Story and photos by Judy Benson
With frequent downpours flooding many of the state’s coastal roads throughout the fall and into January – including the previous day – the workshop could hardly have had more relevance and timeliness.
“I spent yesterday dealing with countless calls to my office from people saying they couldn’t get to their houses because of flooding,” said Steve Johnson, acting assistant public works director, open space and natural resource agent for Milford. “This is getting to be the new normal. Yesterday I also watched a school bus drive through two feet of water to get the kids home.”
Johnson was one of the speakers at the Climate Adaptation Academyworkshop on Jan. 25 on road flooding. A capacity crowd of more than 80 municipal public works, planning and engineering officials from throughout coastal Connecticut came to the Middlesex County Extension Center in Haddam to spend the day learning about legal, environmental and practical approaches and challenges to “a problem with no easy answers,” said Juliana Barrett, coastal habitat specialist at Connecticut Sea Grant, during opening remarks. Co-sponsored by Sea Grant, UConn CLEAR and UConn Extension, the workshop is the third in a series focusing on the local ramifications of climate change and how towns can learn to cope.
Caught between the encroaching waters and dry land are salt marshes and roadways through low-lying coastal communities. Finding ways so that both can continue to exist on the Connecticut shoreline will be one of the main tasks of coastal town officials for the coming decades, Kozak said.Setting the stage for the issue at hand was David Kozak, senior coastal planner in the Land and Water Resources Division of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Ocean waters have been creeping onto land at accelerating rates over the past 50 years, and sea levels are projected to rise another 20 inches by 2050 and about four feet by 2100, he said. “Sunny day flooding,” when roads become submerged by high tides rather than heavy rains and storm surge, is becoming more common, he added.