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A Change Is In The Air

A Change Is In The AirThe nation’s cities and towns need to prepare for the rising financial costs of global warming, says a Tufts expert.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.21.02] As scientists predict a steady increase in the planet's average temperature, a Tufts expert says cities and towns will be hit with millions of dollars in problems if they don't begin planning soon for the impact of global warming. In a newly released report to the Environmental Protection Agency, Tufts' Paul Kirshen says rising sea levels, prolonged draughts and increasingly severe storms are just a few of the threats that could overwhelm the infrastructure of the Northeast if local planners don't take action soon.

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"You either pay for it now, or you pay for it later," Kirshen - a Tufts civil engineer and expert on climate change -- told the Associated Press.

According to Kirshen, rising temperatures over the next century will have a major effect on towns and cities up and down the Northeast coastline.

"Increased coastal flooding and water quality and capacity could overburden local governments," reported CNN. "On the coast, sea levels are expected to rise up to one and one-half feet by the year 2100, Kirshen says. At the increased level, floods would be more frequent and storm surges far more damaging."

Built before climate change was a major issue, much of the infrastructure that handles water and sewage wasn't designed to withstand the impact of expected temperature increases.

"The warmer air is likely to lead to heavier rainfall because it will speed regional precipitation and evaporation cycles," reported the Associated Press. "Towns that rely on natural water bodies, like rivers, for water supply might see water and sewer systems overloaded as those levels rise. Conversely, towns that rely on groundwater might see shortages, because the ground loses the capacity to absorb rapid rainfall, and it becomes runoff."

According to Kirshen, coastal communities can expect floods to be 10 times as frequent by the end of the century. The damage is expected to total $500 million a year or more.

"We should be nervous about these numbers, but they're indicative of what we see," the Tufts expert told The Boston Herald, after presenting the findings of a $900,000 federally-funded study on the issue to EPA officials. "We have to decide how we're going to adapt to the impact because we know it's coming."

With some relatively straightforward planning in the short term, cities and towns can avoid future problems - they don't necessarily need to undertake expensive construction projects.

"For instance, [Kirshen says] zoning laws can be adjusted to restrict building on vulnerable coastal areas," reported the Associated Press. "As another example of low cost preparation, he pointed to the Deer Island sewage plant in Boston Harbor, which built higher than necessary sea walls in anticipation of rising tides."

But city planners must act soon.

"[The Tufts expert says] the costs for addressing those potential problems won't be as heavy if preparations are made now," reported CNN.

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