Climate-Resilient Communities

A groundbreaking collaboration of scientists, policy advisers and local practitioners

The familiar patterns of rainfall, snow, and our four seasons are becoming less recognizable.

County Officials, Public Works Directors, Municipal Planners, and Natural Areas Managers in the watershed are noticing how the increase of extreme temperature and precipitation events where they live and work is challenging how they do business and assess risk. They overwhelmingly feel ill-equipped to respond to this “weirdness” that results in overtaxed infrastructure, public health risks and costs to already-stressed community budgets.

In response, HRWC is bringing together our community partners up and down the river to examine the topic of a changing climate and how communities in the watershed, and Michigan, can maintain quality of life under projected scenarios.

Looking for resources on climate change for the Huron River Watershed?  Visit our Climate Change page.

Strategic Partnerships

HRWC has assembled a team uniquely qualified to provide information, resources and support to key sectors in our communities.. The sectors are:

for practitioners involved with water utilities, wastewater treatment facilities, stormwater management

for dam operators, fisheries biologists, and hydrologists

for land managers involved with land preservation, wetland restoration, and floodplains management

The project team of HRWC, GLISA and River Network aims to equip participants with the information they need to make good decisions about adapting to climate change impacts. The groups review various climate scenarios, discuss best practices and case studies on adaptation strategies and gain commitments for action. The project strives to create “climate-resilient communities” that know how to reduce their vulnerability and risk associated with current and forecasted conditions.


Following six monthly meetings, the sector groups established and are pursuing the following adaptation strategies:

The Water Infrastructure team is advocating for precipitation frequency data that reflects the best available climatic information.  Precipitation frequency curves establish the severity, duration and probability of occurrence of storm events and form the basis of many decisions such as storm drain sizing and definition of floodplains.   The team is also establishing a list of “no-regrets” actions that if pursued would create resiliency to climate change.

Download report: Improving stormwater management in the Huron River watershed

The In-Stream Flows team is establishing a network of dam operators to better coordinate the management of flows in the river in anticipation of more extreme flow conditions.  The network facilitates improved day-to-day management of individual dams, the river as a whole and improves readiness for flood conditions and drought.

Download report: Improving information access and communication among dam operations of the Huron River mainstem

The Natural Infrastructure team is investigating how key tree species in the watershed are expected to be impacted by changing temperature and precipitation regimes. Understanding if future conditions are expected to be favorable or unfavorable to various species will give insights as to how natural communities may change.  This has implications for acquisition, management and restoration of natural lands.

Download report: Review of climate impacts to tree species of the Huron River watershed

Tree Resilience Toolkit: A primer on climate impacts and resiliency strategies for tree species of the Huron River watershed.  This webpage incorporates data from the Natural Infrastructure report with emerging management options for improving climate resiliency within our area’s tree and forest resources.

Model Approach for Rivers and Watersheds

HRWC has created a model watershed process to address local climate change impacts through this project that takes participants in each sector group through a series of facilitated discussions to accomplish the following:

  • Provide participants with the most up-to-date predictions of how climate trends likely will impact the watershed, in general and specific to each sector;
  • Explore participants’ programmatic capabilities to address climate change, and what activities and programs to plan for climate change are already underway in the watershed;
  • Share best practices for addressing impacts from climate change in each sector and consider potential projects or initiatives that would be effective and feasible at preparing communities for climate change;
  • Identify what participants need (resources, barriers removed, policies changed) to successfully implement these best practices, projects, and initiatives; and
  • Create a training opportunity for peer organizations in Michigan to lead parallel efforts in their watersheds.

Local strategies are expected to feature action items for water efficiency and infrastructure improvements, rate structuring improvements, information and education elements, and wetland and floodplain (green infrastructure) goals.  Regional or statewide goals would focus more on county or state regulation, permitting, and ordinance changes.  The Huron River watershed climate adaptation plan will feature prioritized action items, with timelines, costs, and responsible parties ready for implementation.

Project Timeline

December 2011: Thirty people attended the project kickoff that featured presentations from the project team.

Dr. Jeffrey Andresen, Associate Professor and the State Climatologist for Michigan with Michigan State University’s Department of Geography

Wendy Wilson, National Director of Water and Energy Programs, River Network

Dan Brown, Research Associate, GLISA

January-July 2012: Over six months, each sector group convenes for monthly meetings. During meetings 1 and 2, groups identify climate change challenges specific to them, and brainstorm strategies for addressing those challenges. During meetings 3 and 4, groups identify resources and timelines to implement those strategies. The groups finalize summary documents with action plans for their respective communities during meetings 5 and 6.

Fall 2012: Pursue adaptation strategies and develop products summarizing climate data, impacts to sectors and recommended strategies for building resilience to climate change in our communities.

March 26, 2013: Stakeholders from the watershed  reconvened in plenary meeting to share their findings and explore common future directions for the project.

Spring 2013: Initiated year two focused on broad adoption of year one strategies and identification of additional priority strategies to pursue.

Summer 2014: Initiated new sector team addressing the impacts of climate change on Hazard Mitigation and Emergency Preparedness.

Contributions from our funders make the work possible:
Mott Foundation, Friedman Family Foundation, City of Ann Arbor, Porter Family Foundation, Esperance Family Foundation, Upton Foundation, Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, and GLISA

Read a press release: Family Foundations Join Together To Support Innovative Effort To Create “Climate Resilient Communities”

Contact Project Manager Rebecca Esselman for more information.

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