Guest Voices: Ensuring a Sustainable DC is Critical

Todays guest post is from Mayor Vincent C. Gray who talks about the importance of sustainabilty in Washington, DC amidst  rising environmental concerns.

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Mayor Vincent C. Gray

The District of Columbia is a rapidly growing city. More than 1,100 new residents are moving into our city every month, dozens of construction cranes dot the skyline, and new businesses are popping up in every ward. With new growth and economic opportunity, we need to make sure these new amenities, jobs, and opportunities are available to all District residents. At the same time, our growing economy can quickly change if we do not ensure that our city is safe from the threats of a rapidly changing climate.

Superstorm Sandy, for example, which caused approximately $65 billion of damage in New York and New Jersey, narrowly avoided the District. Had the storm hit us with the same force, it is estimated that the city would have seen a 20-foot storm surge up the Potomac River that would have inundated much of downtown, including federal buildings, our wastewater treatment plant, and other neighborhoods along the water. However, severe storms are not the only environmental threat to the District. We are also at risk of more frequent flooding and hotter summer temperatures. Because the District is relatively low-lying, it is vulnerable to flooding due to rising sea levels – even during times with few severe storms expected. The District has already seen a foot of sea-level rise since 1930, and could experience another four feet of rise by 2080. This rise in water levels would take a significant amount of our precious 62 square miles of land area.  But perhaps the biggest threat to community health and well-being in the District is extreme heat, which causes more deaths each year than other natural disasters, such as hurricanes or tornadoes. In the past three years, which have been among the hottest on record, the District saw 21 days over 95 degrees. Current projections show six times as many extreme heat days by 2080. Death from overheating is especially dangerous for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. Additionally, warmer temperatures can also lead to increased rates of infectious diseases.

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Fortunately, the District is taking action now to prepare for these changes. In February 2013, I released the Sustainable DC Plan, an initiative that will not only help make the city more secure, but ensure that the District becomes the most sustainable city in the country. Sustainable DC includes ambitious goals to reduce citywide energy use by 50%, increase our use of clean energy to 50%, retrofit 75% of our landscape to capture rainwater, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 50%. Even before the official plan was released, we had begun taking action. Of the 143 actions listed in the plan, 66 are already in motion, including studying the feasibility of undergrounding utilities to reduce power outages, developing a wind farm in the region to supply clean energy to the District, planting 8,600 new trees to keep the city cool and clean the air, and opening the first new streetcar line by 2014. These actions, combined with others listed in Sustainable DC Plan, will help to ensure that the District of Columbia does not simply survive, but continues to thrive, even in the face of environmental threats.

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For more information on Sustainable DC, visit www.sustainabledc.org or email sustainable.future@dc.gov.

Vincent C. Gray is the Mayor of the District of Columbia.

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