Rising Waters: Helping Hudson River Communities Adapt to Climate Change

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 12/17/2010 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

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Rachel Gregg

Summary

The Nature Conservancy’s Eastern New York chapter conducted the Rising Waters project to assess the vulnerability of Hudson River Valley communities to sea level rise and other climate change impacts. Using a multi-stakeholder scenario planning process, key recommendations on potential mitigation and adaptation strategies were developed to assist local communities prepare for the effects of global climate change.

Background

The Hudson River Valley is a tidal estuary, which makes it especially vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding. The estuary covers 5,300 square miles from Troy to New York Harbor and the region is home to over four million residents and diverse flora and fauna. Climate change impacts of concern include increased air and water temperatures, decreased snow cover, increased frequency of extreme precipitation events and droughts, and sea level rise. The Rising Waters project was launched in 2007 to determine the vulnerability of the Hudson River Valley to these projected effects. A Steering Committee guided this multi-stakeholder scenario planning process. Scenario planning allows stakeholders to explore the effectiveness of various responses across a range of plausible climate futures. The process typically involves the creation of a series of scenarios and accompanying narratives to explain different possibilities in order to develop appropriate responses.

Implementation

Rising Waters was a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program, Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve, Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, Cornell University’s Water Resource Institute, and Sustainable Hudson Valley. A series of scenario planning workshops were held in 2008 to examine potential climate change impacts to communities in the Hudson River Valley and develop four scenarios created around different possible outcomes from 2010 to 2030. These scenarios included:

  1. Procrastination, in which little action is taken to prepare for climate change and extreme weather events cause severe damage.
  2. Stagflation Rules, in which, despite a lack of economic investment, public demand results in increased regulation of land use and planning and improved local adaptive capacity.
  3. Nature Be Dammed, in which strong economic investment and political will initially promote environmentally friendly adaptation responses only to be replaced by shoreline hardening and engineered measures (e.g., dams) after a series of flooding events.
  4. Give Rivers Room, in which shoreline hardening is used but flooding causes problems downstream from these engineered structures and public will demands more natural solutions.

These scenarios were used to generate over 80 specific responses from stakeholders, which were then evaluated and used to inform the development of recommendations for potential mitigation and adaptation strategies. The recommendations included:

  1. Improve community planning and preparedness and conduct public outreach
  2. Incorporate climate change impacts into land use decision making (e.g. setback requirements)
  3. Encourage low impact development in floodplain areas
  4. Increase resilience of shoreline and infrastructure to extreme weather events
  5. Provide funding for communities to prepare for climate change
  6. Conserve natural systems to withstand the effects of climate change

Outcomes and Conclusions

Working coalitions were created in 2009 to facilitate implementation of the strategies recommended through Rising Waters. Since its completion, project partners have pursued a number of climate adaptation efforts, including:

  • The Nature Conservancy – Eastern New York received a Climate Adaptation Fund grant to plant native trees and restore floodplain connectivity to help buffer the area against flooding.
  • The Hudson River Estuary Program has a dedicated Climate Change Program to help communities adapt to climate change and become more resilient, and supports municipal resilience planning to study flood risks and solutions for community waterfronts; waterfront resilience plans have been developed for a number of communities.
  • Cornell University and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program created the Climate-Adaptive Design (CaD) studio, which helps Hudson Riverfront communities with high flood risk explore design alternatives for more climate-resilient and connected waterfront areas.

Citation

Gregg, R. M. (2021). Rising Waters: Helping Hudson River Communities Adapt to Climate Change [Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy - Eastern New York]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated July 2021)

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The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.

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