For N.J. Mayor, The Time To Adapt To Rising Sea Levels Is Now Hoboken, N.J., has experienced several major floods since Hurricane Sandy. Mayor Dawn Zimmer says her city isn't waiting to prepare for the effects of climate change.
NPR logo

For N.J. Mayor, The Time To Adapt To Rising Sea Levels Is Now

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
For N.J. Mayor, The Time To Adapt To Rising Sea Levels Is Now

For N.J. Mayor, The Time To Adapt To Rising Sea Levels Is Now

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

When NASA issued a dire warning recently about rising sea levels, one place where it was no surprise was Hoboken, New Jersey.

INSKEEP: That city sits on the Hudson River, across from New York. Ever since Hoboken was flooded by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, it's been putting together a plan defend against rising water.

MONTAGNE: Mayor Dawn Zimmer serves on the president's climate change task force. She outlined for us a four-part strategy Hoboken is calling Resist, Delay, Store and Discharge. Resist involves parks that soak up rain.

MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER: It would be literally building park as defense. So if we're going to build out this park, we should build it out in a way where it provides protection for the city. So that's the resist strategy. The delay: That means delaying as much as we can citywide to prevent the storm water from going down into the sewer system. In Hoboken, we have a combined sewer system, so we flood on a regular basis. So we want to retain that rainwater and use it as much as possible.

And then the store strategy: We're buying land on the western side of the city creating green infrastructures, storage tanks underneath those parks, and then the drainage. So we're moving ahead with low-interest loan for a pump. And also it would drainage pipes to drain that water out as much possible. But I think it really - it is feasible, and we're committed to moving ahead with this.

MONTAGNE: Though it does sound like a fair amount of infrastructure, which always says - to me, anyway - a lot of money. Where is Hoboken going to finance this?

ZIMMER: Well, we are part of Rebuild by Design, which is a HUD program started under Secretary Donovan. It's a design competition, and we're very much hoping that we will be one of the teams that are selected.

And this comprehensive plan could protect Weehawken, Hoboken and Northern Jersey City. And when you look at the shared assets - the Port Authority's assets, New Jersey Transit's assets, a hospital - you know, it's something where we need to turn the tide and look at really making the investment.

MONTAGNE: Well, are you planning on shifting some of this cost to businesses or homeowners, homebuilders - that is, requiring green buildings, for instance, that add less stress to the systems?

ZIMMER: Right, so we are already doing that. We passed a flood-prevention ordinance that says, you know, for future buildings, it has to be built with all of the utilities raised up, with the mechanicals for the elevators, for example, all raised up, so that those buildings in the future will be much more resilient going forward.

As a member of the, you know, President Obama's Climate Change Task Force, I'm continuing to advocate, for example, for changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, which would make it so that, you know, we could get money towards raising up our utilities. Right now, people in the city, you know, we're paying into this system where we don't really get much out of it. So I think we need to try and really look at those federal policies.

MONTAGNE: Well, I also wonder - it's now become clear that it is not if, but when sea levels will rise, and by how much. I'm wondering how you see Hoboken, your city, in a hundred years.

ZIMMER: Well, I mean, that's where I'm hopeful we're going to implement this integrated strategy that is going to enable us to live with water. You know, we potentially can be a model for this. And we need to sort of - again, when you go back and look at some of the federal policies, we need to step out and stop just paying, paying, paying these repetitive losses.

You know, we have an opportunity. I mean, we have an opportunity that, you know, is impossible for other species. I mean, so it really is about adapting. I'm sure that the dinosaur, if they could have predicted the Ice Age coming and observed it and developed a plan, they would have done that. But they couldn't do that. We can do this. We can adapt. And we must adapt. We see it in Hoboken. We are - and Weehawken and Jersey City.

We're living with climate change right now. We've had, again, four major flood events. So that means people's cars are totaled. People's homes are still, you know, getting flooded. And we're seeing it on a regular basis, these heavy downpours. So, you know, and to a certain extent, the climate change assessment report that just came out reaffirms what I know we absolutely have to do.

This is the number one priority for me, as the mayor of Hoboken, that this is the biggest challenge that our city is facing. We are living with this now, and we need to figure out a way to live with water.

MONTAGNE: Mayor Zimmer, thank you very much for joining us.

ZIMMER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Dawn Zimmer is the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.