Politicians may argue about whether climate change is real, but according to the stats presented by meteorologist Roger Hill, climate change is not only real, it is accelerating.
Hill was the featured speaker at a Friends of the Mad River Climate of Change community forum that highlighted the work by Ridge to River to identify ways to make The Valley more flood resilient by reducing and slowing stormwater runoff.
The October 11 event was hosted by American Flatbread and attracted some 140 people. Ridge to River is a community group led by Friends of the Mad River that has been working for the past two years on action items to slow stormwater runoff throughout The Valley. Ridge to River features a select board member and planning commissioner from Moretown, Duxbury, Fayston, Waitsfield and Warren as well as other community members and leaders.
Using charts and a PowerPoint presentation, Hill offered scientific data specific to Vermont, the Mad River Valley, New England and the nation to show the steady upward climb of temperatures, extreme weather events, extreme precipitation events, a shortening winter and more.
His charts showed the fluctuations that occur in weather, rainfall and other climate indicators but also showed averages steadily climbing.
“How crazy has this weather been? We’ve had a foot of rain in June and a drought since then,” Hill told the crowd.
“It’s the oceans that are seeing the biggest warming and hurricanes work off the latent heat of the oceans,” Hill said, noting that this hurricane season has been one of the worst in decades.
Using charts, he showed where ocean temps were rising and pointed out that ocean heating is gigantic compared to the land.
“Ninety-three percent of all climate change is the warming factor going into the oceans. This is where we’re watching everything take place,” he said.
“Category 4 to 5 storms are increasing. In the Southwest, we’re seeing temps going up and winter is shortening. The jet stream is changing too; it’s getting locked in place,” he added.
Despite the dire news from Hill, Corrie Miller, executive director of Friends of the Mad River, was able to point to positive progress on behalf of the Ridge to River group. She explained that the group’s focus has been on slowing the rate at which stormwater flows into area brooks and streams and ultimately the Mad River. Allowing the ground to absorb rainfall cleans the water, replenished the groundwater and can help slow flooding by reducing how much water enters the rivers and how fast it enters.
“Think about the land as a sponge. We want to keep the water local. There are cities in China that call themselves ‘sponge cities’ and they are working on porosity, permeability, soft engineering and green infrastructure. If we can slow the water down and sink it into the ground, we’re less vulnerable in large rain events,” Miller said.
There are 437 miles of road in the Mad River watershed, 290 of which are public and 147 miles of which are private. Over 40 percent of the private roads are on slopes greater than 15 percent.
“Runoff causes maintenance issues on these roads. They act as fast routes to streams and they carry dirty water,” Miller said.
“Trails are another kind of road. There are 300-plus miles of managed rec trails in the Valley, many used as trails and many not managed,” she said.
She also pointed out that The Valley lost 500 acres of forest cover land between 2001 and 2011. This is important because forests soak up water and build soil and soil holds water.
“Forests make you more resilient,” she said.
“Small collective actions can cause harm, but small collective actions can pull together and make a change,” she said.
Miller encouraged those present to visit the various tables stationed around the room where community volunteers, Ridge to River members and Harwood students were on hand to answer questions and help people understand how they can help make a change.
There were stations for community watershed data, town roads, town planning, private drives, trails and home sites. People could sign up to have their driveway analyzed. Other homeowner and community action items can be seen on the Ridge to River website, http://ridgetoriver.weebly.com/programs.html.
The forum can be seen on mrvtv.com.