Conclusion

While these main climate themes are at the forefront of FutureLV, Lehigh and Northampton counties’ Livable Landscapes plans and Walk/RollLV climate action, there are many facets in which the regional and county plans increase climate resiliency across the Lehigh Valley. The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, along with Lehigh and Northampton counties, have recognized the increased threat climate change poses to the region. Through the regional and county open space plans for the Lehigh Valley, climate action that fosters new growth, the protection of natural resources and active transportation networks is strongly embedded throughout its Goals, Policies and Actions.

Climate change is having profound impacts on the Lehigh Valley as rising temperatures increase health concerns for sensitive populations, air quality is compromised, water resources and aquatic habitats are threatened, and enhanced natural hazards create risks to persons, property and infrastructure, among many impacts. Beyond the foundational goals, policies and actions established by the regional plans stated above, much more needs to be done. The next step in the process is working on behalf of both counties and the local municipalities to establish a greenhouse gas inventory for the region. Further steps are to create a process to engage Lehigh Valley businesses, residents, academic institutions, local governments, county government and other interested persons in the discussion of the GHG inventory results, and the development of a work program for a regional climate action plan, culminating in the creation of ClimateLV: The Regional Climate Action Plan in coordination with our community engagement partners. The good news is the LVPC has already applied to participate with the PA Department of Environmental Protection Local Climate Action Program that starts later this summer and runs through Spring 2022. The program provides technical assistance to create the GHG inventory and subsequent climate action plan. The program works best with a hands-on approach by local partners, and we promise to accomplish that.

Monocacy Creek Runs Through Bethlehem's Colonial Industrial Quarter.

There are many other intended next steps as well. The Lehigh Valley Hazard Mitigation Plan was adopted in 2018 and is due to be updated by October 2023. The current plan addresses 25 natural and man-made hazards from flooding, droughts, extreme heat and winter storms to utility interruption and infectious diseases and pandemics. Although anticipated impacts of climate change are discussed in the plan, there is much more to do to fully prepare for the increased risks it brings for many hazards. COVID-19 issued a wake-up call, if needed, to be even more diligent in our risk assessments and mitigation actions.

Further, the greenhouse gas inventory has many implications for the Lehigh Valley transportation work program related to ensuring air quality is protected or enhanced with infrastructure improvements. Components of the greenhouse gas inventory can feed directly into the regional transportation air quality model and provide enhancements in our understanding of real impacts and direct policy moving forward.

Water management for the Lehigh Valley requires much greater attention as well. We need to remember no further back than August 2020 to Tropical Storm Isaias on how increased intensity of storm events can have great consequences. Peak storm runoff from Isaias in northwest Lehigh County was the highest ever recorded at local stream gages, leaving behind damage to transportation infrastructure (roads and bridges) in the millions of dollars. We now set aside specific funds in the LVTS Transportation Improvement Program for future storm damages, diverting the dollars away from many other critical transportation needs. We need to update our stormwater management planning to better account for climate change impacts, especially with requirements for green infrastructure components to project designs. We need to extend our stormwater management planning to assist local governments in meeting their ongoing and ever more restrictive obligations to improve stormwater discharge quality through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program. We also know we need to invest the same effort for when it doesn’t rain—when drought grips the region and impacts agricultural productivity and threatens water supplies for daily needs. As development progresses, it is imperative to focus more fully on the direct relationships between land use decisions and water management using an integrated water management approach. And lest we forget, FutureLV: The Regional Plan, which embodies the regional comprehensive plan and the LVTS Long-Range Transportation Plan, is on a 4-year update cycle, which begins in 2022. This represents an opportunity to reinforce all these climate efforts in the master plan for the region to help guide the counties and municipalities to mid-century and beyond.

So much to do and all essential to ensure the Lehigh Valley accepts the challenge to get to the forefront of climate action.

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