New Lebanon studies climate vulnerabilities

Cornell Consulting Team Jessie Hughes and Waqar Ahktar present their findings in New Lebanon. Contributed photo

NEW LEBANON — The town of New Lebanon is taking a look at potential climate vulnerabilities and what the town can do about them.

Cornell students have been working with the town and its Climate Smart Committee. Earlier this week Cornell gave a presentation of their findings about some of the potential climate vulnerabilities the town may face and some of their recommendations for the town.

“They’ve identified a number of key hazards,” said Steve Powers, chairman of New Lebanon’s Climate Smart Communities Task Force. “Such as potential for intense rain, drought, snow, ice storms, hurricanes, heat-stress and also invasive species.”

Graduate students Jessie Hughes and Waqar Akhtar met with Town Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling to find out who to speak with. Houghtling said they wanted to speak with farmers, people who worked with the local fire department and emergency management people with the highway department and a wide variety of community members.

“I want to say they interviewed over 20 people,” Houghtling said. “And they were like one-to-two hours, so pretty in-depth. They named some potential vulnerabilities; a lot of it did have to do with windstorms and snow and ice storms, and people losing power, and without power they don’t have water, and a lot of really tangible affects.”

A key climate issue talked about by the local fire department was how droughts can affect their ability to fight fires.

The Cornell team spoke with farmers, emergency personnel and other local residents about changes they had noticed. Marc Anthonisen, master of public affairs at Cornell University and volunteer adviser for the task force, said some firefighters noted decreased water supply available in bodies of water used to supply fire trucks, farmers talked about changing agricultural conditions and maple farmers talked about less stable crops.

“They did mention droughts,” Houghtling said. “Our fire department had communicated with them that in droughts there have been times that they go to fill up their trucks at a pond, and there’s not enough water, which is obviously an issue.”

New Lebanon became a Bronze Certified Climate Smart Community earlier this year.

The Cornell students also made recommendations to the town as to some potential plans for when issues arise, Houghtling said. They suggested making sure the town not only has a hazard mitigation plan, but has a back up plan as well.

“If we’re in a drought and the fire department needs water, do we put a tank somewhere, or have an alternate source that doesn’t dry up in a drought?” Houghtling said.

Cornell’s presentation also included information on changing weather patterns, Houghtling said.

The report includes a list of recommendations and priorities for New Lebanon such as continuing to develop the Climate Smart Communities program, attempt to further understand research and update flood risks, protect critical assets and to further develop the towns emergency response plans.

Some of the long-term priorities included in the reports are: develop a water resources contingency plan, apply for grants and infrastructure projects and raising public awareness about climate-based risks through environmental education programs.

“A big part of this project was helping people to understand what does climate change mean at a local level,” Anthonisen said. “And then from there, this will help inform what’s called a hazard mitigation plan which is, where do we as a town and a county invest to off-set some of these potential impacts.”

Cornell students will continue working with New Lebanon, Powers said. Cornell has committed to working together with New Lebanon and each semester students will be working on climate projects with the town.

“We’re thrilled by that,” Powers said. “Its a big advantage to us, these guys are really smart, and they are able to work on projects in a short period of time that will be beneficial to the town.”

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