Flooding in Flat Rock in 2011

Our weather patterns are definitely becoming less recognizable! Remember the really warm and early spring (and the frost snap where we lost our prized fruit!), to the summer drought and heat with little to no water in the river, and now to Sandy who devastated much of the East Coast and gave us early sleet and wind gusts that caused power outages.

And why isn’t climate change and adaptation a conversation in the current elections?  There may be disagreement about who caused the mess we are in, but there can’t be disagreement about the massive climate extremes we are experiencing. Storms are increasing in number per year, by intensity, and by the amount of rain.  Republicans and Democrats are now talking about building and re-building our cities to be more climate resilient.

Increasingly, community leaders, planners, and natural resource managers are expressing the need to understand local impacts of climate change and implement adaptation strategies. The HRWC has been leading an effort to create climate-resilient communities within the watershed by working with three sectors likely to be significantly impacted by climate change and in a position to take actions to reduce and respond to those impacts.

Downscaled climate models predict more frequent large rain events, a shift in the timing of these events, and increases in the frequency and severity of droughts. These changes threaten safety of residents via increased risk of flooding, stormwater runoff, infrastructure failure, availability and quality of drinking water and the quality of natural areas that mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events.

HRWC has created a model process for watersheds where need is determined by sector members. The process creates climate-informed decision-makers who can influence relevant practices, policies and emergency management.  Participants representing in-stream flows (dam operators, fisheries biologists, hydrologists), natural infrastructure (wildlife biologists, aquatic ecologists, natural lands managers), and water infrastructure (drinking water, wastewater, stormwater professionals) sectors have met over the last year to discuss local climate data, determine vulnerabilities and decide a course of action to reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Actions currently proposed for implementation include:

-Initiate and coordinate a network of dam operators to improve preparedness and communications strategies for larger, more frequent storm events and drought conditions and allow for proactive management to changes in flow and exchange of knowledge and solutions

-Revision of regional rainfall frequency curves to improve the ability to establish appropriate stormwater management regulations and storm drain sizing, reducing risk of flooding, property damage and infrastructure failures; and

-Report and provide training on predicted impacts to species and natural communities to inform urban forestry, land management and protection.

HRWC is collaborating with NOAA’s Great Lakes Integrated Sciences & Assessments Center (GLISA) to provide local climate data. The River Network, EcoAdapt and others are following this effort in order to export the process to other watersheds.