Westchester County has a population of close to one million people, with a land area of 431 square miles and a population density of 2,300 people per square mile. Situated in the Hudson Valley, the county consists of six cities, 19 towns, and 23 villages. It lies in a humid temperate/subtropical region — its temperatures highly regulated by the ocean, keeping the region from being too cold or too warm.
New York’s Hudson River is an estuary (i.e. where a freshwater river meets the ocean), turning the water brackish — that is, very slightly salty. Nurturing both saltwater and freshwater creatures, estuaries are one of the most important and productive ecosystems on earth. In fact, the Hudson estuary is home to some creatures New Yorkers might not think of as neighbors, including sharks, rays, and sea turtles. You can see these creatures at the New York Aquarium.
Because Westchester, the 2nd largest county in NY, is sandwiched between the Long Island Sound and the Hudson River, the county is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surges with predictions for the future significantly worse. Sea level rise for the Hudson River has averaged 0.11 inches per year from 1850 to 2017, nearly double the 1900–1990 mean global rate. Hudson River communities will not flood to the same degree as many parts of the US from the rise, thanks to the Hudson River’s steep banks, according to the NOAA’s Sea Level Rise Viewer. However, superstorms, which are becoming more common, are already seriously threatening Westchester; the County spent half a billion dollars to fix the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy alone.
Temperatures are also expected to rise in the Hudson Valley and Catskills more drastically than most of the U.S. due to climate change, with the region seeing temperatures four-to-five degrees higher by 2050 when compared to the late 20th century. As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change, its ecosystem will struggle to adapt. For example, “Vector-borne diseases” — those transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes and fleas — are expected to increase in the Northeast due to the broadening ranges of their hosts.
Warmer temperatures are also expected to create die-offs of conifers at high elevations, such as those found in the Catskills. Freshwater life such as salamanders, invertebrates, mussels, trout, and other cold-water fish are expected to be drastically diminished. The habitats of dragonflies and damselflies, “species that are a good indicator of ecosystem health along rivers” are expected to decline 45-99 percent by 2080 in the Northeast.
Westchester began stepping up to face this challenge early. In 2008, they passed the Westchester Action Plan for Climate Change and Sustainable Development. That plan focused on updating the Community of Westchester’s six-year-old greenhouse gas emissions inventory, recommending an emissions reduction goal, and developing an action plan for all sectors to achieve that goal. In developing the action plan, Westchester evaluated their energy, transportation, land use, water resources, and recycling industries. In December of 2015, Westchester’s Board of Legislators voted to make the County a New York Climate Smart Community, formally committing Westchester to a pledge of GHG emission reduction, decreasing energy use, climate-smart waste practices, and community climate change adaptation.
In January of 2020, the town of Ossining, Westchester was awarded a climate action grant of $100K to administer a collaborative working group tasked with completing individual government operations greenhouse gas inventories, and climate action plans that will outline emissions reduction targets, strategies, and projects.
Westchester’s energy system and usage is chronicled by its multiple municipalities, and thus hard to judge. However, in late 2014, a group of 17 Westchester municipalities formed a non-profit, Sustainable Westchester, which in May 2016, launched Westchester Power, New York State’s first Community Choice Aggregation Program (CCA) and signed a novel two-year agreement with ConEdison to supply 90,000 homes and small businesses with electricity at a fixed rate generated from wind, solar and hydro projects. Utility company Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, a sister company of ConEdison Solutions, now supplies these homes and businesses with electricity at a fluctuating rate from traditional sources, such as natural gas and nuclear. Under the contract, energy users will be able to select an option of 100% renewable energy or a slightly cheaper option that includes a mix of renewable and traditional energy.
Bedford, one of Westchester’s small towns (less than 18,000 people) created its own climate action plan in 2010, first calling itself Bedford2020 and now Bedford2030. In their first ten years, they reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 44% and set an aggressive new community-wide goal to reduce ghg emissions 80% by 2030 through “increasing renewable energy usage, phasing out fossil fuels, reducing waste and adopting clean and healthy water, land and sustainable food practices.
Most of Westchester has a moratorium on natural gas usage, which applies to new residential, and commercial and industrial customer gas service connections.