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Ocean Paddler Margo Pellegrino Visits Salem During 9-Day Paddle from Trenton to Newark To Highlight Sea Level Rise in South Jersey

For Immediate Release

Salem – Overlooking the Delaware River, Margo Pellegrino, an every-mom paddler who just finished the second day of her 9-day journey circumnavigating New Jersey’s coastal water, community residents and Environment New Jersey discussed the vulnerability of the Delaware River & Bay Shore to flooding and the impact climate change will have on extreme weather and sea level will have on communities and residents across South Jersey. 

Margo Pellegrino, a stay at home mother of two from Medford Lakes, began a nine day paddle in an outrigger canoe in Trenton yesterday. Pellegrino’s paddle from Trenton to Newark, as an agent of Blue Frontier (http://www.bluefront.org/files/ocean_explorers.php) is the first leg of a multi-year paddle from Trenton to New Orleans (http://miami2maine.com) during which she and organizational allies and environmental leaders along the way will draw attention to issues impacting our inland waterways and ocean and urge communities to take necessary action.

“You don’t need to believe in global warming to know that coastal flooding is a problem in South Jersey. With sea level rise expected to intensify in the coming decades, we’re going to see a vastly different Bay Shore. And that’s why acting on climate is so critical – and why Gov. Christie’s decision to pull us out a regional pact to reduce carbon pollution from our power plants is so disappointing,” said Margo Pellegrino, who’s leading the nine-day New Jersey paddle and a Medford Lakes resident.

New Jersey has seen the effects of climate change and will continue to see changes in sea level rise and increased storm surges for decades to come.  Heavy precipitation events in the Northeast have increased dramatically in the past two decades, occurring more than twice as often in recent years than during the past century.  This trend is expected to continue and will undoubtedly lead to increased floods within the region.  New Jersey’s sea level is also rising faster than the global average.  The latest Rutgers climate research predicts that by 2050, New Jersey’s coast will have already experienced a 1.5-foot sea level rise, and the Delaware Bay Shore is vulnerable.  As a result, the damages felt by floods will nearly double.

“South Jersey’s coastline is in the cross-hairs of climate change,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The coastline Margo is paddling will change drastically in coming decades, and it’s so critical we have state and federal climate action now before flooding gets worse.”

Environment New Jersey’s report, “In the Path of the Storm,” examined county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2007 through 2012 to determine how many New Jerseyans live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The results showed that South Jersey was being hit the hardest by extreme weather-caused FEMA disaster declarations, with Salem County racking up 6 disaster declarations, Burlington, Gloucester, Cumberland and Cape May Counties at 7 disasters, and Atlantic County led the state with 9 disasters.

Friday’s event comes on the heels of a near-record rainstorms across South Jersey earlier this week that dropped nearly nine inches of rain in Millville and created floodwaters reaching five feet deep in Millville, forcing residents to be evacuated by boats and flooding basements across the region.

“I do know the weather in the past several years has changed so much and the ocean waters have warmed causing some very strange weather. Thunderstorms in winter, floods in places that have been considered non-flood areas, tornadoes in New England and eastern states where there have never been any before and hurricanes that are like monsters taking over the earth, or at least the shore lines,” said Patti Rosenberg of Woodstown, who attended the event.

Advocates discussed the recent DEP coastal development regulations and their failure to acknowledge climate change as well as recent efforts to tackle global warming pollution from power plants by the EPA and state programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the impact of more extreme weather events in South Jersey, and documented their impact over the last few years across South Jersey. 

“It is hard to ignore the increased storms and flooding of my home state. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Northeast temperatures rose 2 degree F between 1895 and 2011 while rainfall increased by 10 percent and the region’s oceans have risen by about a foot. These are significant numbers that impact people and the data suggests that heavy rains and flooding will increase. The leadership of New Jersey needs to realize that climate change and its impacts are real and we want be part of the solution to curb our carbon pollution,” said Vicki Nichols Goldstein, executive director of the Colorado Ocean Coalition, a South Jersey native, and a supporter of Margo’s trip.

More than 50 people attended the NJDEP hearing last Friday in Trenton urging Gov. Christie to stay in the regulations that govern the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a landmark climate program to reduce global warming pollution from power plants across the Northeast. The public comment deadline extends until Friday, September 5 and the public can comment at: http://www.nj.gov/dep/rules/comments.

The proposed DEP coastal regulations, which has prompted the Senate Environment Committee to take the unusual step of holding a summer hearing on this coming Monday in Trenton, are seriously flawed. Environment New Jersey submitted more than 19,000 petitions from average New Jerseyans advocating to see the Shore restored in an environmentally responsible way. Citizens advocated for a flood-preventing infrastructure and the preservation of wetlands and beaches along the coast, as well as acknowledging and planning for climate change and working to reduce carbon emissions.

The DEP has not made any changes to the regulations based on impacts from Hurricane Sandy, sea level rise or storm surges, and it is proposing to have high-density developments in some of the most high-hazard areas of the state. Along the Delaware Bay Shore, growth centers in Cumberland County include areas that already have the largest increases in sea level like Fortesque, Sea Breeze, and Gandy’s Beach. These are exactly the communities that DEP should be focused on for Blue Acres buy-outs. 

“Margo is proving that one person can make a difference,” said O’Malley. “It isn’t easy circumnavigating the state for nine days in a canoe. But neither is solving the environmental hazards that threaten our coastline -- from sea level rise to fracking waste. She’s an inspiration.”

Climate Change & Extreme Weather Background:

O’Malley noted that every weather event is now a product of a climate system where global warming “loads the dice” for extreme weather, though in different ways for different types of extreme weather.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded that it is “virtually certain” that hot days will become hotter and “likely” that extreme precipitation events will continue to increase worldwide.

In the New York City metro area early Wednesday, more than a foot of rain fell in just a few hours, causing extensive flooding on Long Island. In Islip, New York had received 13 inches of rain, which set a preliminary state record for the heaviest 24-hour rainfall total in state history. This broke the previous record of 11.6 inches, set at Tannserville, New York in August of 2011 during Hurricane Irene. The pace of the rain was extreme, as Islip picked up 5 inches of rain between 5 and 6 a.m. , and another 4 inches in the following hour. In Baltimore, rain storms there dropped 6 inches of rain on the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Since the late 1950s, the heaviest rainfall events have become more common and more intense in much of the U.S., with the highest increase — 71% — occurring in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Scientists have attributed this in part to manmade global warming, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures, and more evaporation is also taking place.

This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water.

The Obama administration has proposed a $1 billion climate resilience fund aimed at helping communities adapt to climate change impacts that are already occurring, including heavy precipitation events. Studies, including the National Climate Assessment that was released in May, have found that the 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit increase in global average surface temperatures to date has already increased the odds of heavy precipitation events, heat waves, and coastal flooding in many areas.

Rutgers scientists and data managers announced a new climate change mapping website for New Jersey this week. The site – NJADAPT.ORG -- contains interactive maps that allow community planners to see how infrastructure, population and the environment are vulnerable to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea level rise.The site contains the new interactive maps as well as an older online self-assessment tool for towns and cities.

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