Aug 18, 2023 - News

Hogsett's budget aims to address effects of climate change

Illustration of the Indianapolis skyline inside of a glass jar.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Mayor Joe Hogsett's 2024 budget — introduced to the City-County Council this week — includes requests to make Indianapolis more resilient to a changing climate.

Why it matters: City officials say they need new resources to prepare for more dramatic weather patterns that will increasingly pose challenges to daily life.

  • Stronger storms bring down more trees, causing damage and snarling traffic.
  • Flooding is expected to become more frequent as precipitation totals and extreme precipitation events increase.

What's happening: Last month, three major wind events brought down a record number of trees into the public right of way, straining the capacity of the Department of Public Works — the city agency charged with clearing them.

  • Some 669 trees were down in the right of way, far above the average of 455 for July.
  • One storm brought down 219 trees, topping the previous record of 120 for a single non-tornado event and requiring clean-up crews to work through five days.

Details: The mayor is asking for five new employees in DPW to proactively address stormwater and tree issues, which DPW Director Brandon Herget says would help mitigate the effects of future storms.

  • One of the new positions would be a senior project manager for the stormwater division who would add to DPW's capacity to address drainage and flooding, Herget says.
  • Three others would be "field investigators" who would survey the county for potential problems.

What they're saying: "Rather than responding after the fact, we can be working more diligently to identify trees at risk of falling," Herget said.

The big picture: Climate change is already a suspected factor in extreme weather events, from hurricanes to droughts and resulting wildfires. In Indiana, a Purdue report finds that climate change will mostly bring extreme temperatures and precipitation that affects stormwater and river flooding.

  • Extreme rainfall events have increased over the last century, according to the report, and are expected to continue.
  • Heavy downpours affect water quality and can overwhelm wastewater systems, creating challenges for flood-control infrastructure.

Zoom in: After a dry start to the summer, recent downpours have already taxed the city's drainage system and temporarily flooded major thoroughfares.

The latest: Morgan Mickelson, director of the city's Office of Sustainability, announced last night the office will expand its scope and mission beyond DPW, where it's housed, to work with all city agencies on long-term sustainability planning.

  • "Climate change is here," Mickelson said. "We're experiencing more high-volume rain events, less snow in the winter, and it's becoming apparent across the U.S. that our infrastructure is not quite as resilient as we thought."

The bottom line: Resiliency planning needs to be driven by local vulnerabilities and the capacity to address them, said Therese Dorau, assistant director for climate policy and implementation at IU's Environmental Resilience Institute.

  • "The strategy that's most effective is the one you can start now," she said.

What's next: Council committees are hearing budget presentations over the coming weeks.

  • Hogsett's budget proposal is expected to receive a final vote from the council in October.
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