Building in infrastructure resilience in our warmer world #ActOnClimate

The City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department (OSMP) has begun a major restoration project that will improve native fish habitat in Boulder Creek and restore natural areas surrounding the creek. This ecological project also will repair damage from the 2013 floods by returning Boulder Creek to its pre-flood channel, and will include the planting of more than 11,000 native trees and shrubs. These plantings will help improve the creek’s sustainability and resiliency, and help mitigate damage to private and public property during future floods. These efforts are occurring in two areas east of Boulder. Photo credit the City of Boulder.

From The Conversation (Thaddeus R. Miller/Mikhail Chester):

Unfortunately, Harvey delivered and then some with early estimates of the damage at over US$190 billion, which would make it the costliest storm in U.S. history. The rain dumped on the Houston area by Harvey has been called “unprecedented,” making engineering and floodplain design standards look outdated at best and irresponsible at worst.

But to dismiss this as a once-in-a-lifetime event would be a mistake. With more very powerful storms forming in the Atlantic this hurricane season, we should know better. We must listen to those telling a more complicated story, one that involves decades of land use planning and poor urban design that has generated impervious surfaces at a fantastic pace…

Invest in and redesign institutions, not just infrastructure. When analyzing breakdowns in infrastructure, it is tempting to blame the technical design. Yet design parameters are set by institutions and shaped by politics, financing and policy goals.

So failures in infrastructure are not just technical failures; they are institutional ones as well. They are failures in “knowledge systems,” or the ability to generate, communicate and utilize knowledge within and across institutions…

Design for climate change. When it comes to infrastructure’s ability to handle more extreme events that are predicted to come with climate change, the primary problem is not bad engineering or faulty technical designs. Instead, it’s that infrastructure are typically sized based on the intensity and frequency of historical events. Yet these historical conditions are now routinely exceeded: since 1979, Houston alone has experienced three 500-year storms.

Climate change will make preparing for future storms much harder. These events are not just associated with precipitation and inland flooding but include more extreme heat, cold, drought, wildfires, coastal flooding and wind. Buildings, roads, water networks and other infrastructure last decades and designing for historical events may result in more frequent failure as events become more frequent or intense with climate change. Infrastructure designers and managers must shift from risk-based to resilience-based thinking, so that our systems can better withstand and bounce back from these extreme events…

Manage infrastructure as interconnected and interdependent. In his 1987 essay, “Atchafalaya,” writer John McPhee explores efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control the Atchafalaya and Mississippi River systems. He brilliantly showed that rather than bringing predictability to a complex and meandering riverine system, the Old River Control system created unpredictability. “It’s a mixture of hydrologic events and human events… This is planned chaos… Nobody knows where it’s going to end.”

While floodplain management has made advances since then, the impact of development and infrastructure design is still often considered on a piecemeal basis. As Montgomery County engineer Mark Mooney noted in a recent Houston Chronicle article, “I can show you on any individual project how runoff has been properly mitigated. Having said that, when you see the increase in impervious surfaces that we have, it’s clear the way water moves through our county has changed. It’s all part of a massive puzzle everyone is trying to sort out.”


Create flexible infrastructure. Given that our infrastructures are centralized and satisfy demands that don’t change rapidly (we use water and electricity much in the way we did over the past century), they tend to be inflexible. Yet we need our urban systems and the infrastructure that support them to be resilient. And flexibility is a necessary precondition for resilience.

Current designs favor robustness and redundancy. These infrastructure tend to be difficult to change and the managing institutions are often structured and constrained in ways that create barriers to flexibility. Consider the difference in flexibility of landline versus mobile phones, in terms of both use and changing the hardware. Similarly, new strategies are needed to incorporate flexibility into our infrastructure. In the case of hurricanes, roadways with smart signaling and controls that dynamically adjust stoplights and reverse lanes to allow vehicles to evacuate quickly would be of significant value.

Design infrastructure for everyone. Large disasters almost always highlight systemic social inequalities in our communities, as we saw in the 1995 Chicago heat wave, Hurricane Katrina and now Hurricane Harvey.

Yet as cities rebuild and other cities watch to glean lessons, we consistently sidestep the historical legacies, public policies and political-economic structures that continue to make low-income and minority populations, such as homeless people, more vulnerable to extreme weather events. For this to change, infrastructure must be designed with the most vulnerable in mind first.

From American Rivers (Daniel Nylen):

American Rivers, funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund, is working to help the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) improve and expand the Yolo Bypass to provide more frequent inundation of this critical floodplain habitat while reducing flood risk for Sacramento and other downstream communities. As part of this grant, American Rivers is also conducting an outreach campaign to help promote multi-benefit flood management and floodplain restoration throughout the Central Valley. We realized that high quality compelling imagery of completed projects, projects in planning stages, and floodplains in action were missing from our campaign. So we tasked ourselves with creating an image archive that could be used indefinitely by us and our partners for advocacy and outreach for years to come.

