NEWBURYPORT — An expert in climatology Monday urged residents of the North Shore to begin preparing for a rise in river and ocean levels brought on by an increasing number of extreme weather events.
Dr. Cameron Wake of the University of New Hampshire said, “We’ve learned how to deal with snow; we’ve put money aside, we stockpile salt and sand, we have trucks ready to plow.
“Scientists know that more extreme weather events like floods and high water are coming. So communities have to begin preparing. It’s a difficult mission because developers make money by building near water. But we’ve got to start.”
Wake was addressing Storm Surge: The Merrimack Valley Coastal Adaptation Workshop, an organization created several months ago.
His presentation was entitled, “Climate Change in New England: Past, Present and Future.”
Speaking at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to about 40 residents, Wake said his research shows that there will be more extreme weather events in New England in coming years.
“More drought and more heavy rain,” he said.
His data reflected conditions in New Hampshire, and thus he did not focus on challenges at Plum Island or the central waterfront here.
But Wake fielded one question (from onetime City Councilor Larry McCavitt) about the financial challenges of creating commercial development on the central waterfront as the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority has tentatively proposed.
Wake said, “I don’t know the specifics of what is happening in Newburyport, but because I believe that flooding will increase, community leaders have to find out who is paying for insurance for any new building near the river.
“Make sure it is not taxpayer money. Based on the experience of New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy, there can be a huge public expense to extreme weather events.”
Organizers of Storm Surge say the group was created by residents who wanted to create a dialogue surrounding the belief that the sea will rise in the future and rivers may erupt over their banks.
When it was organized, the group was concerned about the storms and erosion that were threatening parts of Plum Island last winter.
Members are also concerned about the Merrimack River. A flier they created shows a 2007 photo of Cashman Park when the Merrimack River rose from its banks to cover all the ball fields and parking lots adjacent to the public recreation area.
Wake’s presentation appeared to confirm members’ belief that community leaders must start preparing for destructive weather events.
He said that creating energy-efficient buildings and ceasing to generate energy from fossil fuels are two ways to improve the environment while helping in the effort to slow global warming.
Wake said he is not a politician, and noted that community leaders must start talking with developers about the challenges of building adjacent to streams, rivers and the ocean.
“We have to change the way we look at development,” he said. “It’s not the economy vs. the environment but economy and the environment.
“As you are doing here, we must engage the community in a debate about preparing for global warming and sea rise. It’s a big job — we’ve got to want to do it.”
Storm Surge, organized by Elizabeth Marcus, Mike Morris and others, has scheduled about a half-dozen other presentations planned for fall.
The next is slated Monday, Nov. 4, at the refuge, when Dr. Rob Thieler of the U.S. Geological Survey in Woods Hole will address the topic of “Changing Climate, Changing Coasts.”