Flooding and Drought

How do we adapt to climate change?  For us in Berkeley, adaptation means not only increasingly hotter temperatures, but also trying to cope with either too much water or too little.  We must adapt to flooding exacerbated by sea level rise and more intense storms, and although it appears contradictory, we must also adapt to long term drought.  The focus of the City of Berkeley’ is to build our resilience by mitigating flooding, increasing water efficiency, and enhancing urban forestry.  Although we’ve made some progress on all fronts, we still have a lot to do.

Urban Forestry:  Trees not only provide shade to cool our environment, but also are a great way to capture (sequester) CO2, thereby helping not only with adaptation but also with climate change mitigation. Since 2000, Berkeley has added over 4650 trees to our urban landscape.

Cistern, Bioswale, & Permeable PavementMitigating Flooding:  During intense storms, West Berkeley is plagued by flooding.  This will be made increasingly worse by rising sea level.  To decrease the amount of water that suddenly hits West Berkeley during a storm, we are developing ways to capture the water as it flows westward.  Efforts include building cisterns to capture large volumes of water and then release it slowly, bioretention, bioswales, permeable pavements, and a host of green infrastructure projects, some installed by the City and some by private investors.

Increasing Water Efficiency:  The City of Berkeley has recently put a major effort toward reducing water use across our city with efforts showing reductions in 2014 of over 20% compared with prior years.  City use only accounts for 2% of water use.  By 2013, overall water use had decreased 15% since 2000.  To reduce it further, the City continues working with EBMUD to sponsor outreach to educate residents and businesses on water efficiency.

Multiple Benefits:  Investments in adaptation also yield other benefits, like long-term cost savings, improved health and improved aesthetics.  Permeable pavers have a life of 50 to 100 years, compared to less than 20 for most asphalt paving, providing a long term cost saving as well as a pleasing environment.  Trees and green infrastructure improve air and water quality, benefiting health and providing an appealing aesthetic.  Some of these benefits are tough to quantify, but are real and valuable nonetheless.

Money is Always an Issue:  To become completely resilient costs a lot.  Berkeley was recently selected as an inaugural member of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network, which provides some funding; we are one of only 33 cities selected so far, 11 in the U.S.  Also, bond money from Measure M, passed in 2012, to improve streets and build green infrastructure has helped, and a series of additional funding sources are being pursued.  The City is looking at investment in climate adaptation and mitigation as not just for the short-term, but also for the medium- and long-term.  Flexibility and innovation are key as we face each new situation and take advantage of opportunities as they come along.

Learn more about Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan and Berkeley’s Resiliency effort.

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