On the night of Aug. 20, 2018, I left my office in Madison to drive home to Waunakee. There had been weather warnings for severe thunderstorms and flash floods, and the rain continued as I drove west on University Avenue. By the time I reached the Middleton city line, the rain was coming down harder than I’d ever seen before. I pulled into the parking lot of the Imperial Garden restaurant, which is located at the top of a hill, to wait for the storm to pass.
From the hilltop, I could see hazard lights flashing through the darkness and rain below. Two hours later, when the rain finally eased up and I was able to continue driving, I could see that the hazard lights were from cars trapped in floodwaters at the bottom of the hill. I realized that, by pulling over when I did, I had narrowly escaped the floodwaters myself.
The rains of August 2018 set records, killed one person, and caused more than $150 million in damage in Dane County. And floods like we saw in 2018 are likely to become more common.
Dane County’s climate is changing. Our weather is becoming hotter and wetter. More of our rainfall is coming in torrential downpours that cause flooding.
The ultimate cause of this changing climate is our use of fossil fuels. Burning coal, gasoline, and other fossil fuels introduces more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a greenhouse effect that increases temperatures.
Climate change affects the entire planet, and the scale of the problem can seem overwhelming. But we at the local level in Dane County can use the tools we have to help.
Earlier this year, the Dane County Office of Energy and Climate produced a Climate Action Plan. On Oct. 15, the county board voted to ratify it. As the county board member who represents Waunakee and part of Westport, I was proud to co-sponsor the resolution that approved the plan.
The plan focuses on what county government can do. Of course, our work will be easier if we have support from the state and federal governments, but we can’t afford to wait for others.
Following the plan, the county will replace gas-powered vehicles with electric vehicles, install rooftop solar panels, increase the use of wind power, build anaerobic digesters for processing manure into green energy, and protect local forests and wildlife areas. The entire 195-page plan can be read online at daneclimateaction.org.
And the work has already begun. Solar panels are going up at county facilities, including the Law Enforcement Training Center in Westport. The county has built manure digesters in the town of Vienna north of Waunakee, and in the town of Springfield south of Waunakee. The county has protected key pieces of open land in low-lying areas, which will divert floodwaters during heavy rain.
Climate change may be the defining crisis of the 21st Century. The problem goes far beyond the borders of Dane County, but we still share responsibility for confronting it locally. By implementing the Climate Action Plan, Dane County will be a local leader in this worldwide effort.
Tim Kiefer represents District 25 on the Dane County Board of Supervisors.