Insights

Impact of Climate Change on Infrastructure

Impact of Climate Change on Infrastructure

We’re all too familiar with the concerns over climate change. We’ve heard the statistics and the impacts of climate change in New England, including: higher temperatures, more frequent precipitation, and more intense storms. Sea level rise (SLR) is on “the rise” for coastal communities and is threatening vital community infrastructure.

What are we doing? What can we do?

To many community leaders, the answers are complex and filled with apprehension. Wright-Pierce has seen communities struggle with these questions, and as a result we have made it our mission to simplify the issues and focus on solutions that are achievable and backed by sound engineering.

Understanding Adaptation vs. Mitigation

To help simplify the issues at hand, it is important to understand the difference between climate change “mitigation” and “adaptation.”

Mitigation of climate change involves actions to slow or reverse climate change trends. Mitigation is a global issue and one that will require significant action from world leaders to reduce carbon emissions and promote alternative energies, among other things.

Adaptation to climate change involves approaches, typically at the local and state level, to deal with the current and future impacts of climate change. Adaptation measures tend to focus on engineered solutions to protect existing and future infrastructure from future weather and oceanographic trends. As such, most of the opportunities to deal with climate change in New England relate to adaptation strategies.

Adaptation Strategies – Step #1

An important first step in adaptation is to understand what infrastructure within a community is at risk of being impacted by severe climate events.

For the past several years, Wright-Pierce has assisted community leaders with studies that assess the impact a severe weather event will have on critical infrastructure and other vulnerable assets, from undersized culverts to valuable wastewater infrastructure located in low lying coastal regions subject to rising sea levels. Wright-Pierce is lending clarity to the risks associated with climate change.

Adaptation Strategies – Step #2

The second step in adaptation is to develop conceptual engineering solutions to protect the assets identified in the impact study. Examples are tidal berms, culvert replacement projects, and even relocating wastewater facilities. Wright-Pierce has provided study, design, and cost estimating services to many New England communities dealing with at-risk assets. These designs and cost estimates are valuable tools that can then be used in public education campaigns. It is important to develop public awareness programs about the need to protect assets to gain positive traction towards meaningful solutions.

Adaptation Strategies – Step #3

The third step in adaptation is to present the list of vulnerable assets to the community leaders so essential dialogue can take place centered on the topics of risk, adaptation cost, and level of service. It is important that a community be given the whole picture of the risks and cost associated with climate change adaptation so that informed decisions can be made. Once a decision is made at the local level to proceed with an adaptation strategy, Wright-Pierce is ready to provide design and construction administration services for the selected project.

If you are ready to take action to protect your infrastructure from the impact of climate change, we would be happy to talk with you and help identify a strategy of adaptation for your community.