La Crosse will be the focus of a four-month pilot program to develop ways to better prepare for more extreme weather and other effects attributed to climate change.

La Crosse city and county officials and staff will have a four-hour workshop Tuesday on adapting to more frequent events such as the torrential August rains that triggered flooding in 2007 and 2010.

“What used to be an anomaly ... that now is something you see every couple of years,” said Sally Kefer, a land-use team leader with the state Department of Natural Resources.

The aim is “to get the science of climate change in front of this group ... and to get them thinking where in the community we might have specific concerns we can plan for in the future,” said Amy Peterson, city planning and economic development administrator.

The program will be conducted by the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, which tapped La Crosse for the study in January.

Though city staff will provide some work time, the program primarily will be paid for with a $10,000 grant to WICCI, Kefer said.

The group — which includes the University   of Wisconsin, the DNR and 70 other agencies and institutions — has done workshops with other municipalities in the past, such as Eau Claire and River Falls.

But this program will be more extensive, involving a number of state and local experts to develop a plan that could become a model for other communities statewide, Kefer said.

The program is expected to consider all potential options, from upgrading infrastructure to better channel stormwater to promoting home rain gardens and keeping street drains and culverts clear.

Some would be relatively quick and easy adjustments, others long-term investments. 

“It’s very much an idea-generating project,” Kefer said.

The timing is good, officials said, since La Crosse County is in the process of updating its emergency plan.

This project won’t, however, include new regulations or override plans already in place for other area communities. Though it might offer ways to enhance those plans, any final decisions would be up to local governments, she said.

Nor will the project debate whether climate change is happening, Kefer said.

“It’s not a feeling,” she said. “It’s been demonstrated by scientists at our universities.”

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