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Natural Resources Commission declares climate emergency

As a new decade begins, scientists, world leaders and environmental activists are warning about the dangers of climate change and scrambling to address threats it brings to their communities.

To show their commitment to addressing the town’s vulnerability to climate change, the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission passed a resolution declaring a climate emergency. With support from the Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, Wellesley is taking steps to identify climate change hazards and develop actions to reduce risks.

Municipalities that complete the MVP planning process become certified as MVP communities and are eligible for MVP Action grant funding and other opportunities.

In Wellesley, the Board of Selectmen, Board of Health, Planning Board, Natural Resources Commission (NRC), and Wetlands Protection Committee worked together to submit an MVP program application. Wellesley was accepted into the MVP program in July 2019 and received a $25,000 planning grant. Since that time, elected leaders and town staff, business representatives and community members have collaborated to develop Wellesley’s Vulnerability Assessment Report. Once completed, the report will act as a blueprint, guiding the town’s efforts at improving resiliency in the face of climate change. A new campaign, “Wellesley Will: Build A Sustainable Future,” and logo were created to promote town efforts to address climate change and improve resiliency.

A two-part workshop was held in November, where staff, volunteers and local sustainability leaders outlined key assets and vulnerabilities. A public listening session followed in December, where attendees provided valuable feedback. The workshop and listening session resulted in a priority list of action steps to improve resiliency, including three top action steps for the community: creating sustainable landscapes, improving storm water management, and improving the town emergency communication system.

Town leaders know the effects of climate change will be far-reaching, impacting town resources and the health and well-being of residents, both now and in the future. “Temperature changes have the potential to exacerbate existing health conditions, such as asthma and cardiovascular disease, and lead to the emergence of new diseases,” said Health Department Director Lenny Izzo. “Our local public health infrastructure should have the resources to plan for and prepare for these potential impacts.”

The effects of climate change are already visible in some of Wellesley’s natural resources. “Drought in recent summers has significantly impacted Wellesley’s tree canopy, and warmer water temperatures have increased the growth of invasive aquatic plants requiring expensive weed harvesting to keep drinking water safe and protect ponds, streams and other bodies of water,” said NRC Director Brandon Schmitt.

With approximately 10 percent of land in wetland areas, Wellesley will also need to prepare for changes in water levels due to rising temperatures. “Despite well-maintained infrastructure, we’ve also seen more localized flooding due to the increased intensity and duration of rainfall,” explained Schmitt.

By declaring that the climate crisis is an environmental emergency, the NRC board hopes to increase public awareness and compel the local community and elected officials to shift their thinking into climate emergency mode. The NRC board resolved to commit resources toward educating the public and town government about the local impacts of climate change, to include the climate emergency as an agenda item at every NRC meeting, and to explicitly consider the climate emergency in all of its decision making.

Monthly updates about the “Wellesley Will” campaign and actions outlining how Wellesley is addressing the climate crisis will be forthcoming.

For more information about the MVP program, visit https://www.mass.gov/municipal-vulnerability-preparedness-mvp-program.

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