As severe storms and environmental threats loom larger, communities across Massachusetts are taking charge of their future through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program—a collaboration between the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), local governments, Mass Audubon and The Nature Conservancy.
More than 82% of the 351 municipalities across the Commonwealth have received planning grants to host workshops that help communities prioritize their response to climate change impacts. Based on a Community Resilience Building framework developed by TNC and led by more than 500 TNC-trained service providers, the workshops help cities and towns understand future climate change impacts to natural hazards like flooding; identify their strengths and weaknesses across social, environmental and infrastructure sectors; and build an action plan to tackle those issues.
“On top of traditional hazard mitigation planning, we also aim to bring both climate change and the role of nature and its benefits to the forefront of conversations about building resilience,” says Sara Burns, water resource scientist for TNC in Massachusetts.
Thus far, EEA has awarded more than $28 million in action grants to dozens of communities across Massachusetts, enabling them to implement their priority resilience projects. 2020 saw the largest amount yet, with more than $10.5 million in funding going to 52 cities and towns to address ongoing climate change impacts on the ground.
During the first few years of the MVP program, more and more of the funded proposals have involved nature-based solutions—i.e., using natural systems to help reduce risks to lives and livelihoods, which enhance safety, avoid costs and foster nature and social equity.
For example, cities like Worcester and Melrose submitted action grant proposals in 2020 to build green infrastructure, like rain gardens, in parking lots to reduce flooding and stormwater runoff. Towns like Chelmsford and Easton are looking to pursue restoration efforts, of streams and wetlands respectively, to improve resiliency and community safety, and the town of Gosnold received funds for land conservation.
Furthering Community Resilience
In addition to supporting the program’s resilience building workshops, TNC in Massachusetts is providing matching funds for three municipalities that are in the action phase of the program in 2020. The projects range from building flood resilience on the Island End River in Chelsea and Everett, to restoring wetlands in Easton, to mapping impervious surfaces in Holyoke to better manage stormwater. TNC will work with these communities to develop NBS trainings for neighboring municipal staff.
“TNC is advocating for improving existing funding and establishing new sources of revenue to expand opportunities for long-term funding for MVP and state planning,” says Steve Long, director of government relations for the Massachusetts chapter. “We are also seeing other states adopt and consider similar resilience-building programs—Rhode Island recently launched a statewide Municipal Resilience Program and we have consulted through the U.S. Climate Alliance with five other states.”