by Dean Audet, PE, Senior Vice President | Business Line Leader
Last Friday the federal government released the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which bleakly summarized that the planet is getting warmer. This will not only continue to increase flooding risks, but will have a range of other impacts such as reduced crop yields, increased asthma, and continuing devastation from intense storms.
Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, and even other smaller coastal storms, have caused significant damage to our New England communities. We’ve all seen the images of the waves crashing against the shoreline and the homes being destroyed. But climate change impacts more than coastal communities. Inland cities and towns are at risk from rivers swelling and increasing heat impacting people’s health. The report also concludes that we’re past the point of passing the buck – we need to address this now.
There are two general approaches to improving infrastructure: gray and green. Gray infrastructure is the traditional approach, and includes such tactics as levees, floodwalls, pumping stations, and hardening or flood-proofing existing structures. Green infrastructure uses natural systems to manage water and to control erosion, and can include a range of controls such as rain gardens, flood plain restoration, bioengineered riverbanks, and created marshes. Both approaches have their advantages and are often very effective as hybrid approaches, but what’s more important is that they work.
Yes, there is cost. However, if we wait, there will be cost of repair and replacement in addition to the cost of just protecting the infrastructure in the first place. States around us are already planning and investing. Massachusetts has implemented the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program, which grants money to cities and towns to first identify priority areas and areas of weakness, and then implement solutions to the identified vulnerabilities.
Though our work at Fuss & O’Neill, we have helped regional communities implement solutions. In Old Lyme, Connecticut, we took existing unused space in the Sheffield Brook neighborhood and excavated less than an acre of land to create a low-lying area for stormwater to be collected, rather than it collecting in people’s yards and basements. In Warren, RI, we designed the state’s first “green street” to better manage stormwater runoff. We look for opportunities in every project to implement resilient solutions to problems we can’t accurately predict.
This story is trendy now. It needs to stay that way. This needs to be a constant topic of conversation. I encourage everyone to be part of the solution. It could be as simple as talking about it with friends and neighbors so that the subject doesn’t get buried in the next news cycle. To be successful, we’re all going to have to be part of the solution.
About the Author:
Dean Audet, PE leads our Water Environment and Natural Resources Practice Team. Throughout his career, he has completed a wide range of civil and environmental engineering projects, working with multiple technical disciplines. These projects have included stormwater management, watershed management, wastewater, solid waste, site remediation, environmental compliance, and land development. Dean’s principal strength has been managing large and complex multidisciplinary projects, where his range of technical experience is very valuable.