As the new session of Congress gets under way, there are many pressing issues facing our country, ranging from creating jobs to improving education.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, however, new light is being shed on one issue of particular importance for the Central Coast: preparing for the numerous impacts of climate change. Sandys devastation is a scary foreshadowing of what could happen with increased frequency down the road if our communities and infrastructure are not prepared for extreme weather, sea level rise and higher temperatures.
The urgency of this problem was highlighted by the first draft of the 2013 National Climate Assessment released in January. This report lays out in no uncertain terms the realities of climate change and its widespread impacts on everything from our coastlines to drinking water systems to family farms.
In a nutshell, we need to prepare, and we need to start now. Thats why it is so important that we work together in a bipartisan manner to address these challenges and help local communities implement comprehensive mitigation and adaptation strategies.
Additionally, investing in mitigation efforts now will reduce the cost both in dollars and in lives of recovering from future storms and extreme weather.
Our nations coastlines are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, where rising sea levels, greater erosion, higher tides and storm surges could impact everything from our transit systems to our drinking water.
In our own backyard, the Pismo Beach seawall has been designed specifically to prevent bluff-top erosion from causing a sewer lift station to fall into the ocean.
Indeed, many communities will face similar challenges in the years ahead and must have the flexibility to respond in a manner that works best for them. Yet, given the high upfront cost and the broad public benefit of successful mitigation efforts, the federal government has an important role to play.
Its why I have introduced the Coastal State Climate Change Planning Act, which would help coastal states get ready for future impacts of climate change. Whether its preparing for extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy, or gradual sea-level rise and erosion, its imperative that our infrastructure can handle it.
Of course, widespread impacts of climate change will affect people and communities in every state, not just those right on the coast.
In the decades ahead, severe droughts, melting snowpack, more frequent heavy rains and rising sea levels will create significant water quality and quantity challenges for our nations water and wastewater systems. The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies estimates that adapting to these challenges will require an additional $1 trillion in investment through 2050.
To address that need, I have introduced the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act, which would help local water agencies upgrade their water systems.
For example, utilities could use the funding to rebuild or relocate water infrastructure, develop new water supplies, increase water efficiency or study and identify future scenarios to prepare for.
Finally, these changing weather patterns will have a significant impact on agriculture and our economy. California is the most productive agricultural region in the world, contributing $39 billion per year to the economy and supporting more than 1 million jobs. California also ranks first nationwide in exports for specialty crops such as tree nuts, fruits and vegetables, and second in dairy production.
Agriculture is a billion-dollar industry in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties alone and is a mainstay of the Central Coast economy and way of life.
But this bounty is threatened by potential climate-related impacts, including more limited water supplies, higher temperatures, changes in pollinator life cycles and increased prevalence of pests. These will pose tremendous challenges for our farmers on the Central Coast.
Recognizing this, California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross established a new consortium of growers, educators and technical experts to study and make recommendations on climate change adaptation strategies.
As Congress renews consideration of the Farm Bill this year, I will renew my efforts to ensure that it includes measures to help our farm communities prepare for these climate-related changes.
While climate change presents us with tremendous challenges, it also provides us unique opportunities. Improving our infrastructure will create jobs and grow our economy in the short term, but it will also make our communities safer and our entire economy stronger in the long term.
These challenges are very real, but not insurmountable, and we cant afford to ignore them any longer.
Congresswoman Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, represents the 24th District.