Climate Change in the Huron River Watershed

Photo taken May 2018 in Dexter, MI

Climate change is evident in the Huron River watershed already.  Average temperatures are warmer and we have more intense rainfall events. Models that predict future trends indicate that these increases will continue. The changes affect the plants, fish, and other aquatic organisms that help keep our rivers healthy and clean. The increases also affect the built environment and watershed residents.  HRWC works to build resilience in the natural and built environment in order to minimize the impacts of global climate change.

Here are several resources for people interested in learning more about how the climate is changing locally.

The below fact sheets  summarize the impacts of climate change on infrastructure, natural resources and public health.

Understanding Flood Risk

Each year we are experiencing 16% more precipitation than we used to in Michigan. A lot of this extra rainfall is occurring in more extreme events. In the Midwest our largest storms have rainfall volumes 43% greater than historical measurements. HRWC worked with a University of Michigan research team to understand how risk of flooding may change based on different future climate scenarios.

Impacts from more rain or snow in our area are many. Flooding is an obvious one, whether it be river flooding or road or basement flooding. But consider also what that water may be carrying. We have many known sources of environmental contamination from brownfield sites to buried gas tanks. Flood waters can pick up these toxics and move them around which increases the impact of flooding. Further, some groups may be more vulnerable to impacts from flooding. For example, the elderly may have a harder time leaving their home quickly due to a flood emergency or those who do not speak English as a first language may not receive warnings.

The map below shows an index of three factors: predicted future flood risk, density of environmental hazards or toxics, and social vulnerability. This map represents a potential future and can therefore help us think about places in our watershed where we may want to take actions and the best actions to take in order to prepare for increased flooding.

The color represents a 5-scale ranking and the orange (scale=4) and red (scale=5) colors indicate places where 1) flooding is more likely to occur as the climate changes, 2) more environmental hazards occur (contaminated sites, waste disposal facilities etc.), and 3) a higher portion of the population is vulnerable to disasters (elderly, children, minorities, etc.). Cheng et al, 2016*

Additional resources

  • Some of the best and most accessible information on climate change for our area is produced by GLISA
  • The most comprehensive and respected national resource on climate change is the Fourth National Climate Assessment
Check out HRWC’s Climate Change Projects here

*Cheng, C., Tsai, J-Y, Yang, E. Y-C, Esselman, R., Kalcic, M., Mohai, P., & Xu, X. (2017). Risk communication and climate justice planning: A case for Michigan’s Huron River watershed. Urban Planning Journal Special Issue: Social Ecology of Sustainability. Vol 2(4) p34-50. doi: 10.17645/up.v2i4.1045