Last week, scientists warned that a massive chunk of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet will eventually drift into the sea and melt, raising sea levels at least 10 feet higher than previous predictions.
Even before the announcement, scientists at the nonprofit research organization Climate Central predicted that surging seas could put the homes of nearly 5 million Americans underwater by the end of this century.
Dawn Zimmer, mayor of Hoboken, N.J., is a member of President Obama's Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. She's one of many elected leaders in coastal areas around the country working to stave off future flooding disasters.
Zimmer says that the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy — and the four floods that have hit her city since — moved her to action. Hoboken's strategy, she tells Morning Edition's Renee Montagne, includes purchasing land and building new parks to help absorb rainwater; retaining as much rainwater as possible and updating the city's drainage and pumping systems. "We need to figure out a way to live with water," she says.
We're living with climate change right now. We've had ... four major flood events [since Hurricane Sandy]. So that means people's cars are totaled, people's homes are still getting flooded. We're seeing it on a regular basis, these heavy downpours. So, to a certain extent, the climate change assessment that just came out reaffirms what we absolutely have to do. ...
I'm hopeful that we're going to implement this integrated strategy that is going to allow us to live with water. [Hoboken] potentially can be a model for this. ...
We have an opportunity that was impossible for other species. I'm sure that if the dinosaur could have predicted ... the ice age coming and observed it, and developed a plan, they would have done that. But they couldn't do that. We can do this. We can adapt. And we must adapt. We see it in Hoboken and Weehawken and Jersey City.
This is the no. 1 priority for me, as the mayor of Hoboken. This is the biggest challenge that our city is facing. We are living with this now and we need to figure out a way to live with water.
On Building Codes
We passed a flood-prevention ordinance that says, for future buildings, [they have] to be built with all of the utilities raised up — with the mechanicals for the elevators, for example, all raised up, so that those buildings in the future will be much more resilient.
On Federal Funding
As a member of President Obama's Climate Change Task Force, I'm continuing to advocate ... for changes in the National Flood Insurance Program, which would make it so that we could get money towards raising up our utilities. Right now ... we're paying into this system where we don't really get much out of it. So I think we really need to really try to look at those federal policies.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
When NASA issued a dire warning recently about rising sea levels, one place where it was no surprise was Hoboken, New Jersey.
INSKEEP: That city sits on the Hudson River, across from New York. Ever since Hoboken was flooded by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, it's been putting together a plan defend against rising water.
MONTAGNE: Mayor Dawn Zimmer serves on the president's climate change task force. She outlined for us a four-part strategy Hoboken is calling Resist, Delay, Store and Discharge. Resist involves parks that soak up rain.
MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER: It would be literally building park as defense. So if we're going to build out this park, we should build it out in a way where it provides protection for the city. So that's the resist strategy. The delay: That means delaying as much as we can citywide to prevent the storm water from going down into the sewer system. In Hoboken, we have a combined sewer system, so we flood on a regular basis. So we want to retain that rainwater and use it as much as possible.
And then the store strategy: We're buying land on the western side of the city creating green infrastructures, storage tanks underneath those parks, and then the drainage. So we're moving ahead with low-interest loan for a pump. And also it would drainage pipes to drain that water out as much possible. But I think it really - it is feasible, and we're committed to moving ahead with this.
MONTAGNE: Though it does sound like a fair amount of infrastructure, which always says - to me, anyway - a lot of money. Where is Hoboken going to finance this?
ZIMMER: Well, we are part of Rebuild by Design, which is a HUD program started under Secretary Donovan. It's a design competition, and we're very much hoping that we will be one of the teams that are selected.
And this comprehensive plan could protect Weehawken, Hoboken and Northern Jersey City. And when you look at the shared assets - the Port Authority's assets, New Jersey Transit's assets, a hospital - you know, it's something where we need to turn the tide and look at really making the investment.
MONTAGNE: Well, are you planning on shifting some of this cost to businesses or homeowners, homebuilders - that is, requiring green buildings, for instance, that add less stress to the systems?
ZIMMER: Right, so we are already doing that. We passed a flood-prevention ordinance that says, you know, for future buildings, it has to be built with all of the utilities raised up, with the mechanicals for the elevators, for example, all raised up, so that those buildings in the future will be much more resilient going forward.
As a member of the, you know, President Obama's Climate Change Task Force, I'm continuing to advocate, for example, for changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, which would make it so that, you know, we could get money towards raising up our utilities. Right now, people in the city, you know, we're paying into this system where we don't really get much out of it. So I think we need to try and really look at those federal policies.
MONTAGNE: Well, I also wonder - it's now become clear that it is not if, but when sea levels will rise, and by how much. I'm wondering how you see Hoboken, your city, in a hundred years.
ZIMMER: Well, I mean, that's where I'm hopeful we're going to implement this integrated strategy that is going to enable us to live with water. You know, we potentially can be a model for this. And we need to sort of - again, when you go back and look at some of the federal policies, we need to step out and stop just paying, paying, paying these repetitive losses.
You know, we have an opportunity. I mean, we have an opportunity that, you know, is impossible for other species. I mean, so it really is about adapting. I'm sure that the dinosaur, if they could have predicted the Ice Age coming and observed it and developed a plan, they would have done that. But they couldn't do that. We can do this. We can adapt. And we must adapt. We see it in Hoboken. We are - and Weehawken and Jersey City.
We're living with climate change right now. We've had, again, four major flood events. So that means people's cars are totaled. People's homes are still, you know, getting flooded. And we're seeing it on a regular basis, these heavy downpours. So, you know, and to a certain extent, the climate change assessment report that just came out reaffirms what I know we absolutely have to do.
This is the number one priority for me, as the mayor of Hoboken, that this is the biggest challenge that our city is facing. We are living with this now, and we need to figure out a way to live with water.
MONTAGNE: Mayor Zimmer, thank you very much for joining us.
ZIMMER: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Dawn Zimmer is the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.