As Houston continues to recover from Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma batters the Caribbean and heads toward Florida, and Mexico prepares for Hurricane Katia, our thoughts go out to all those effected by these devastating storms. As the Boston Globe reports, global climate change is increasing the likelihood and frequency of powerful hurricanes and other storms. The northeast has already experienced a 71% increase between 1958 and 2012 in the amount of rain that falls in very intense storms.
Hurricane Katia, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose in the Atlantic Ocean on September 7, 2017. Credit: NOAA
How would Boston fare if drenched with similar rainfall to that which Harvey dumped on Houston? As Mayor Marty Walsh put it in an article in the Boston Globe, "If we got hit with a storm like this, if Harvey hit Boston Harbor, we’re wiped out as a city.” Although rainfall amounts akin to Harvey are extremely unlikely in our region, it is still time to prepare and adapt to living in a changing climate.
At CRWA we have been thinking about and working on climate adaptation for many years. Preparing and adapting proactively will save money while protecting our infrastructure, the environment, and human life. CRWA’s approach is to identify, prioritize and design nature-based solutions that will make Boston, and our entire watershed, resilient to stronger rain storms and rising temperatures. Nature has many lessons to teach us about managing water. For example, flood plains, wetlands, and aquifers are all natural systems that can accommodate both floods and drought. The flexibility of natural systems allows them to accommodate large storms while also improving air quality, reducing urban heat island impacts, and enhancing urban neighborhoods. Green infrastructure—in contrast to traditional "gray" infrastructure—uses natural elements such as plants and soil which allow stormwater to filter into the ground instead of flooding rivers or streets.
CRWA's Blue Cities Initiative helps communities use green infrastructure to better control flooding, manage stormwater, and reduce water pollution. In our recent publication,Transformation: Water Infrastructure for a Sustainable Future, CRWA proposes restoring historical streams and wetland areas where rainwater runoff can be directed and stored after large rain events to protect surrounding homes and businesses. CRWA's innovative Blue Cities demonstration and design projects provide a blueprint for a sustainable alternative.