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January 6th, 2010

Climate Change and USACE

The weather here in Washington, DC is down-right cold, and we only recently saw the record snowfall of a few weeks ago melt enough that we could reasonably get around.  But what we’ve been experiencing is nothing compared to, say, Minnesota or Wisconsin. There was a news report the other day that said the low temperature in one part of Minnesota was so low (-37), that it would have to heat up 69 degrees just to not be below freezing. That’s just crazy cold. In other parts of the world, though, glaciers are melting at a record pace and drought still has people in California under water conservation orders.

 Needless to say, all this extreme weather poses an opportunity to talk about what we are doing at USACE with regard to climate change, in our role as the nation’s environmental engineers.  Gen. Casey, Army Chief of Staff, has said that we are in what he calls “an era of persistent conflict.” Part of that is because of climate change and how it can be a game-changer, creating “haves and “have-nots” around the world. 

I am a member of a United Nations committee called the “High-level Panel on Water and Disasters.”  Last year I presented our report in Istanbul, Turkey.  It was a phenomenal conference.  We came to the conclusion that we need to do much better planning – on a worldwide scale.  We have to ask ourselves – what will our response be? What might the early warnings be?  What would be the evacuation plans?  What would be those measures that an individual can take? What about local and state governments? Federal?  And I’m not just talking about the U.S. – we all need to be asking these questions, all around the world. 

Know that we are planning for all these contingencies, and more than that – we are putting the full capabilities of our Engineer Research and Development Center to work.  We are currently involved in several water studies about conservation and reuse, and we are always working on sustainable practices and technologies. In fact, at Fort Irwin in California, we are currently working on the Department of Defense’s largest solar energy project.

We also collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to write “Climate Change and Water Resources Management:  A Federal Perspective,” released last February, that assessed approaches to climate variability and change in water resources management, on which future agency policies, methods, and processes will be based.  And this past summer, we issued a new policy, “Incorporating Sea-Level Change Considerations in Civil Works Programs,” that instructs our project managers to be prepared to implement flexible planning and engineering adaptations that account for a range of possible changes.
The bottom line is – we are planning and preparing for – and doing everything we can to prevent – issues related to climate change.  It’s a very real concern that could have very real consequences all over the world, and we’re on it.

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