It’s Time To Act, Mr. President

Stormwater in Washington, DC

Stormwater in Washington, DC | Lynnette Batt

As I noted in my blog earlier this week, both the Obama Administration and Members of Congress have been paying more attention to climate change since the Inauguration and the start of the 113th Congress, and it only took a few billion-dollar events to get their full attention.

Finally, the federal government is putting two and two together – extreme weather, as well as the increases in both in heavy precipitation and extreme drought we’ve been experiencing, are connected to climate change!

While mitigation, or the reduction of carbon emissions, is a way to slow the impacts of climate change in the future, it isn’t going to stop the changes we are already seeing. Water and the communities and sectors that depend on it will be hit first and hardest by climate change in the form of increased drought, floods, and erratic precipitation events.

To prepare us for the impacts we are experiencing now and what we can expect in the future, we must begin planning for and adapting to the effects climate change.

Luckily, the Administration did not sit idle while talk of climate change was forbidden on Capitol Hill. Instead, the government put together a variety of plans outlining recommendations and strategies that could help to prepare the nation for climatic impacts. From the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change to the Interagency Climate Change Task Force’s National Action Plan for Freshwater, multiple reports have been written outlining strategies that will help us adapt. 

Here are a couple of “shovel ready” projects the Administration should complete early in the second term:

Move Forward with the Stormwater Rule

Increasing development and antiquated, over-taxed wastewater treatment systems mean that, during heavy rains, untreated sewage and polluted stormwater can pour directly into rivers from over-flowing sewage treatment plants, dirty streets, and parking lots. As a result of the changing climate, precipitation will increase in certain areas, putting even more pressure on overburdened wastewater systems.

In the Great Lakes region alone, the frequency of combined sewer overflows could increase from 13 percent to 70 percent. Stormwater runoff pollutes our rivers with pathogens, excess nutrients, heavy metals and other contaminants, putting people’s health at risk.

The urgent need to update our stormwater programs was detailed in a 2009 National Research Council (NRC) report. Based on the NRC’s recommendations, the EPA is currently working to update its stormwater programs to establish minimum management requirements that will reduce polluted stormwater runoff from urban and suburban sources.

These updated regulations will require the management of stormwater runoff onsite, using an objective performance standard that will encourage the use of innovative practices such as green infrastructure. Additionally, this rule will work to better target key areas that contribute to water pollution and ensure that existing sources of pollution from already-built and urbanized areas clean up their discharges. President Obama should push this rule through to better target polluted runoff and protect clean water for our communities.

Revise the Principles & Guidelines with standards addressing Climate Change

President Obama should implement a new, sustainable approach to managing our nation’s water resources by revising the Principles and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies (P&G). These are essentially the rules that guide the Corps of Engineers and other agencies as they determine how to address issues like flooding, water supply, navigation, etc.

The current rules are 30 years old and force planners to choose the project alternative that has the greatest “net economic benefit.” This means that many benefits provided by rivers and wetlands like clean water, recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, and flood management aren’t adequately included in the decision making process.

President Obama began to revise the P&G during his first term. It’s time to cross the finish line and implement water resources planning that encourages sustainable economic development and protects the environment.

Now is the time, President Obama, to act on these strategies and put America on a resilient path forward.