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Governor O’Malley Signs Executive Order Helping State Prepare for Climate Change and Extreme Weather

ANNAPOLIS, MD  – Governor Martin O’Malley has signed a landmark initiative to increase the State’s long term resiliency to storm related flooding and sea level rise.  He signed the Climate Change and Coast Smart Construction Executive Order, directing that all new and reconstructed state structures, as well as other infrastructure improvements, be planned and constructed to avoid or minimize future flood damage.

“As storms such as Hurricane Sandy have shown, it is vital that we commit our resources and expertise to create a ready and resilient Maryland, by taking the necessary steps to adapt to the rising sea and unpredictable weather,” said Governor O’Malley. “In studying and planning for storms and climate change, we can ensure that our land, infrastructure, and most importantly our citizens are safe and prepared.”

The Executive Order enacts a number of policy directives, including directing all State agencies to consider the risk of coastal flooding and sea level rise when they design capital budget projects and charging the Department of General Services with updating its architecture and engineering guidelines to require new and rebuilt State structures to be elevated two or more feet above the 100-year base flood level.

“Over the past three decades, Maryland’s climate has become hotter and water levels within the Chesapeake Bay have continued to rise,” said Zoe Johnson, DNR’s Program Manager for Climate Change Policy. “The region’s recent extreme storms and weather have demonstrated just how vulnerable our natural resources and infrastructure can be to such events. The Executive Order will be instrumental in reshaping how we build along Maryland’s coasts.”

The Executive Order also charges the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to work with the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, local governments and other parties as appropriate, to develop additional Coast Smart guidelines within nine months, for the siting and construction of new and rebuilt State structures, as well as other infrastructure improvements such as roads, bridges, sewer and water systems, and other essential public utilities.  Recommendations for applying the new construction guidelines to non-state infrastructure projects that are partially or fully funded in the State’s capital budget will also be developed.

Additionally, the Executive Order tasks the Scientific and Technical Working Group of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change with providing updated sea level rise projections for Maryland. In 2008, the Scientific and Technical Working Group published sea level rise projections for Maryland, with a high end range of 3.4 feet by the year 2100. However, considerable new research on sea level rise has since been published requiring the updating of these projections, according to Dr. Donald Boesch, President of University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and chair of the Working Group.

For example, a study by the U.S. Geological Survey published this summer in the journal Nature Climate Change demonstrated that the 1,000 kilometer stretch of coast running from Cape Hatteras to north of Boston is a “hot spot” of sea level rise. The study found that since 1990, sea levels along this stretch, which includes Maryland, are rising at an annual rate three to four times faster than the global average. Dr. Boesch pointed out “the State should be using the most up-to-date sea level rise projections in order to ensure that state infrastructure is sited and designed in a manner that will avoid or minimize future loss or damages.” Revised sea level rise projections are to be issued by end of June 2013.

To assist local governments, DNR’s CoastSmart Communities Program will continue to provide on-the-ground sea level rise planning expertise, training, and technical mapping tools. Launched by Governor O’Malley in April 2009, Maryland’s CoastSmart Communities program has awarded more than a half-million dollars to coastal communities to help prepare for the anticipated impacts of climate change. In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the State provides grants ranging from $10,000 to $75,000 to coastal communities to support the planning and preparation. For more information on the CoastSmart Program or to submit a funding request, visit dnr.maryland.gov/CoastSmart

For more information on Maryland’s climate change adaptation efforts, visit http://www.dnr.maryland.gov/climatechange/

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