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State looks at the Hudson's rising water levels

Dec 20, 2010 1:57 pm
There's a fascinating story in HVBIz.biz about a little-discussed element in the state Department of Environmental Conservation that's been charting the effects of climate change on sea levels and New York State, including what's happening, and could occur, as icepacks melt off and water levels begin rising over the next 10 to 70 years.

Picture your favorite place along the shoreline of the Hudson River, or along the East River in New York or the beaches of Long Island. Now picture things if that locale is permanently under four feet of water. Though it sounds like science fiction, a task force appointed by the state Legislature finds this outcome could develop within the lifetime of a child born today.

“There is already climate change and we have to prepare for it,” said Mark Lowery, climate policy analyst in the state Office of Climate Change, which is part of the DEC, that agency that helped oversee preparation of the document. “We don’t want to be alarmist. We want to let people know what is happening, based on the best available science, so we can prepare for it.”

The report by veteran reporter Jim Gordon stresses how changes are already happening and will have broad repercussions statewide in areas such as energy, agriculture, tourism and transportation. New York has 3,000 miles of coastline and more than 60 percent of its population lives in a marine coastal county.

Under scenarios given in the report using a consensus of data vetted by the International Climate Change Partnership, (ICCP) the lower Hudson Valley, Long Island and New York could experience a sea-level rise between 2 inches to 10 inches in the 2020s and between one foot and four and a half feet within 70 years, depending on which climate model proves correct.

The higher figures arise in the event of “rapid ice melt” where the glaciers rapidly diminish and send their trapped water into the sea. Since the ICCP report was released in 2007, an array of data has emerged suggesting that rapid ice melt is indeed occurring, but no conclusions have been finalized. “Unfortunately what’s being observed, is more consistent with that rapid melt scenario,” Lowery said.

“The Hudson River is not going to escape the effects of sea-level rise,” said Lowery. “The sea-level rise at the Battery will be translated in almost 1-to-1 corresponding figure all the way up the Hudson to the Troy Dam, because the gradient is so slight.”

Increased storm surges would be, relatively speaking, more severe along the Hudson River because of the physics involved in wave action in the confines of the river, he said.

David Church, the Orange County planning commissioner, said he was familiar with the report and noted the effects of higher seas would move inland even away from the Hudson to tributaries, such as the Rondout and Esopus in Ulster County, Wappingers Creek in Dutchess, Moodna Creek in Orange County and Croton River in Westchester.

“We have to get really smart, fast, about considering site location issues and flood proofing for the riverfront communities,” Church said. And he noted key infrastructure along the Hudson River and tributaries, especially the rail road lines on both shores of the Hudson. “If four feet is the model that turns out to be true, that would put a lot of that track under water, so it an issue for sure,” said Church.

The report was released in November by the New York Sea Level Rise task force, which was appointed by the state Legislature to examine the scope and implications of sea-level rise as the climate changes. It is a draft document accepting public comment until Dec. 12 before being finalized and delivered to state lawmakers in January.

Lowery said he hopes the Legislature acts on the report. “Given that we can predict what is going to happen, it doesn’t make sense not to prepare for the inevitable.”
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