Minnesota communities have not become any more prepared for climate change over the last three years even as nearly 90% said they have felt the effects, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
The state surveyed towns, cities and tribal governments across Minnesota for the first time since 2019 on their preparations for increased flooding, milder winters, more extreme storms and other effects of a warming world. Results were nearly identical to the survey three years ago.
One out of four municipalities — the same as in 2019 — said they have made no plans to adapt to a changing climate. Of those municipalities with climate strategies, typically to raise roads, upgrade stormwater pipes or plant more resilient trees, only 14% have taken action on those plans. Agency officials believe that climate change planning took a back seat to the more immediate threats of the pandemic.
"Communities are doing what they can with what they have," Katrina Kessler, MPCA commissioner, said at a presentation Wednesday. "We can see that many local governments have climate planning on their radar, but few are fully prepared for what we expect to see across the state."
More than 150,000 homes, nearly 30,000 miles of roads and 13,000 commercial buildings are at risk of severe flooding, Kessler said.
"We know those numbers are going to rise," she said.
The biggest need is money, said Terry Sveine, mayor of New Ulm.
New Ulm, at the confluence of the Cottonwood and Minnesota rivers, has been racked by both drought and flooding in recent years. The city needs to elevate the pumping stations of its drinking water wells and access roads to them so they can operate when waters are high, he said. Some stormwater pipes are 80 years old and need to be replaced. The city's storm water system was designed to handle up to 2,000 gallons a minute. Downpours in recent years have swelled that volume to as much as 10,000 gallons.
"Five times the amount," he said. "We need help, mainly ameliorating water issues."
Potholes in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield have been getting worse, as shorter winters have caused more freeze and thaw cycles, said Mary Supple, city council member.
"With extreme summer heat, those fortunate enough to have air conditioning have increased costs and there have been health impacts for those without air conditioning," she said. Dirty air from wildfires has made that problem even worse, she said.
The MPCA released the findings of the survey as it pushes state lawmakers to set aside $76 million for local governments to make their communities more resilient. About $21 million of that would go to replacing stormwater systems and pipes to deal with heavier rainfalls. The other $55 million would be given directly to cities through grants for broader projects ranging from stream bank restorations to shade tree plantings.
"If local governments are not equipped to manage these changes, residents and businesses will continue to bear the brunt of the destruction," Kessler said.