WMEAC: Another extreme storm highlights need for climate infrastructure

A little more than a year ago, in May 2013, we wrote in this column about the postponement of the Grand Haven Grand River Green-Up due to the intense flooding in and around the mouth of the Grand River.
Aug 29, 2014

In an incredible display of community, many of the volunteers for that event drove into Grand Rapids with a host of others and filled and placed sandbags throughout downtown and around the wastewater treatment plant.      

Grand Rapids received more than 10 inches of rain over several days in April 2013.

The east side of the state was spared that flooding, but the Detroit Metro area was slammed earlier this month. Detroit received 4.57 inches of rain on Aug. 11. Some neighborhoods received more than 6 inches. Detroit hasn’t experienced a rain event this severe since 1925 when the area saw 4.74 inches in a single day. 

Both floods have had a powerful and expensive impact. Local media reported that the flood of 2013 cost the city $1.3 million in damages, and as much as $10.6 million countywide. As early estimates of flood damage in and around metro Detroit come in, officials have not yet been able to estimate the cost, but it is expected to be well into the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. 

Speaking to the Detroit Free Press, Craig Covey, a spokesman for Oakland County Water Resources, cited climate change and the lack of investment in infrastructure as the reasons behind the severe flooding. "If we wish to prepare and not to have to go through drama of flooded streets, electrical outages and crumbling bridges, then we need to be smarter about the future,” he said.

Covey is correct. It is becoming more and more difficult to ascribe these once rare flooding events to simple bad luck. Extreme weather events, and the subsequent flooding, have been predicted by climate scientists to increase in frequency, intensity and with a dynamic distribution compared to observed historical norms. 

While it remains true that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change, the type of storm events that hit Grand Rapids in 2013 and Detroit this August were unambiguously anticipated by climate scientists.

So, if the climate has changed, are we now and forever more helpless in the face of nature’s fury? Of course not. Society can still mitigate how much climate will change, while minimizing the impact of extreme weather events by building more climate-resilient communities.

What are climate-resilient communities and how do we build them? Climate resiliency is the ability of a community to simultaneously balance ecological, economic and social systems to maintain or increase quality of life in an uncertain, dynamic climate future.

Major infrastructure investment at the local, state and federal level is a crucial first step in building more resilient communities. Climate infrastructure improvements include: rural and municipal stormwater management, complete and vital streets, clean and efficient energy sources, and less vulnerable energy infrastructure. Communities should move to waste less potable water and establish robust emergency preparedness plans.

Perhaps the most fun, quality-of-life climate infrastructure improvements include the building and maintenance of a metro-wide system of parks, environmental corridors, greenways, nonmotorized trails and nature preserves. 

Traditional infrastructure becomes climate infrastructure with smart design and planning. For example, traditional streets become “complete and vital streets” when they are designed to provide safe access for all users (friendly to pedestrians, the handicapped, bikes, transit, etc.), manage storm and flood waters on-site, enhance the urban tree canopy, and grow economic vitality in business districts. 

Sidewalk improvements, bicycle lanes and shared-use paths, and accessible curbs and ramps increase the portfolio of transportation options available to a community. This more diverse transportation portfolio increases user options and decreases carbon emissions. 

Sound impossible? Earlier this year, Grand Rapidians overwhelmingly voted for an income tax extension to maintain and build vital streets.

Critical infrastructure improvements could go a long way in making West Michigan communities more resilient and better positioned to manage extreme weather events.

Grand Haven recently passed an ordinance to improve its own stormwater management. The new policy creates stormwater management zones to improve flood control, riparian soil erosion and sedimentation. “Green” stormwater projects can be engineered to reduce the amount of water entering overburdened systems during storm events.

The recent Detroit floods remind us of how dependent we've become on existing transportation networks, and how susceptible they are to extreme weather events.

Building resilient cities will increase quality of live regardless of whether or not climate has changed, will change, or only changes a little.

Even if you fundamentally disagree with the idea that human activity can change the global environment, you should support investments in greener, smarter and more resilient infrastructure. They will make your community stronger, your neighborhoods more livable, and reduce your vulnerability in an uncertain future. 

— By Nicholas Occhipinti, policy director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council

Comments

Tri-cities realist

"While it remains true that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change, the type of storm events that hit Grand Rapids in 2013 and Detroit this August were unambiguously anticipated by climate scientists. "

Well if they knew when it would happen, why didn't they warn us?

"While it remains true that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change..." we will cite 2 single weather events to try to convince you that is evidence of human caused climate change.

Pass the kool-aid.

Lanivan

"Well if they knew when it would happen, why didn't they warn us?"

Perhaps you have missed the prodigious amounts of research, charts, statistics, and media for the past decade, comprised of studies from the vast bulk of global climatologists, scientists who are trained to be skeptics, that have been warning us. But if ones mind is made up that they are false, then one will not accept the warning.

