Exeter Developing Climate Change Adaption Plan
Town, UNH team to study impacts on river, watershed
EXETER — By the end of 2014, the town is expected to have the most rigorous climate change adaptation plan on the Seacoast.
Through a $683,472 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of New Hampshire and Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve are working with the town to develop a plan based on Exeter's perspectives using hydraulic and hydrologic modeling and climate change scenarios.
Paul Kirshen, a research professor with UNH's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, said Exeter was a good fit for the grant because the grant focuses on the protection of large watersheds and Exeter sits along the Great Bay watershed.
In addition, Exeter is already focusing on some of the areas this study will highlight, such as stormwater runoff, non-point source pollution and flood projections. The study will also look at how climate change may impact the Squamscott River and its ecosystem.
"Exeter is already concerned about many of these issues and climate change will make them worse," Kirshen said. "As part of climate change we're expecting more intense rain storms. Any problem Exeter already has with water is going to be worse with climate change."
Kirshen said there are some models that indicate the area could see a sea-level rise of 1 to 2 feet by 2050, which would put additional stress on the tidal marshes of the Squamscott River. He said it's important for the town to understand what the potential impacts of this might be so it can factor it into its future planning of developments, land use decision-making, drainage networks and future infrastructure needs, such as the new wastewater treatment plant.
"It's about integrating climate change into normal planning activities," Kirshen said. "If you don't plan for climate change now, it will become more expensive down the line."
The planning project began in September and since then planners have met with town officials and community members to discuss their views on climate change, Kirshen said.
He said the town hopes to hold a public meeting on the project during the summer.
Exeter Town Planner Sylvia von Aulock said she has been aware of national and regional efforts to plan for climate change for a while and when an opportunity to work with UNH experts on the climate adaptation plan presented itself, it seemed worth jumping in on.
"Exeter's Planning Board members were voicing concerns over the issue and how we might address this through the planning process. Coupled with this, the increased frequency of severe storms in recent years seemed to make the concept of climate change very real and very serious," von Aulock said. "I knew many of Exeter's citizens were impacted by these severe storms, whether from power outages, property loss from flooding and even building relocation due to bank erosion."
Von Aulock noted that prior to recent ice storms, the town's Building Department occasionally received a request for a permit to install a generator but now generator installation has become more common.
Von Aulock said the town has a fantastic opportunity to better understand the facts surrounding climate change and residents will be able voice their concerns about the issue.
"As part of the collaborative with UNH and other agencies, Exeter town staff, residents, businesses and other stakeholders can help develop an action plan that will acknowledge climate change and prepare Exeter for the future," she said.
Great Bay Reserve Manager Cory Riley of N.H. Fish and Game said the project in Exeter has the potential to benefit multiple communities.
"Having a place where there's this type of concentrated effort happening so we can have a model for other communities is a benefit," Riley said. "I'm interested to see how this one goes and see if similar efforts would work in other towns along the Great Bay."
Riley said communities such as Portsmouth, Hampton and Seabrook have engaged in climate change planning discussions on some levels. "I feel there is a lot of momentum right now in the area to have these discussions," she said.
Kirshen agreed and said he believes the adaptation plan being put together for Exeter will be the most rigorous one completed in the area to date.
"One of the problems for New Hampshire communities and elsewhere is knowing how to plan for climate change and we hope to make Exeter an example of how to do this."
Exeter's climate adaptation plan should be complete by September 2014. Kirshen said the final assessment will include various climate change scenarios and project the outcome of different management actions.