Weather–Extreme Trends (WET): The Minnehaha Creek Watershed Stormwater Adaptation Study
Climate change projections show an increase in the frequency and severity of storms across Minnesota; the resulting increase in runoff and flow may overwhelm the region’s existing stormwater management systems. This project aims to assist regional managers in the Minnehaha Creek watershed cope with uncertainty from climate projections and identify ways to adapt stormwater systems to future conditions. The project includes two study sites in the cities of Minneapolis and Victoria.
The Weather – Extreme Trends (WET) project is the fourth in a series of projects by Syntectic International LCC and Antioch University New England (NE) focused on preparing local communities for extreme weather events. The local project leader is the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD). The WET project aims to facilitate a stakeholder-driven adaptation planning process that will build the capacity of regional decision makers and prepare the watershed and communities for projected climate change impacts.
With 129 lakes, eight major creeks, and thousands of wetlands, the watershed is rich in water resources; regional managers have not historically focused on the quantity and availability of water. The region has seen an increase in both the severity and frequency of storm events; as a result, the stormwater facilities of regional cities and municipalities are being overwhelmed by these events. Events such as the flooding in Duluth during July 2012 are convincing managers and planners that they may be ill prepared for the projected near-term climate future. The project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will run from spring 2012 to summer 2013. The project’s two pilot communities, the cities of Minneapolis and Victoria, were selected because they represent regional examples of the problems city managers and planners are facing and examples of ways to start integrating climate change into decision-making processes. The WET’s two main goals are to promote a regional stakeholder adaptation planning process and to provide the stakeholder group with the data and information needed to make informed adaptation decisions.
Historically water management facilities have been built and regulated by policies based on the assumption of stationarity and the theory that the region’s natural systems would continue to function normally under relatively stable conditions. However, recent climate trends and projected impacts show that these historical assumptions will not be effective to manage the changing conditions of the future. The technical partners of the project at Syntectic International, Antioch University NE, University of Minnesota, and Stratus Consulting are completing an analysis of stormwater management systems for the project’s two pilot cities. This includes modeling the systems’ ability to convey projected peak flows, modeling water quality impacts from projected land use and precipitation changes, and conducting a cost-benefit analysis of recommended adaptation improvements. While modeling efforts are focused on the two pilot cities, they are also being broadly extrapolated to other communities within the watershed as well.
The MCWD is leading the outreach and information dissemination piece of the project with Antioch University NE and aims to create an involved stakeholder-driven decision making process, build regional planners’ capacity, and support decision makers as they work to design and implement adaptation plans.
The WET project coalition is a large group of organizations that are donating in-kind staff time and collaborating on various aspects of the project to make it a success. The project’s research and technical components are being spearheaded by Syntectic International and Antioch University NE, along with contributions from the University of Minnesota and Stratus Consulting. The project’s outreach component is being led by the MCWD and Antioch University NE; other partners include the cities of Victoria and Minneapolis. Both the outreach and research and technical components of the project are occurring simultaneously.
The MCWD plans to host three stakeholder forums over the grant period to facilitate the adaptation planning process. The first forum, aimed at increasing awareness and assessing where regional planners currently are in terms of climate change knowledge, was held in May 2012 and attracted 59 planners, officials, engineers, and managers. The forum focused on introducing attendees to regional current and historical climate information, extreme weather events and their implications, and taking stock of participants’ understanding and perceptions of climate change and adaptation. During the forum, participants broke up into small groups to discuss extreme weather events and adaptation planning. Through the discussions, participants identified priorities, information and resource needs, barriers, and roadblocks that need more investigation to better prepare the group to develop adaptation plans. The top discussion items were used to develop themes for four working groups – Education/Outreach, Land Use Policy and Planning, Stormwater Infrastructure and Low Impact Development, and Sustainable Funding for Stormwater Management; these groups plan to meet periodically and report back during the second forum to share strategies and actions developed.
In winter 2013, the second forum will introduce the technical team’s findings to the larger stakeholder group and will begin to move participants through an adaptation planning process. Workshops will also be held in the pilot communities in spring 2013 to get buy-in from local decision makers and begin looking at how project data and information can be applied locally to develop adaptation strategies. The third forum – A Regional Stormwater Adaptation Symposium – is planned for summer 2013 and will be the largest of the three forums. Its focus will be to inform the greater region about the project, results, planning process, and most importantly how the project methodology can be applied to other local municipalities.
Outcomes and Conclusions
While the project is regionally focused, the two pilot cities, Minneapolis and Victoria, were selected because they are representative of other regional and statewide communities and municipalities. The goal of using Minneapolis, a fully developed city, and Victoria, a developing city, as pilot sites was to allow other communities grappling with similar issues and impacts to be able to look to the WET project as a model case study. The models developed and data gathered are intended to support similar efforts by regional practitioners.
In order to measure success, the project team plans to evaluate all stakeholder and outreach efforts both qualitatively and quantitatively. After the first forum, the MCWD handed out a quick three-question survey to gather participant feedback on the clarity and usefulness of information presented as well as suggestions for improvement.
Planned next steps beyond the grant period include implementing and evaluating the adaptation strategies developed throughout the planning process.
Hitt, J. L. (2012). Weather – Extreme Trends (WET): The Minnehaha Creek Watershed Stormwater Adaptation Study [Case study on a project of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: www.cakex.org/case-studies/weather–extreme-trends-wet-minnehaha-creek-watershed-stormwater-adaptation-study (Last updated October 2012)