The Environmental Bond Act, also known as the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, included in New York State’s 2020-2021 budget, may be voted on by New Yorkers during the general election in November. The Bond Act will allocate a total of $3 billion to a variety of environmental protection programs and projects in four categories: restoration and flood risk reduction; open space land conservation; climate change mitigation; and water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure. The greatest percentage of spending will be on restoration and flood risk reduction, at a total of $1 billion.
The goal of the restoration and flood risk reduction program is to strengthen infrastructure and protect communities and ecosystems from extreme flood and storm events. To accomplish this, the Bond Act proposes investments in New York’s natural and man-made flood risk mitigation systems. Scientists estimate that flooding will cause over $50 billion in damage to New York within the next decade. Fortifying environmental and man-made defenses against flooding is essential to New York’s future success.
The first type of project, which fortifies natural barriers to mitigate flood risk, includes shoreline protection and local waterfront revitalization. One such program that will be established is the Conservation Corridors Program, which will restore critical habitats for fish and wildlife by:
- Investing in fish and shellfish hatcheries to raise fish for biodiversity restoration in the wild and improve recreational fishing sites.
- Conserving, restoring, and protecting up to 10,000 acres of freshwater wetlands, including urban wetlands and riparian buffers. It will also reconnect and replant 10,000 miles of stream habitat.
- Collaborating with Clarkson University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and other experts to design and implement protocols to mitigate and eliminate harmful algal blooms and invasive species.
- Incorporating dam infrastructure repair and removal as needed, keeping with the Bond Act’s mission of nature-based programming.
The second kind of project will involve a voluntary buyout program. The State’s voluntary Buyout and Acquisition Programs were established to purchase properties that were substantially damaged or destroyed in Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, or Tropical Storm Lee. The Environmental Bond Act seeks to expand this programming to cover preemptive storm damage and purchase coastal and wetland property to convert it into natural barriers that will mitigate flood risk. Nearly 85% of the state’s 32 million protected acres are privately owned. The Department of Environmental Conservation has already established the Landowner Incentive Program, which encourages private property owners to participate in essential habitat management with technical and financial assistance. The Restore Mother Nature Act will provide further funding for similar initiatives that will protect and restore both critical and endangered habitats across coastal and wetland areas to mitigate flood risk and increase resiliency.
The Environmental Bond Act promotes both resiliency and equity as it aims to protect vulnerable communities from the consequences of present and future flood events. The National Institute of Building Sciences found that every $1 spent on hazard mitigation can save society $6 in future physical disaster losses, not factoring in the economic disruption or social impact from future events. The organization Rebuild by Design estimates that investing in resilient infrastructure will not only save New York state money, but also will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Beyond the economic benefits of flood risk reduction infrastructure, the Bond Act will prevent cascading long- and short-term human health impacts and social conditions caused by storm events, such as power outages, emergency evacuations, exposure to hazardous substances, infectious diseases, storm related stress and mental health issues, and mortality.
Restoration and flood risk reduction programming is economically, ecologically, and socially valuable to all New Yorkers. The Bond Act promotes initiatives that will address storm event challenges from various angles to foster resilience against extreme storm events that are becoming more frequent with climate change.