Nature doesn't move in a straight line - weather whiplashes, weather systems stall, stagnate; current climate change must be understood in the context of an accumulation of weather events over a long period of time. All data points to unprecedented levels of CO2 being injected into the atmosphere; that this has led to an unprecedented rate in the speed in which the atmosphere is warming.

Climatologists tell us that vast global weather systems are getting stuck, creating extreme conditions, and extreme singular weather events, such as severe and lengthy droughts = more wild fires, more severe rain events = more flash flooding, stronger hurricanes = unprecedented degrees of storm surge, warmer high altitude temperatures = icecaps melting far faster than computer models projected.

It's all symbiotic, and cherry-picking data or concentrating on an individual event will only serve to confuse and obfuscate.

Tri-cities realist

Nope I haven't missed it, I'm just a skeptic like them I guess.

Climate has been changing for a long time and will continue to do so.

"All data points to unprecedented levels of CO2 being injected into the atmosphere; that this has led to an unprecedented rate in the speed in which the atmosphere is warming."

Except that they apparently forgot about the oceans, and its interaction with the atmosphere, when developing their computer models. Or underestimated the interaction. But not to worry, they have fixed this and now we should trust them. What makes anyone think they haven't forgotten something else? I'm amazed at how hypocritical the globull warming scientists are. On the one hand they'll say that climate change occurs over a long period of time, but then point to a much shorter period of time as evidence that humans are causing it. They should heed their own advice and stop making predictions that continue to be wrong.

And if you'd like to discuss the partial pressure of a gas such as CO2, and its relationship to atmospheric and ocean equilibrium, I would welcome it.

"It's all symbiotic, and cherry-picking data or concentrating on an individual event will only serve to confuse and obfuscate." Perhaps the alarmists will heed your advice.

Lanivan

Highly educated climatologists who have spent their entire careers studying weather and it's global effects have forgot about the oceans??

Highly educated climatologists who have spent their entire careers studying weather and it's global effects are guilty of interpreting the data that clearly shows that that while weather has always changed, the degree and speed due to high spikes in CO2 has sent chart
lines ascending with tremendous speed, as showing how climate change is negatively affecting the world, which is a little different place than it was 800,000 years ago?

I suppose you can't help it, as a self-declared skeptic, that you are simply following the definition - someone who denies knowledge or rational belief!

Thanks for the invite to discuss ocean equilibrium. Since I'm not a climatologist or an oceanographer (although I enjoy watching Jacques Cousteau TV specials), I will have to rely on links such as this:

"The problem is one of many associated with ocean acidification. That change is well underway - a consequence of warming that has already happened and fossil-fuel emissions that have long since been dumped into the atmosphere.

In absorbing those emissions the oceans have buffered humanity from the worst effects of climate change. But in doing so ocean chemistry has changed, acidifying to levels not seen in 800,000 years.

The result, according to a new report issued today by Oceana, is that today’s ocean chemistry is already hostile for many creatures fundamental to the marine food web. The world’s oceans – for so long a neat and invisible sink for humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions – are about to extract a price for all that waste.

The effects are not local: Entire ecosystems threaten to literally crumble away as critters relying on calcium carbonate for a home – from corals to mollusks to the sea snail – have a harder time manufacturing their shells. Corals shelter millions of species worldwide, while sea snails account for upwards of 45 percent of the diet of pink salmon.

To avoid the most serious problems associated with acidification, Oceana and other scientists warn, society must hold atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 350 parts-per-million, roughly 25 percent higher than the pre-industrial mark.

The rub is that the globe has already passed 385 ppm. And many economists and climatologists figure the peak will lie somewhere north of 570 ppm before society figures out how to curb emissions."
http://www.dailyclimate.org/tdc-...

Tri-cities realist

I don't deny knowledge or rational belief, just the opposite in fact. And as any good scientist knows, correlation does not infer causation. And then there is that little problem of showing correlation between CO2 and temperature, since rising CO2 usually lags rising temperature, but not always.

"In general, does CO2 correlate with temperature in climate history?

The answer is often yes on “medium” timescales, but no on “short” timescales and also no on the very longest timescales of all. If one looks at all three timescales, overall observations are consistent with temperature rise causing the oceans to release part of their dissolved CO2 after substantial lag time, yet not consistent with CO2 being the primary driver of climate."

See http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/...

To focus soley on man made CO2 is silly. There have been much warmer periods in the earth's history, with much lower levels of CO2. If CO2 is driving the rising temperatures, how do you explain previous warming that occurred when there was less CO2? Obviously there are other factors which must be considered. Perhaps now you can understand my skepticism that we must reduce our CO2 output to prohibit "catastrophic" global warming. We are really small fish (in terms of CO2 production) in a much bigger sea.

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