In order to document conditions along the San Joaquin River following an epic winter and collect stock imagery of the San Joaquin River for the image archive, American Rivers teamed up with LightHawk, a nonprofit that accelerates conservation through the powerful perspective of flight. Pilots volunteer their planes and time to fly missions that create new imagery, collect data, or inform the public about some of our environment’s most pressing issues. This work could not have been done without LightHawk and their volunteer pilots, who fill a critical gap that is often hard to fund.

Back in June, I met up with Bill Rush, one of LightHawk’s dedicated volunteer pilots, for a flight along the San Joaquin River. Bill lives in the Santa Cruz mountains and volunteers for LightHawk, Flying Doctors, and Baja Communidad. As a photographer, I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity even though I have a fear of flying. During the 2-hour flight, we followed the river from Stockton to Mendota and back up again. Luckily, the pilot’s many years of experience, combined with the fact that I was intently focused on what was 2,000 feet below me, resulted in a smooth and productive flight.

Though it was June, the river was still relatively high (around 5,000 cubic feet per second) – high enough to see a few activated floodplains, but low enough to see impacts from the high flows that were endured for many months. Smaller levee breaches were clear in some areas (notice the beautiful sand patterns on farm fields in some of the photos), and other areas were still green and vibrant even though it was nearing mid-summer. I was also able to document several completed floodplain restoration projects and ones in planning stages that are being led by American Rivers and its partners. Overall, the flight provided invaluable imagery and data on the San Joaquin River after one of the wettest winters in recent years.

Given projected impacts to rivers due to climate change – increased frequency of wetter winters and drier summers – the imperative for more resilient approaches to water and flood management are more important than ever. By working with nature, instead of against it, we can improve the resiliency of California’s water infrastructure to more extreme floods and droughts.

CPW okays NISP wildlife mitigation plan

Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice) via The Fort Morgan Times:

The plan that was approved Thursday addresses the impacts to fish and wildlife due to the development and water diversion associated with NISP. Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, said Friday the approval is a significant advancement of the plan.

“This was a significant step, there’s no question about that,” he said. “This is a big box we can check off, but there are still a few boxes ahead of us.”

The plan now goes to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which could give its approval to the project as early as the Sept. 20 board meeting, and then to the governor’s desk for signature.

There are plenty more boxes to be checked after that; the Environmental Impact Statement could be finished by the spring of 2018, Army Corps of Engineers approval could come sometime in early 2019, and then it’s back to the state level for what’s called a 401 Water Quality Certification.

Northern’s Werner said it could be 2021 or 2022 before anybody starts moving dirt. He said a proposed law to shorten the length of time it takes to bring water projects online wouldn’t affect NISP..

According to a CPW statement released on Thursday, the agency has been talking with Northern Water about the concept of this project for the last decade. Northern Water, CPW and the Department of Natural Resources have been discussing the fish and wildlife mitigation and project in earnest since October 2015. After more than two years of discussions, Northern Water presented and released a public draft of the plan at the June commission meeting. Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist with CPW, said Thursday he thinks the plan “provides a reasonable solution for fish and wildlife mitigation.”

“We understand the public’s concern for the river which is why CPW staff has been engaged in discussions for close to a decade,” he said. “If we were not involved from the onset, the level of mitigation, enhancement and protection of the river corridor and aquatic habitat would not be such a large part of Northern’s plans.”

A significant part of the mitigation plan, Kehmeier said, is what’s called the “conveyance refinement” flow, or year-round baseline flow plan for the river. The conveyance refinement intended to eliminate existing dry-up points on a 12-mile stretch of the Poudre River through Fort Collins. Average winter flows at the Lincoln Street Gate will be nearly doubled compared with current levels.

“The conveyance flow program is significant to the fishery and aquatic life because it keeps water in the river on a year round basis,” Kehmeier said. “Overall, the conveyance flow will significantly benefit the aquatic life in the river during the low flow times of the year.”

As part Northern Water’s plan, a new reservoir will be created for water storage and recreation opportunities for the public. Northern Water has agreed to provide $3 million plus an additional $50,000 per year for CPW hatchery expansion so that the new Glade Reservoir can be managed as a recreational fishery. Additional fishing opportunities will benefit the local and Colorado economy, as the fishing industry generates $1.9 billion in economic activity annually.

Northern Water has also agreed to provide wildlife habitat mitigation and enhancements on the west side of the reservoir, including the purchase of 1,380 acres to protect the reservoir drainage area and big-game habitat from development. This is critical winter range habitat for a non-migratory elk herd.

From email from Northern Water:

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission unanimously approved the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan submitted by Northern Water for the Northern Integrated Supply Project at its meeting Thursday in Steamboat Springs.

The plan will protect the environment, fish and other wildlife in and near the Cache la Poudre River during and after NISP construction.

Read the CPW press release.

“This is a significant milestone for us,” said Jerry Gibbens, Northern Water’s NISP mitigation coordinator.

