Facing Our Sustainability and Resiliency Challenges

April 19, 2021

Nikki Perry

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the terms “sustainability” and “resiliency” have taken on renewed significance. Though Georgia’s changing weather patterns do not pose an immediate threat like the pandemic, the trend is a slow-brewing crisis that necessitates long-term changes for the state’s municipal governments.

During an April 1 webinar jointly conducted by GMA and the Georgia Conservancy, panelists discussed the potential impacts of droughts, storms, heat waves, hurricanes and other weather events on cities, as well as big and small ways that cities can prepare.

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Sustainability/Resiliency Definitions, Katherine Moore, President, Georgia Conservancy

Climate Trends in Georgia: What They Mean for Towns and Cities, Pam Knox, University of Georgia, Agricultural Climatologist, Director, UGA Weather Network

Climate Resiliency Planning for Local Governments, Courtney Reich, Vice President, Environmental, Goodwyn Mills Cawood

Athens-Clarke County Climate Resiliency Opportunities, Mayor Kelly Girtz

"I think sometimes it can be a little overwhelming to sit and listen to all of the potential issues that cities and counties will be facing in the future as it relates to changing climate," said Courtney Reich, vice president of Goodwyn Mills Cawood, an architecture and engineering firm that manages sea level rise mitigation projects on the Georgia coast.

"There's a lot of low-hanging fruit, and there's a lot of things that you can be doing now to prepare for these extremes and stresses that you'll be facing in the future," she said. 

Panelist Pam Knox manages the University of Georgia’s statewide weather network and is climatologist for the state’s agricultural industry. She provided data showing how precipitation patterns are changing across the country, forecasting periods of heavier rain and more dry spells for Georgia. Infrastructure planning is key if cities are to prepare for increased flooding, erosion, water supply shortage, heat-related energy demands, and impact on outdoor workers and underserved populations.

"A lot of the solutions to these problems can also save cities money," Knox said. "If you can do something that saves you money and is good for the environment, then that's a win-win." 

The panelists suggested that cities take advantage of existing planning and permitting processes to identify infrastructure weaknesses. Hazard mitigation planning, water withdrawal permitting, stormwater infrastructure inventory, and comprehensive planning are all opportunities to pinpoint small and large projects to prepare for the future.

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz also recommended that communities keep an eye on density.

"In any cityscape, if people have to drive long distances, if people are spread out, you're creating new costs and new challenges for your community--increased road maintenance, increased vehicle consumption and fuel consumption," Girtz said.

The consolidated government is investing $45 million in affordable housing and revitalization adjacent to downtown. "We are creating greater resiliency because we are putting people next to things that they already want to access," Girtz said.

Involving members of the community has also been a strategic way to bring some energy to these initiatives. Many communities like Athens-Clarke County have citizen advisory boards that monitor the government’s work and generate community support for SPLOST-funded projects.

Georgia Conservancy President Katherine Moore emphasized that it is important for cities to start addressing these issues now. "A stable community should have those sustainable practices and be building resiliency," she said.

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