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Preparing for a changing climate now can help save lives, cut costs, and improve quality of life later. That’s the message of the New Jersey Climate Adaption Alliance.

The alliance, a collaboration of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, recently received $400,000 from the Kresge Foundation to help New Jersey adapt to climate change. Bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders throughout the state, the alliance will focus on outreach and education, engagement of the business community, creation of demonstration projects, and development of recommendations for public policy.

“It’s a unique model, a network of networks,” says alliance cofacilitator Jeanne Herb CC’81 of the Bloustein School. “It brings everyone—policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, business leaders, public and private practitioners, and academics—to the same table to enhance climate change preparedness in New Jersey though policies and actions.”

Cofacilitator Marjorie B. Kaplan, who is leading the effort on behalf of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, says the organization will leverage the “expertise and knowledge of world-class Rutgers faculty along with the resources of a major research university.”

Formed in 2012, the alliance is studying the effects of precipitation, temperature extremes, storm surge, sea-level rise, drought, and inland flooding on seven key sectors. The following are some of the risks those sectors face.

Blueberries and cranberries, iconic staples of the state, will be at risk because of higher winter temperatures. Other crops, notably spinach and lettuce, are expected to wane by mid-century while pests and weeds are anticipated to shift north and thrive, affecting crop production and increasing the pressure on farmers to use more pesticides and herbicides. Milk production is estimated to fall 5 to 20 percent in certain months as dairy cows will require more energy to stay cool; the decrease will cost the state millions of dollars.

Built Infrastructure: Transportation
A densely populated coastline, critical trade nodes, low-lying infrastructure, and a great dependence on public transit make the state system one of the more vulnerable in the country. During drastic changes in temperature, rail links may become impaired; bridges will be stressed and pavement will become rutted; and repairs will be costly and time-consuming. The increased use of air conditioning on public transit is expected to further strain the system and lead to auxiliary power system failures.

Built Infrastructure: Utilities
With power plants built in areas that are vulnerable to flooding and storm surge, residents are likely to experience power outages and brownouts as well as disruptions in telecommunications services. As they did in Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene, falling trees undoubtedly will imperil electric transmission and distribution lines.

Coastal Communities
The shoreline, which generates 70 percent of the state’s tourism dollars, is expected to erode faster than the national average. Its low-lying infrastructure—roads, rails, bridges, parks, sewer systems, water treatment plants, and power plants—as well as homes and businesses are at risk. The value of land in the coastal counties of Monmouth, Cape May, Atlantic, and Ocean totals more than $100 billion, and the price to protect it will increase, with beach replenishment costs alone estimated to hit $5 billion over the next 50 years.

Natural Resources
New Jersey’s freshwater and coastal wetland acreage and quality is bound to be reduced from erosion, sedimentation, and sea-level rise, and the altered habitat will affect plants and terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. Migratory songbirds, in particular, are expected to decline in New Jersey. Temperature increases will impact cold-water and marine species, and ocean acidification will reduce availability of minerals that plankton and other species rely on for skeletal and shell growth, negatively affecting marine and coastal ecosystems.

Public Health
Heat-related illnesses, pulmonary and respiratory diseases, and storm-related injuries will likely rise. Infectious diseases, notably Lyme disease, hantavirus, West Nile virus, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, are expected to become more prevalent, as will salmonella and vibrio and water-borne parasites. As the pollen season gets longer, asthma and allergy-related ailments are expected to increase hospitalizations, especially among children.

Water Resources
With water supply master plan projections for 2040 already surpassed based on population estimates for 2010, residents are likely to face disruption of service and deterioration of water quality. The southern part of the state will be particularly susceptible to increased salinity, and a possible decrease in the level of the Delaware River may make Camden and surrounding areas especially vulnerable. Changes in water quality throughout the state could lead to more stringent requirements for wastewater discharges and to higher costs for treatment and improvements to vulnerable and aging infrastructure.

Originally published in Rutgers alumni magazine

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