Poised with an arsenal of maps and data specific to the Machias Bay area, the Washington County Council of Governments presented their fifth climate vulnerability assesment last Tuesday at the University of Maine at Machias.
Area-specific, the previous four meetings looked at Jonesport, Beals and Addison; Milbridge, Steuben, Harrington and Cherryfield; Calais and Robbinston; and Lubec, Eastport, Perry, Pembroke, Whiting, Dennysville ad Trescott/Edmunds.
Looking at projected materials on climate change and shifting weather patterns, Tora Johnson and staff in the GIS department at UMM created a series of maps that showed how specific areas of the region would be effected with sea-level rises, and storm surges.
The meetings were held not to scare folks, Judy East of WCCOG stated, but to figure out the potential impacts of climate change on a local level, and to adapt to those potential changes. So what's happening?
So far, anyone can observe certain changes; more and stronger weather events, higher tides, hotter summers, more precipitation (in the form of rain), new pests and diseases.
The maps put together by Johnson and Amy Dowley allow to play with the range of a storm as it would hit the area. We start to get in trouble when a category 2 storm hits at high tide. At that point, there is almost 6 feet of water over the dike in Machias, the downtown is flooded and folks on the pinunsalas of Machiasport and Roque Bluffs are cut off due to road washouts.
“We're not showing you this to say 'here's doomsday,'” said East. “It's to give emergency responders and municipal leaders the information to look at and to know where to position supplies or to improve infrastructure so roadbeds can withstand storm surges.”
About 25 people attended the meeting, and using handheld remotes to anonymously share concerns and questions, most voted that the most important thing to do right now is to maintain existing wetlands, improve infrastructure and to plan evacuation routes.
So what to do with this information? Suggestions at the other meetings were echoed in the Machias area, with importance placed on inventorying transportation/infrastructure, maintaining and repairing culverts, keep sand and salt piles above flood level and to plan for grants and other resources.
Public health issues of concern include heat-related illnesses, pest-borne illness, shellfish poisoning. Resource-based industries most at risk would include fisheries with ocean acidification and shell-disease, which has been linked to climate change.
The number one thing that we can do now, Johnson said, was to deal with wastewater treatment, in municipalities as well as in individual homes, to minimize bacteria. Also, diversifying fisheries is important. “We rely way too much on a few species,” Johnson said.
The interactive maps will be accessible for anyone to use online in the next month or so, and each of the municipalities will be given a Climate Vulnerability Assessment once they are completed, in order to plan and have the information available to the public.