Rise Together: Building a stronger & more equitable Rhode Island - The Raimondo Administration
Rise Together: Building a stronger & more equitable Rhode Island - The Raimondo Administration

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Governor Raimondo Announces Resilient Rhody, Rhode Island's First Climate Preparedness Strategy

New Climate Resilience Action Strategy Developed by Chief Resiliency Officer's Working Group Offers "Clear Roadmap" to Address Vulnerabilities and Finance Urgent Projects to Help State Become More Resilient

PROVIDENCE, RI - Governor Gina M. Raimondo announced the completion of Rhode Island's first Climate Resilience Action Strategy today. Called Resilient Rhody, the comprehensive climate preparedness strategy identifies steps the state can take to better prepare for climate change.

"Whatever climate change deniers in Washington and elsewhere think, Rhode Island knows better," Raimondo said. "Our sea level has risen almost a foot since 1930, Narragansett Bay has warmed almost three degrees since 1960 and we're getting 10 more inches of rain a year than 60 or 70 years ago. By producing our first comprehensive climate action plan, however, Chief Resiliency Officer Shaun O'Rourke and Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank have given us a clear roadmap to address vulnerabilities in infrastructure, increase our level of preparedness, and finance urgent projects to become a more resilient state. It's the exact plan Rhode Island needs to combat climate change, and exactly what I envisioned when I signed the Executive Order to accelerate our Action Plan to Stand up to Climate Change last September."

Resilient Rhody was developed by a working group convened by the Governor and led by Rhode Island's Chief Resiliency Officer Shaun O'Rourke. Raimondo appointed him as the state's first Chief Resiliency Officer on September 15, 2017, to lead resiliency efforts across Rhode Island. The role of Chief Resiliency Officer is a natural extension of O'Rourke's official position as Director of Stormwater and Resiliency at Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank (RIIB).

The final report is a collective effort of 51 working group members from 13 state agencies and eight statewide organizations. The working group held 10 resilience roundtable conversations across the state in partnership with numerous stakeholder groups and municipalities, including Save the Bay, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and The Nature Conservancy.

"Resilient Rhody is about moving from planning to action and builds upon the strong climate leadership across our state," said O'Rourke. "While we have already made progress, there is still a lot of work to do and I'm looking forward to the continued partnership with state agencies, municipalities, organizations and communities as we implement the Strategy."

"Under the direction of Governor Raimondo, Rhode Island has moved decisively to identify the threats and combat the effects of climate change," said RI Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit. "Resilient Rhody clearly prioritizes the actions we must take to mitigate further environmental harm, protect public health and strengthen our state of preparedness. Shaun O'Rourke and Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank deserve great credit for producing such a detailed plan, which Rhode Islanders can accelerate into action by voting for the Green Economy and Clean Water Bond in November," Coit added. "The bond includes $5 million for coastal resiliency, $5 million for wastewater treatment plant resiliency and $4.4 million for dam safety."

The Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council, which is chaired by Coit, voted unanimously in June to endorse the Strategy put forth by the resiliency working group.

"The Infrastructure Bank is proud to have supported the development of this important strategy," said Jeffrey Diehl, CEO of Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. "We have already started working with municipalities to finance and implement resiliency projects and the actions identified in the strategy will only accelerate investment."

The Strategy identifies actions that will protect Rhode Island against sudden, unexpected severe weather events and address underlying chronic stresses, such as rising sea levels and aging infrastructure. The working group focused on catalytic climate resilience actions both within government and together with business, academic, and nonprofit partners. There are 61 identified, recommended climate resilience actions, which align with the Governor's goals.

For example, drinking water systems, which depend on surface and groundwater supplies, are vulnerable to sea level rise. This heightens the risk of surges from hurricanes and other coastal storms. Along with assessing the vulnerability of reservoirs located near the coast, the report recommends helping water suppliers in "developing local emergency interconnection programs to address supply vulnerability among small (water) systems throughout the state." The floods of 2010, which overwhelmed the Warwick sewage treatment plant and other facilities, made plain the vulnerability of Rhode Island's wastewater treatment facilities, mostly located in floodplains to take advantage of gravity-fed flows. The report recommends "treatment system and pumping station hardening projects" including the installation of "submarine doors; elevated, watertight protections of motor control centers; waterproofing and elevated instrumentation, windows, and hatches; and installation of standby power systems."

The report notes that although "solutions to mitigate the risks of climate change are highly local," making Rhode Island more resilient is going to require strategic decisions and investments at the state level. The barriers to paying for climate resilience projects include difficulty obtaining grant funding, misaligned or competing incentives, lack of sustainable revenue streams, lack of upfront capital, and limited ability to borrow funds.

"Several new financing models are emerging in response to these challenges and are intended to overcome them," the report states. These include environmental impact bonds, a Stormwater Accelerator financing program that RIIB is developing, creating resilience zones and the bonds to finance them, and financing that would allow private property owners to invest in resilience projects.

Citing a recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences, the report urges action, particularly on the need to fund and finance resilience projects. "[The National Institute of Building Sciences] found that each dollar invested in protection against natural hazards results in six dollars in benefits, primarily by avoiding future disaster costs."

Please visit http://climatechange.ri.gov/resiliency/ to read the Resilient Rhody report in full.