are taking "strong action to prepare for future risks" resulting from climate-related events such as heat waves, fires, droughts and floods.

Overall, the analysts from Climate Central and ICF International gave Connecticut an A-minus grade. The one area listed as a weakness involved the state's efforts to evaluate and prepare for the risks of coastal flooding along Long Island Sound. In that category, Connecticut only received a B in the report's rating system.

The study attempted to make a quantitative assessment of climate change preparations by all 50 states, and graded each state in five key areas: transportation, energy, water, health and communications. Each state was also evaluated on how it is preparing for different types of climate events, including extreme heat, drought, wildfires, inland flooding and coastal flooding.

Jessie Stratton, a top policy official with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Connecticut officials are pleased with the overall ranking for this state, but don't agree with the lower grade on coastal flooding.

Extreme WeatherStratton said Connecticut has made major strides to deal with coastal flooding since it was hit by major storms — Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. "I don't think [the authors of the new study] caught everything we've done," Stratton said.

More than 55,000 people in Connecticut live in areas that would be at risk during a once-in-100-years coastal flood, according to the report. That coastal flood area will grow larger by 2050, the study warned, putting another 30,000 state residents at risk.

California, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania also received grades of A or A-minus. States receiving a failing grade under the report's rating system were Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada and Texas.

The study warned that the "most pervasive threat to the 48 states in the continental U.S. is that of extreme heat." Heat waves in this nation are expected to more than triple in frequency by 2050 in every state except Oregon, according to the report.

Climate Central is a nonprofit group of scientists and journalists focused on researching and reporting on the impacts of climate change, according to its website. ICF International is a for-profit environmental engineering and consulting firm hired to help with the States at Risk study.

Connecticut was ranked one of the least at risk from extreme heat events. By 2050, the report projected, Connecticut is likely to see more than 10 days of "dangerous" heat waves each year.

"We are delighted by Connecticut's progress in comparison with its neighbors," said Louis Burch, a spokesman for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "But our state still has work to do."

"Connecticut needs to do some more coastal flooding vulnerability assessments" across all five of those critical categories, Burch said.


But Stratton defended the state's efforts to prepare for climate change along the shoreline. She said the "big glaring hole" in the States at Risk study was that "it doesn't even mention the Connecticut Institute for Resiliency and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA)."

The organization, located at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus in Groton, was created by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration in 2014 using a combination of state and federal funding. The center is researching the best ways for the state and shoreline communities to adapt to climate change and protect key infrastructure and properties.

Stratton said the center's work "addresses a lot of what [the report] says are our weaknesses."

According to the States at Risk study, Connecticut hasn't done well in conducting coastal flooding vulnerability assessments for key areas such as energy, health and water supplies.

Stratton said more than half the cities and towns on the Long Island Sound's coast have already completed their vulnerability assessments, and that the rest are now working on risk evaluations.

The report does credit Connecticut for passing legislation requiring municipalities to consider the impact of sea level rise, erosion and coastal flooding. But Stratton said it failed to mention CIRCA's development of mathematical models to predict how the Sound's sea levels will rise in coming decades.

"The models appear to be accurate to about 2050," said Stratton, "but the uncertainty increases after 2030."

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records, the sea levels along Connecticut's coast have risen by close to six inches since 1960. Local officials have repeatedly pointed out that low-lying coastal areas that rarely flooded in the past during significant storms are now routinely under water when big storms hit the Sound.

Karl Wagener, executive director of the state Council on Environmental Quality, agreed that a key reason why Connecticut is doing better than most states in terms of coastal flooding is because of CIRCA's work.