Science Cafe Concord on Tuesday discusses ‘Coping with Climate Change’

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Published: 9/20/2016 1:25:46 AM

Let’s say you’re a civil engineer about to build a big, taxpayer-funded something or other. You don’t want to spend more than you should, but also don’t want to be rebuilding everything in five years.

No problem. Finding that balance is standard practice for engineers.

Now add one more thing: Increasingly, you can’t trust some basic information used in making such decisions because it is changing too fast.

Uh-oh; things just got a lot less fun. Thanks a lot, climate change.

“How do you make sure that what you spent on that facility is not going to be under water, based on future rainfall scenarios . . . that are hard to predict?” said Rhett Lamb, city planner for Keene, describing a central dilemma of his job these days. “It’s not easy.”

Certainly not, which is why Science Cafe Concord will discuss this question when it returns from its summer hiatus today.

The topic is “Coping With Climate Change,” and panelists (including Lamb) will be there to answer your questions about infrastructure, life on the Seacoast or life as a farmer – or whatever else interests you – as Mother Nature becomes increasingly erratic.

As always, Science Cafe is free and open to all, in the upper room of The Draft Sports Bar, 67 S. Main St. It starts at 6 p.m.; yu might want to show up early to guarantee a seat.

This topic was chosen because even for those of us who aren’t engineers, a world in which historic drought flip-flops with flash floods raises questions. I’ve certainly got a few.

Should I rebuild my dirt driveway, or is it going to wash out so often that I need to cough up the bucks to pave it?

Should I replace that old birch tree in my yard with a lovely sugar maple or opt for a warm-winter-friendly oak?

Is it worthwhile getting new cross-country skis or should I just give up and learn to skateboard?

At least I don’t own ocean-front property or depend on farming for my living. Those folks are going to find life much more difficult in a warmer, wetter and wilder world.

As for civil engineering, climate change is a big unknown in many aspects of planning. For those of us not on the Seacoast, the biggest impact is likely to be the erratic rainfall.

“This comes up pretty consistently. It plays into how we program projects in the future . . . and in writing land-use regulations,” Lamb said.

For example, he said, there is the question of whether to require FEMA Plus 1, a designation for how high structures should be built above the “normal” water level.

“You’ve got to go 2 feet above base level elevation instead of the 1 (foot) that (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has today, anticipating that in the future the 100-year floodplain is more like the 25-year floodplain today,” Lamb said.

But is an extra foot above FEMA enough? Would 2 feet be worth it or a waste of money during the expected lifetime of a new building? Good question.

“We are really debating: What’s our target? What storm are we aiming for?” Lamb said. “We need to accommodate, adjust, adapt.”

Easier said than done. But just the sort of thing we should be thinking and discussing right now.

See you at Science Cafe.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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