Dane County is taking climate change seriously and plans to make a nearly $1 million investment next year to handle big rainstorms, heavy blizzards and more runoff into farm fields.
The $508 million county budget for 2014 to be introduced by County Executive Joe Parisi on Tuesday will include money for everything from 16 new Sheriff's Office vehicles that can power through deep snow to larger culverts to handle copious amounts of storm water.
“We’re looking at warmer and wetter weather and preparing for the potential challenges,” said Parisi in an interview.
Dane County may have already experienced what a warmer Wisconsin could look like. Last year saw a summer drought, a winter of few but major snow events, a quick spring meltdown and then summer thunderstorms that brought flooding.
UW-Madison climate scientists are now predicting that by 2050, statewide annual average temperatures are likely to warm by 6 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, with three or more weeks per summer where temperatures exceed 90 degrees.
The state is also likely to see a trend toward more precipitation overall continue, with the most probable increases in winter, spring and fall. Soil erosion rates could double by 2050 from 1990 levels.
Those predictions are included in a new county report “Climate change and Emergency Preparedness” which lays out a host of scenarios, not all of them bad.
On the positive side is a longer growing season, which could boost agricultural production and make some crops better suited to southern Wisconsin.
But the report says a warming climate might mean more gray squirrels, white-tailed deer, European starlings and Canada geese, species with potential negative impacts on the environment, not to mention the typical backyard.
While those changes might occur pretty far down the road, county officials are already taking steps to address some of the storm events that have overwhelmed emergency responders of late.
In addition to replacing traditional County Sheriff cruisers with 4-wheel drive SUVs, the county is looking at converting Parks Department vehicles to “blizzard busters” by adding tractor-treads. They also plan to connect parks rangers with public safety officials via an improved radio system.
“Last year we had motorists stranded on the road we couldn’t reach,” said Parisi.
As part of the budget, Parisi is looking to convert other county vehicles to cleaner-burning compressed natural gas (CNG), a fuel produced as a byproduct of the Rodefeld county landfill across from the Yahara Golf Course. He says the cost of CNG vehicles is offset by the lower costs of the fuel.
“By converting to CNG we are helping on both ends by reducing our own climate-changing emissions,” says Parisi.
Also, the county is expecting to bring its second manure digester, located in the town of Springfield, on line. The digesters produce electricity while controlling the release of methane from animal waste, which can generate 20 times the global warming gases as coal burning.
The County Executive’s 2014 budget includes $981,000 in capital dollars for climate change adaptation initiatives:
- $100,000 for the acquisition of special equipment to help remove and trim trees in the county parks system damaged by storms. The new equipment would be driven on tracks, allowing it to access all types of terrain.
- $250,000 dedicated solely for the replacement of outdated culverts under roads. These culverts help move runoff along after heavy rainfall. Many aren’t equipped to handle the volume that comes with big storms, resulting in backups into valuable agricultural lands and in some cases, flooded highways.
- $40,000 for radios that connect park rangers to DaneCom.
- $60,000 blizzard buster track technology for park ranger vehicles.
- $10,000 emergency sandbag fund to help responders and communities react quickly to high water events.
The budget also includes $3.8 million for energy and fuel efficiencies that will save the county operating dollars and reduce its carbon footprint:
- $1.6 million in energy efficiency upgrades for the county’s human services building on Northport Drive. This facility currently has 58 different heating and cooling units that are several decades old. Replacing these systems and installing automated and LED lighting are examples of the planned upgrades. The county spent $109,100 on utilities at the facility in 2012.
- $2.3 million to purchase 9 CNG snowplows that run on the cleaner burning, cheaper fuel from the landfill.