“We believe the plan is one of the most robust, if not the most robust, mitigation and enhancement plans ever proposed for a water project in Colorado,” said Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson.

After years of discussion and multiple modifications to the proposed plan, CPW staff and commissioners expressed satisfaction with the updated plan.

“If you look at this as a package, we’ve hit a balance,” said Ken Kehmeier, CWC’s senior aquatic biologist. “This is a reasonable approach.”

Northern Water incorporated CPW’s recommendations into the revised plan to help minimize impacts to fish and wildlife habitat during all phases of the project. Northern Water also agreed to minimize the impacts of NISP operations on peak flows in the Poudre River, including adjusting water diversion rates gradually to avoid sudden changes in river flows.

The peak flow mitigation is a first-of-its-kind commitment to maintain peak flows in the Poudre River nearly every year for geomorphic and aquatic habitat purposes.

The refined conveyance portion of the plan “will get us water in the river 24/7, 365,” said Kehmeier.

This year-round baseline flow plan will be crucial for the river’s aquatic habitat and connectivity. The conveyance refinement flow is intended to eliminate existing dry-up points on a 12-mile stretch of the Poudre River through Fort Collins. Average winter flows at the Lincoln Street Gage will be nearly doubled compared with current levels.

In addition, wildlife habitat mitigation and enhancements will be made on the west side of Glade Reservoir. This includes the purchase of 1,380 acres that will be used to protect the reservoir drainage area from development and to preserve big-game habitat, including that of non-migratory elk.

Trout Unlimited also supports the NISP Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan. David Nickum, executive director of Trout Unlimited said at the meeting Thursday, “We feel this is a solid mitigation plan.”

After a decade of conceptualization and two years of serious discussion, CPW’s approval was made possible by the dedicated efforts of both Northern Water and CPW staff.

“The NISP participants want to thank all who have worked on this mitigation plan, CPW and Northern Water staff, for developing a plan we all can stand behind,” said Chairman Chris Smith of the NISP participants committee. “The plan makes for a better Poudre River.”

Thanks to all NISP supporters who sent comments to the CPW prior to yesterday’s vote!

Read the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan.

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

Club 20 Fall Conference recap #COpolitics

Colorado Capitol building

Here’s a report from Charles Ashby writing in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Click through to read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“The one issue that I did not anticipate, but appreciate more than any of the other (issues), is water,” [George] Brauchler said Friday shortly after meeting with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership about business issues. “On the Front Range, the water issue is when I turn on my tap, is it there? Getting around the state as much as I have over the past five months, water is a huge issue.” Brauchler said his lack of understanding about water issues prompted him to meet with numerous water experts, including those with the Colorado River District.

His main takeaway, which is still under development, is more storage and more conservation…

[Donna] Lynne was the only candidate for the Democratic Party nomination to make it to the Grand Valley for the Club 20 meeting, giving the keynote address at Saturday’s lunch.

For the past 18 months working as Hickenlooper’s chief operating officer, Lynne said she’s learned much about the workings of Colorado government.

As an expert in health care matters, Lynne said one of her main focuses will be on getting the cost down, which has been a particularly troublesome issue for rural parts of the state.

“We need to talk about having enough (health care) plans in the state, and providing statewide coverage,” Lynne said. “The increases in the individual market unfortunately are a function of people dropping in and out of coverage, and we need to figure out how to encourage them to stay in for the entire year. That’s what’s hurting a lot of the health plans.”

From (Briseida Holguin):

Water rights and public lands are two topics that both Republican Rep. Scott Tipton and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner from Colorado discussed in detail.

Relocating the Bureau of Land Management is a high priority for Gardner, “If your in Washington D.C. you’re a thousand miles removed from 99% of the acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management,”

Gardner says he has had great conversations with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to move this forward…

Along with public lands Tipton says protecting the state’s forest will save Colorado from having fires and says the House of Representatives recently passed the Resilient Federal Forest Act.

“To be able to go in and to treat those forests, to be able to bring them back to life, to be able to cut down that dead timber. Let’s look at the positives of what can happen when we are actively managing these forests in responsible way,” Tipton said.

Both lawmakers also find themselves on the same page about water rights.

“In Colorado water is a private property right,” Tipton said.

“The federal government should not be able to dictate to Colorado what a Colorado water law or permit is allowed to be,” Gardner said.

Both Gardner and Tipton feel legislation on Colorado water rights will soon pass.

“We’re able to pass that through the house of representatives and out of the committee with by partisan support. That is now over in the senate waiting for action. I’m pleased to be able to report to you that the committee that Cory sits on just dealt the first hearing on that legislation,” Tipton said.

Tipton says he is optimistic that Congress will pass a law to protect Colorado’s water rights and that it will soon be on the president’s desk for his signature.

Strontia Springs: The little reservoir that could – News on TAP

80 percent of Denver’s drinking water passes through Strontia Springs Reservoir — one of the smallest in Denver Water’s system.

Source: Strontia Springs: The little reservoir that could – News on TAP