Building Capacity for Climate-Resilient Communities and Water Conservation in the Huron River Watershed

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 2/14/2013 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) is a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, Michigan that works to protect and sustain the natural resources and human communities in the Huron River watershed. The HRWC engages in a number of activities in watershed science, management, education, and stewardship, and has recently incorporated climate change as an important stressor on its planning and activities. In addition to improving the resilience of the watershed through programmatic work, the HRWC has also initiated two projects to support climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts: Making Climate-Resilient Communities and Saving Water Saves Energy.


Climate impacts of concern to the watershed include increased flooding and droughts as well as associated second order changes such as decreased water quality and quantity. These issues are especially important as the watershed already experiences major stressors to water quality and natural hydrology because of phosphorus loading and a high percentage of dams and impervious surfaces in the region.

The HRWC has recognized climate change as an overarching threat to the organization’s goal to protect the watershed in recent years. The 2009 Climate Change Edition of the quarterly Huron River Report was created to make sure that climate change was stressed as an important issue that affects natural resources, human communities, and the ability of the HRWC to achieve its mission. The report addressed the impacts of climate change on the Huron River watershed as well as the number of HRWC activities that already incorporate some level of mitigation and adaptation effort to increase watershed resilience, such as stream monitoring, wetlands protection, stormwater and watershed planning, natural areas mapping, public information and education, and advocacy efforts. For example, the HRWC’s Stream Buffer Initiative encourages local residents to plant buffers on streamside/lakeside property to reduce the effects of increased water flows. the HRWC created a model buffer ordinance with support from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which has been adopted by the towns of Scio and Green Oak; the ordinance provides recommendations on permitted uses and activities within buffer zones (e.g., flood control structures, water quality monitoring), buffer width and zoning, and maintenance requirements.

Two HRWC projects are specifically addressing the climate issue. The Making Climate-Resilient Communities project was funded with a total of $80,000 by contributions from the Mott Foundation, Friedman Family Foundation, City of Ann Arbor, Porter Family Foundation, Esperance Family Foundation, Upton Foundation, Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, and the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center (GLISA). This project aims to create climate-smart communities that can develop and implement adaptation strategies to improve their resilience to climate change. The Saving Water Saves Energy project also started in fall 2011 and was developed in partnership with the Masco Corporate Foundation. This three-year project is aimed at reducing water usage as a dual mitigation and adaptation strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve water conservation.


Making Climate-Resilient Communities

Working with the GLISA and River Network over the course of one year (2011-2012), the HRWC has convened multiple workshops to allow participants to examine how climate change is affecting communities and develop strategies to help these communities respond to and prepare for climate change. The project and participants have been divided into three sector groups – water infrastructure (water and stormwater utilities, wastewater treatment facilities), in-stream flows (dam operation, biology, hydrology), and natural infrastructure (land preservation, wetland restoration, floodplain management). After an initial kickoff meeting in December 2011 attended by 30 stakeholders, the project partners led a series of workshops with each of the sector groups between January and July 2012 during which participants examined projected climate impacts, internal adaptive capacity, and needs and opportunities for adaptation action. Some of the strategies that were developed during these sector group meetings include improving water infrastructure and efficiency standards, enhancing information and education of the citizenry, employing green infrastructure techniques, and incorporating climate change into regulations and permitting. The project partners plan to reconvene all of the sector groups to share their strategies and evaluate the project’s results.

Saving Water Saves Energy

This project aims to educate households, businesses, and watershed organizations on water conservation and efficiency. Project partners include the River Network, Alliance for Water Efficiency, and WaterSense. Project staff are conducting marketing research to craft the messaging, convening focus groups of water users in the watershed, and collecting tools and resources that can help users understand the connections between water, energy, and climate change. Some of these tools include the Home Water Works Water Usage Calculator, National Geographic’s Water Footprint Calculator, and the H2OUSE Water Saver.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The HRWC has taken steps to incorporate climate change into its regular programmatic work and has expanded its efforts by targeting climate change in two projects to build capacity for climate-resilient communities and enhance water conservation and efficiency. The HRWC has faced a few challenges in these efforts. For example, some individuals and organizations have been alienated by the use of the term “climate change,” so the HRWC has stressed resilience and energy conservation in its messaging. Another challenge has been generating interest in some of the activities, specifically the Climate-Resilient Communities meetings. The HRWC is working on outreach in order to improve the number and diversity of people in attendance. They are seeking to improve communications with different stakeholders; for example, learning how to better explain why a particular project relates to the day-to-day activities of a community planner or stormwater manager.

In both of these projects, partnerships have proved to be very effective for the HRWC, especially the relationships with GLISA and the River Network. Both groups have supported the HRWC by attending and developing materials for use at the sector meetings and workshops for the Climate-Resilient Communities project, and the River Network researched and developed materials to support the water-energy-climate connection for the Saving Water Saves Energy project.

The next step for the Climate-Resilient Communities project is to bring together the three stakeholder groups to share their experiences and develop recommendations in conjunction with other affected parties, such as policymakers and funders. The HRWC is also seeking additional funding to implement the strategies developed and expand the geographic representation of participants in the watershed; they plan to incorporate monitoring and evaluation into the second phase of funding requests.


Gregg, R. M. (2012). Building Capacity for Climate-Resilient Communities and Water Conservation in the Huron River Watershed [Case study on a project of the Huron River Watershed Council]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated October 2012)

Project Contact

Laura Rubin
Executive Director
[email protected]

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

HRWC is a nonprofit coalition of Huron Valley residents, businesses, and local governments.  The Council bridges political boundaries by building partnerships between and among communities, community leaders, residents, and commercial enterprises.  Serving those constituencies, HRWC monitors the Huron River, its tributaries, lakes, and groundwater, and directs multiple programs addressing pollution prevention and abatement, wetland and floodplain protection, citizen education, and natural resource and land-use planning.