Minnesota Watershed Studies Adapting its Stormwater System for Climate Change

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Results will be relevant to many communities nationwide, facilitating action

Many communities already are at increased risk, however effective and affordable solutions are available.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is supporting Syntectic International, LLC of Portland, Oregon; Antioch University New England (AUNE) of Keene, New Hampshire; the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District of Deephaven, Minnesota; and partners, to help prepare the Minnehaha Creek watershed for extreme weather events associated with climate change.

This is the fourth in a series of studies by the project team on how the changing climate impacts the capacity of stormwater infrastructure, and how communities can use that information to adapt. Previous studies at other sites found that portions of existing drainage systems are already undersized as a result of changed rainfall patterns, but adaptation can be both practical and affordable. A central focus of this project is managing uncertainty from long-term climate projections, using results of previous work. This project differs from predecessors by studying two sites: Minneapolis, which is fully developed and a major metropolitan area, and Victoria, which is still developing.

Climate research, current weather patterns, and projected trends show a significant increase in the frequency and severity of rainfall events across Minnesota. This study will examine how these events affect flooding potential, local water bodies, and stormwater infrastructure, and how existing methods can be used to adapt. In addition to engineering, scientific, and construction cost analyses, the project also includes a participatory planning process to help local decision makers create effective stormwater adaptation plans for their communities.

“The participatory planning approach relies heavily on stakeholder and public engagement,” said Latham Stack, CEO of Syntectic International. “Community members who have knowledge to bring to the project, or may be affected by outcomes, are being assembled to ensure the study addresses local needs.”

Working with community leaders across the Minnehaha Creek watershed, the study will:

  •     Examine rainfall and land use trends within the watershed,
  •     Use that information to evaluate existing stormwater management systems,
  •     Identify strategies and costs for adapting these systems to climate change, and
  •     Facilitate a community-led planning process to help develop local stormwater adaptation plans.

According to Michael Simpson, Chairperson of AUNE’s Department of Environmental Studies, “Project outcomes will contribute to protecting the community from damage caused by extreme weather events that are increasingly occurring in the upper Midwest.” He added that, “Many communities already are at increased risk, however effective and affordable solutions are available. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, and the two Cities, are to be commended for taking a proactive approach to reducing the region’s risk.”

Funded by NOAA’s Climate Program Office, the interdisciplinary research team includes Latham Stack of Syntectic International; Michael Simpson and Jim Gruber of Antioch University New England; John Gulliver, John Nieber, Bruce Wilson and Trisha Moore of the University of Minnesota; and Joel Smith of Stratus Consulting in Boulder, Colorado.

About Syntectic International, LLC
Syntectic International is a group of scientists and professionals committed to helping communities adapt to climate change. The company provides reliable, quantified information to support prudent climate change adaptation decisions. Syntectic is a United States-based source for work already being performed in many countries. For more information visit: syntectic.com

About Antioch University New England
Based in Keene, New Hampshire, AUNE offers rigorous, practice-oriented, values-based master’s, doctoral, and certificate programs to more than one-thousand students. Degrees in education, leadership and management, environmental studies, and psychology reflect a dedication to activism, social justice, community service, and sustainability. Antioch New England is the oldest and largest of Antioch University’s five graduate campuses. For more information visit: antiochne.edu

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