Assessment concluded that the changing climate has put Easton at increasing risk for damaging flooding and extreme heat.
Easton’s susceptibility to the effects of climate change was presented to the city in a detailed assessment prepared by Lafayette College and Nurture Nature Center (NNC), a local center dedicated to engaging the public in learning about environmental risks.
Created with data collected by Julia Nicodemus, associate professor of engineering studies, and Benjamin Cohen, associate professor of engineering studies, students in their upper-level, project-based Sustainable Solutions class, and with guidance from NNC Science Director Kate Semmens, the assessment concluded that the changing climate has put Easton at increasing risk for damaging flooding and extreme heat.
Lafayette’s participation in the project coincided with Easton’s goal to cut greenhouse emissions citywide by 30 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, a goal endorsed by City Council. Both the vulnerability assessment and mitigation goal are part of Easton’s commitment to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, which was formed in response to the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.
“Working on this report was a great opportunity for our students in Sustainable Solutions,” says Cohen, who with Nicodemus and their students examined the four neighborhoods of Easton to assess the amount of impervious surfaces and tree cover and map the data using GIS software. “The students built extensive map overlays and brought together complicated data sets to show how climate change will exacerbate current environmental and public health issues in the city.”
Their results showed that the downtown and West Ward neighborhoods face the most risk as a result of climate change. The downtown, at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers, is the most at risk in terms of flooding, with a large, vulnerable population, including the elderly. Easton’s West Ward, while not flood-prone, is considered susceptible to extreme temperatures based on its high percentage of heat-absorbing impervious surfaces and low percentage of cooling tree canopies.
For the students, the project was exhilarating. “Working on the vulnerability assessment was a rewarding experience,” said Andrew Winn ’18 (engineering studies). “With guidance from Professors Cohen and Nicodemus, our class was given a significant responsibility in putting this report together. There aren’t many classes that end with a tangible product that benefits the community.”
Easton Public Works Director Dave Hopkins says the assessment reiterated a need to remain vigilant, especially after the flooding in 2004, 2005, and 2006, the worst the city has seen since the 1950s. Hopkins says the report memorializes the city’s main environmental vulnerabilities and ties them into climate change.
“It’s saying things are not going to get better. The report made us go back and review our internal procedures,” he says. “It’s been 13 years since the last flood. You get busy with other things, so you don’t want to get complacent.”