Flooding (copy)

Rising flood water approaches the front steps of townhouses on East Mifflin Street near Livingston Street in downtown Madison in August 2018. 

As the Madison region anticipates warmer temperatures and heavier rains in the future, the city and UW-Madison are partnering in a new effort to identify and proactively plan for the risks that climate change poses for infrastructure and operations. 

City staff will be working with the UW Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Wisconsin Institute on Climate Change Impacts and UW-Extension Dane County through April 2020 to determine these risks and propose adaptation strategies.  

“With this collaboration, we will map out the most significant impacts and the necessary actions to prepare our city for the climate impacts that we know we’ll face,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said. 

The partners will report their results that include action steps on major findings to the mayor, City Council and Sustainable Madison Committee. 

Madison is already experiencing climate change, including an increase in precipitation and flooding. In August 2018, Madison responded to historic rainfall that caused flooding on the west side and isthmus. 

Rhodes-Conway said the city is “already starting to plan for a wetter future.” She said responding to the effects of climate change can have a noticeable effect on the city’s budget and operations.  

Following last year’s flooding, the city launched a plan to analyze eight watershed areas in an effort to design a more resilient stormwater system. The studies are meant to help identify existing problems, develop solutions and prioritize improvements. 

Deputy Mayor Christie Baumel said the partnership is important to ensure the city is “flexing that muscle and getting ourselves into the habit of always thinking in terms of what our future climate needs are.” 

Baumel said the results could be large in scope like the watershed studies or smaller tweaks to how the city approaches climate issues. 

“We have clear indications of what we expect to see from the science, so it’s just doing our due diligence in government to make sure that we’re looking at what that means for us and making sure we’re preparing,” Baumel said. 

Anticipated climate changes can affect the environment, public health, local infrastructure and demands on city staff. 

“These are critical questions for local governments and we're especially glad to see the UW-Madison working with the city to dig into this important work,” Paul Robbins, dean of the UW Nelson Institute, said. 

WICCI has also assisted Milwaukee and Dane County in climate-ready planning efforts. In Dane County, the partnership in 2013 led to the county's Climate Change and Emergency Preparedness Report. Since then, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi created the Office of Energy and Climate Change

The city expects this climate resilience planning work to be an ongoing process that continually considers future conditions in Madison’s planning, operations and investments. 

“We know that this is something we want to continue having at the front of our conscience,” Baumel said. 

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