In March 2015 staff attorney Amy Laura Cahn testified before City Council that flooding and extreme weather especially affect the city’s most vulnerable residents, particularly those with limited resources.
According to studies released in 2014 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Philadelphia has experienced a 650% increase in “nuisance flooding” events, which cause road closures, overwhelmed storm drains, and damaged infrastructure. The effect leaves our most vulnerable residents, particularly those with limited economic resources, at most risk from extreme weather.
“In neighborhoods such as East Germantown and Eastwick, Philadelphia residents know this increase in flooding events firsthand,” Ms. Cahn said. “East Germantown has long-experienced extreme flooding, culminating in the summer of 2011 with over three inches of rain on one September day, which caused what has been reported to be the City’s first flood-related death.”
There are more problems than just flooding. Philadelphia is also forecasted to receive more heat waves above 95 degrees. This will cause Philadelphia to have one of the highest projected increases in power outages on the East Coast. This and the air quality impacts are certain to increase risk to seniors in particular, as well as those with respiratory disease.
While the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has done a good job cleaning storm drains and creating new inlets in Eastwick, PWD has no jurisdiction to address the risk of more catastrophic flooding. Uncertainty about when Eastwick will see a holistic federal solution to flood mitigation and the burden of rising flood insurance rates are just two out of several issues Ms. Cahn mentioned.
“It is clear that our decision-making as a city needs to evolve to protect these vulnerabilities caused by extreme weather, especially in response to climate change,” said Ms. Cahn.
Ms. Cahn provided several suggestions for Philadelphia officials such as making weather a required factor in decision-making when the City invests in infrastructure, formalizing Philadelphia’s new flood task force, including implementing FEMA’s Community Rating System, and city partnerships with residents to create a comprehensive public extreme weather emergency response plan.
The Law Center’s Garden Justice Legal Initiative, spearheaded by Amy Laura Cahn, is active in many types of environmental cases including environmental advocacy, the reconstruction of green space in vacant lots, and land degradation issues.