A Baseball All-Star’s Words Provide Advice: On Climate Change There’s No Time for Half-Measures

NACWA list of 2022 extreme weather events puts the spotlight on the need to be serious about climate change and remedies for it

A sportswriter once asked the great Oakland A’s and New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson about the secret to winning.

His reply: “Don’t give me what you got. Give me what it takes.”

Those words come to mind as I see the dramatic ways in which Earth’s climate is changing. Glaciers and ice caps melting away in Greenland and Antarctica. Droughts, wildfires and growing water shortages in the Southwest U.S.

And, perhaps of most immediate impact to water and wastewater utilities, more frequent and more extreme weather events, most notably those that bring heavy rains and flooding.

Counting the cost

Last year the National Association of Clean Water Agencies created a fact sheet listing ten extreme events that happened in the U.S. in 2022. You can find the two-page presentation on the NACWA website under advocacy and analysis; for now here are a few of the events listed:

  • Kentucky: 636-year flood and 1,000-year rainfall, July 26-30, $277 million total damage, $16.8 million to water infrastructure, 39 deaths, extended loss of water service.
  • St. Louis, Missouri: 1,000-year rainfall, July 25-26, $87 million in damage, water systems overwhelmed by flood waters.
  • Dallas, Texas: 1,000-year flood and rainfall, Aug. 21-22, $4.5 billion to $6 billion in damage.
  • Jackson, Mississippi: 1,000-year rainfall, Aug. 24-25, $1 billion in damage, contributed to failure of water infrastructure, two-month boil water advisory.
  • Florida: Hurricane Ian, Sept. 28-30, $30 billion to $60 billion in damage, more than 100 deaths, multiple clean-water plants forced to release raw or partially treated sewage.

Climate scientists say the increase in such events in recent years is no coincidence. A warming climate means more and heavier rain events and floods in the years and decades ahead.

What’s to be done?

NACWA argues essentially that the time for half measures has passed. Its statement on climate adaptations and resiliency observes, “Increased intensity of storm events and flooding, the threat of sea level rise at treatment works … and increased attention to water scarcity and reuse are just some of the ways in which clean-water agencies are seeing impacts from a rapidly changing climate.

“Given the critical services clean-water agencies provide in their communities, our sector needs to be closely engaged in climate and resiliency conversations. NACWA believes that climate change is primarily a water issue.”

In light of all this, action on climate change and climate resiliency is not something that should occupy some remote corner of a utility’s priority list and budget. The issue’s importance requires doing “what it takes.” That means planning for the long term and allocating enough resources to do what needs doing.

Stepping up

It’s been my observation that municipalities, and the clean-water and drinking water utilities that serve them, have been well ahead of our federal government in embracing the reality of climate change and planning responses to it.

We see initiatives like converting vehicle fleets to renewable natural gas refined from biogas produced in anaerobic digesters. Expansive conservation initiatives among utilities in water-scarce areas. Plans to achieve net zero energy and to hit carbon reduction goals — with budgets and timelines to match. That’s encouraging.

Many state governments are also on board with long-term climate-related strategies. The private sector to a large extent is engaged. Many large companies are switching to electric vehicle fleets and setting their own goals for carbon footprint reduction, even when no government regulation requires such action.

Going global

Meanwhile, recent legislation at the federal level — the infrastructure law and the measure known as Build Back Better — contain significant funding for both mitigating and adapting to climate change and its effects.

Unfortunately, the UN Climate Change Conference back in November left many participants and observers less than satisfied with the commitments made, and with doubts about whether those commitments will be fulfilled. The issues are complex.

There’s hope in the growth of electric vehicles, solar and wind energy, battery storage, and other technologies. Even nuclear fusion, perhaps the ultimate in clean energy has shown a glimmer of hope, although its use on a commercial scale may still be decades away.

Meanwhile, I do believe that on facing climate challenges, our water-related utilities are helping to set an example on doing what it takes to win.


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