Resilience

Andy Koenigsberg

Jul 8, 2018

Resilience: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change – Merriam Webster Dictionary

Adaptation: the process of changing to suit different conditions – Oxford Dictionary

I hear the words resilience and adaptation bandied about a lot. Along the coast, it can mean elevating homes and streets, upgrading coastal infrastructure, and building seawalls.

But what about Westborough? Do we need to be resilient? We do. Fortunately, rising sea level isn’t an issue for us.

Let’s start with the early July heat wave, which affected a large portion of North America, caused by a large stagnant high pressure system. Temperature records were broken in many places.

Was THIS heat wave “caused” by global warming? Up until recently, no single weather event could be pinned on global warming. What scientists have been saying for many years is that our changing climate has made such events more likely, which is supported by weather records and charts freely available from NOAA. Bottom line – we will see more frequent heat waves.

During the last heat wave, residents received reverse 911 messages that the Senior Center was opened as a cooling center, a godsend for the great many of us who don’t have air conditioning in Westborough. In the 17 years I have lived here, I don’t recall the town having to take this measure until recently. Maybe someone can tell me if I am wrong.

As temperatures have increased, so have extreme weather events. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, so in the temperate Northeastern US, we can expect more intense storms (in summer AND winter). According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the amount of precipitation falling “as the heaviest of 1% of all daily events” has increased 71% in the Northeast since 1958.

The latest FEMA flood maps show that the impact of 100-year or 500-year flood events in Westborough would not be significant. Downtown Westborough is adjacent to Cedar Swamp, which has a huge capacity to store runoff. Since the town does a very good job of maintaining its drainage infrastructure, we have made ourselves more resilient to such storm events.

The town also manages its water system in the face of droughts, like we had in 2016. We do not over pump our wells and we take care of Sandra Pond. The town repaired the Sandra Pond dams so they better withstand major storms. The town took down a lot of trees, but state dam regulations required it. Again, foresight and good management make the town more resilient.

Another step would be to fix the culverts under the railroad that crosses Cedar Swamp, which were designed to allow water to drain south into the Sudbury River but they collapsed or were blocked decades ago. When one major culvert at the TransFlow rail yard off Flanders Road was fixed a decade ago, water levels in the eastern portion of Cedar Swamp dropped several feet. If the culverts closer to town were fixed, downtown Westborough would be much better protected.

Of course getting the railroad to repair them is another matter. It’s expensive because the rails need to be kept open while the repairs are performed.

Insect-borne diseases are another issue we have now that we did not have to worry about when I was a kid in the 1970s. Anyone even spending time on their lawn in Westborough, let alone the woods, should routinely check for ticks.

Ticks are tough creatures and are surviving our warmer winters. According to the Tufts University Lahey Clinic, ticks are a major vector not only of Lyme disease, which is debilitating enough, but Babesiosis (causes anemia), Tularemia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, both of which can be fatal.

Massachusetts already deals with Mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and to a lesser extent, Eastern Equine Encephalitis. The Asian Tiger mosquito is a vector for Dengue and Chikungunya. This species is steadily migrating northward from the Deep South. It’s already found as far north as southeastern Connecticut.

I know this all sounds scary, but everything I discussed is a recognized issue documented in the Massachusetts State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan (resilientma.com).

Regardless of whether you think humans are causing the climate to change, the fact is that it IS changing and quickly.

The trends are pretty clear, which is why we have to be resilient.

(photo credit Credit: kwest/Shutterstock.com via NASA)