~ Make Infrastructure Resistant or Resilient to Climate Change

Incorporating climate change into the operations, retrofitting, or development of existing and new infrastructure and plans dealing with water supply, stormwater, and wastewater systems may help limit the effects of climate change on water resources. Changes in temperature and the intensity of storms and precipitation patterns will cause lake level changes, erosion, and flooding that will in turn increase the risk of infrastructure damage or malfunctions, decreased water quality, and fluctuating water supply as the magnitude, frequency, and duration of water flows changes.

Climate change needs to be integrated into both water resources infrastructure and management. Water resources infrastructure serves to convey, store, and protect water.222 Conveyance (e.g., channels, pipes), storage (e.g., reservoirs), and protective (e.g., levees, dams) measures all serve to manage water at specified levels; climate-driven changes will create highly variable conditions that will complicate the business-as-usual (or stationarity-driven223) approach commonly employed by water management authorities. Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is needed to effectively respond to climate change. The Global Water Partnership defines IWRM as “a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources in order to [maximize] economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems and the environment.”224 This strategy includes recognizing the linkages between land and water use, water quantity and quality, information exchange and decision making, and demand and supply.225,,226

The Natural Resources Defense Council released a report evaluating climate and water planning activities in U.S. states in 2012.227 The Great Lakes States were ranked in four categories:

  • Category 1 (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York):
    • An integrated adaptation plan has been created that addresses water resources, which the state is working to implement.
  • Category 2 (Minnesota, Michigan):
    • Some state agencies are addressing climate change impacts on water resources but the approaches are not coordinated or guided by a comprehensive strategy.
  • Category 3 (Illinois):
    • There is limited attention given to climate change impacts on water resources in state programs and policies.
  • Category 4 (Indiana, Ohio):
    • The state has not yet addressed adaptation for water resources.

Activities to study, evaluate, and implement changes in water resources infrastructure and management in relation to climate change are taking place throughout the Great Lakes region, including Minnesota, Illinois, Ontario, and Ohio. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed Stormwater Adaptation Study [or the Weather Extreme Trends (WET) Project] aims to assist managers to cope with the inherent uncertainty in climate projections by identifying measures to adapt systems to future conditions. Projections show an increase in frequency and severity of storms across Minnesota; existing stormwater management systems may not be able to handle future runoff and flow, which will result in infrastructure and property damage, water quality degradation, and habitat loss. Project leads are examining land use and precipitation trends, evaluating existing stormwater systems, identifying adaptation measures, and leading a community-driven process to develop adaptation plans for stormwater systems in the watershed.228

The Illinois State Water Survey, Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Water Resources, and the Illinois State Geological Survey collaborated on a project to examine historical climate information and future climate scenarios in order to improve understanding of and support planning for future supply and demand of regional water resources. The project examined climate impacts (e.g., temperature, precipitation) on surface and groundwater resources and resulting complications for sustainable water supply planning in the state. Key recommendations to support sustainable water supply planning in the state included evaluating existing facilities to cope with drought conditions and building historic drought and climatic data into water supply scenarios to enhance facility resilience.229

A 2007-2008 joint project between Queen’s University and Mississippi Valley Conservation examined the effects of climate change and adaptation responses on southern Ontario’s fish, fisheries, and water resources. One component of the project was dedicated to examining water resources management responses to climate change. This subproject examined the vulnerability of the Mississippi River Water Management Plan and its operations to climate change and provided recommendations to improve water management planning in the region to address climate change impacts. This study was undertaken to downscale climate predictions of precipitation and temperature to the watershed level, quantify climate change impacts on the water budget, and simulate stream flows and water levels through modeling to inform future management decisions. Researchers recommended the incorporation of climate predictions into water management planning, increased communication and education to water resource users, increased reservoir storage capacity, and enhancement of integrated watershed management.230

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has implemented Project Clean Lake to address water quality issues caused by raw sewage that overflows into the environment during rain events – a problem likely to be exacerbated by climate change. The Project Clean Lake program includes construction of seven new gray infrastructure tunnels to increase storage capacity for combined sewage, improvements to treatment plant infrastructure, and installation of green infrastructure to help keep stormwater from entering the combined sewer system. The District is also working with the City of Cleveland to assess the use of vacant lots for green infrastructure projects to reduce the long-term cost of the program while enhancing neighborhoods, providing economic development opportunities, and rebuilding the community.231

222 WICCI Stormwater Working Group Report.

223 Milly, P.C.D., J. Betancourt, M. Falkenmark, R.M. Hirsch, Z.W. Kundzewicz, D.P. Lettenmaier, & R.J. Stouffer. (2008). Stationarity is dead: Whither water management?. Science, 319, 573-574.

224 Global Water Partnership. What is IWRM?

225 Brekke, L.D., J.E. Kiang, J.R. Olsen, R.S. Pulwarty, D.A. Raff, D.P. Turnipseed, R.S. Webb, & K.D. White. (2009). Climate change and water resources management—A federal perspective: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1331.

226 Kundzewicz, Z.W., L.J. Mata, N.W. Arnell, P. Doll, P. Kabat, B. Jimenez, K.A. Miller, T. Oki, Z. Sen, & I.A. Shiklomanov. (2007). Freshwater resources and their management. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 173-210.

227 Chou, B. (2012). Ready or not: An evaluation of state climate and water preparedness planning. Washington, DC: The Natural Resources Defense Council.

228 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 (Last updated October 2012)

229 Gregg, R. M. & Hitt, J. L. (2012). Water Supply Planning for Illinois [Case study on a project of the Illinois State Water Survey]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012

230 Gregg, R. M. (2012). Fish, Fisheries, and Water Resources: Adapting to Ontario’s Changing Climate [Case study on a project of Queen’s University and Mississippi Valley Conservation]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012)

231 Feifel, K. M. (2012). Project Clean Lake: Updating Cleveland’s Sewer Systems to Reduce Stormwater Overflows [Case study on a project of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012)