Nine years ago, Superstorm Sandy sounded an urgent alarm across the region. Tropical Storm Ida warned us again climate change must be addressed now with climate action. While municipalities, counties, and the state took incremental steps, they did not undertake large-scale, coordinated, comprehensive planning required for responding effectively to the severe weather emergencies we now face. To meet this critical challenge, the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation (NNJCF) calls on leaders and residents to develop regional plans for coordinated, collaborative action to optimize our communities’ responses to potential climate disasters.
Regional resilience requires a collective effort. Northern New Jersey municipalities must recognize and work through the historically insular characteristics of Home Rule. Collaborative planning increases efficiency and effectiveness by coordinating the use of critical resources when and where they are most needed. The NNJCF, experienced in facilitating collaborative, inter-municipal learning, planning, and design, stands ready to help.
The Foundation recommends the following collective action be taken immediately:
Redesign Sewer Systems
Sewerage systems must be redesigned to address frequent, intense rainfall. Long-term, all combined sewer overflow systems should be eliminated. Short-term, reduce overflow through decreased source runoff. Install anaerobic digestors at wastewater treatment plants to improve water quality and provide renewable sources of energy.
Invest in Green Infrastructure
New Jersey’s infrastructure’s design was not designed to withstand today’s extreme weather. Green Infrastructure reduces flood risks, lessens energy costs, and improves air and water quality.
-Rain Gardens and Green Roofs absorb storm water runoff. Storm water nourishes green areas, trees, and local vegetation making the region more beautiful, buildings more energy efficient, urban heat islands cooler, and air and water quality better.
-Green Streets and Clean Streets programs reduce runoff and decrease pollution. The EPA defines a Green Street as “a storm water management approach that incorporates vegetation, soil, and engineered systems, e.g., permeable pavements, to slow, filter, and cleanse runoff from impervious streets, parking lots, and sidewalks.” Clean Streets programs, such as those initiated by the Hackensack Riverkeeper, encourage community members to keep storm drains clear by reducing litter. These programs add economic and community benefits by improving pedestrian and bike access, drawing more customers to local businesses, and saving energy.
Engage Community Members to Build Resiliency
By working together to make their communities more livable and resilient, residents develop civic loyalty and a strong sense of belonging. The NNJCF uses creative placemaking to inform and engage community members in planning and implementing community development projects. The Foundation works with local leaders to convene topical experts, elected officials, business and nonprofit leaders, and community members to collaborate in designing and building solutions to shared goals and challenges. This authentic, public process ensures everyone’s voice is heard. The opportunity to work together builds trust and understanding encouraging residents to support and work with local and regional officials to build resiliency.
Rethink Zoning and Land Use
Zoning and Land Use planning must include traditional and new flood areas resulting from heavier rainfall overwhelming inadequate sewer systems. Planned developments should be required to integrate green infrastructure and to gain certification. Permeable pavement absorbs floodwater and provides savings long-term. Expand Blue Acres and Green Acres programs to buy back flood-prone areas to reduce flooding, while creating recreation opportunities and improving air and water quality.
Join the NNJCF to discuss the catastrophic potential of climate change. The Foundation urgently recommends the rapid implementation of local and regional climate mitigation and resiliency planning. Starting with the Hackensack River Corridor Development Project, the NNJCF will work with local, county, and state officials and agencies to accelerate the critical work of building a more resilient region. To learn more and/or to participate in the project, sign up online.
-Michael J. Shannon, President
-Mary Blanusa, Executive Director
Northern New Jersey Community Foundation