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A utility’s novel attempt to force farmers to curb pollution in rivers failed. Now the utility is on the hook for millions of dollars to protect the region’s drinking water.
— Read on www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-des-moines-water-utility-lawsuit-farmers.html


As those of you who follow this blog know, we periodically touch on climate issues.  Sea level rise is a particularly acute issue here at ground zero – southeast Florida.  But as I have said for some time, this is not an immediate crisis, but a slow steady creep that gives us time to adapt to the changes related to sea level rise.  I am optimistic that while we will spend a lot more money to engineer water management so we will need more engineers, there are solutions that will allow us to thrive here for a long time – probably a lot longer than we have been here, which is just over 100 years.

Our bigger, current challenge is the temporal but catastrophic impact of tropical storm activity that can create immediate consequences that last for years, much as Hurricane Andrew did in 1992 and Hurricane Wilma almost ten years ago.  Of course there have been others, like Donna in 1960 which were worse.  I mention this because the peak of hurricane season in Sept 10 – only two weeks away.  We have been lucky for years now, and of course we are all hoping it remains that way.

But I found another interesting article this weekend hat talked about the states with the most weather losses since 2006 (and in a subsequent blog I will look back further for comparison). is New Jersey.  OK, no huge surprise given the recent experience of Sandy.  But who is number 2?  Or for that matter 2-10?  Would you believe that Florida is not on the list at all.  Neither is California despite the fires.  Or North Carolina another hurricane prone state.

No, according to the Tribune, the states  (in order:after  New Jersey) are: Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Colorado and Arizona.  The most common causes: thunderstorms, heavy rain, flash flood and tornados.  And the impacts range from $24 billion in New Jersey to $3.5 billion in Arizona.  An interesting factoid as we approach the peak of hurricane season.  May Florida stay off the list.


In the last blog we discussed 10 planning steps for sea level rises.  When planning 50-100 years other factors can come into play as well.  As a result, to allow flexibility in the analysis due to the range of increases within the different time periods, an approach that uses incremental increases of 1, 2, and 3 feet of SLR is suggested.  Hence infrastructure is built to meet milestones, not arbitrary dates lessening the potential for stranded assets.. The increments can work as threshold values in planning considerations in terms of allowing planners the ability to know ahead of time where the next set of vulnerable areas will be to allow a for proactive response approach that can be matched to the observed future sea levels.

But prior to developing infrastructure plans, the local community needs to define an acceptable level of service (LOS) for the community. A level service would indicate how often it is acceptable for flooding to occur in a community on an annual basis.  1% is 4 days per years and for a place like Miami Beach, this is nearly 2 ft NAVD88, well above the mean high tide.  The failure to establish an acceptable LOS is often the cause of failure or loss of confidence in a plan at a later point in time.  The effects of SLR of the level of service should be used to update the mapping to demonstrate how the level of service changes, so that a long-term LOS can be defined and used for near-term planning.

With the LOS known, the vulnerability assessment is developed using a GIS based map of topography and the groundwater levels associated with wet and dry season water levels.  LiDAR is a useful tool that may be available at very high resolution in coastal areas.  Topographic maps must be “ground-truthed” by tying it to local benchmarks and transportation plans.  USGS groundwater and NOAA tidal data from local monitoring stations to correlate with the groundwater information. Based on the results of these efforts, the GIS-based mapping will provide areas of likely flooding.

GIS map should be updated with layers of information for water mains, sewer mains, canals, catch basins, weirs and stormwater facilities.  Updating with critical infrastructure will provide a view of vulnerability of critical infrastructure that will be funded by the public sector. Ultimately policy makers will need more information to prioritize the needed improvements.  For example, a major goal may be to reduce Economic Vulnerability.  This means identifying where economic activity occurs and potential jobs.  At-risk populations, valuable property (tax base) and emergency response may be drivers, which means data from other sources should be added.

The next step is to analyze vulnerability spatially, by overlaying development priorities with expected climate change on GIS maps to identify hotspots where adaptation activities should be focused. This effort includes identification of the critical data gaps which, when filled, will enable more precise identification of at risk infrastructure and predictions of impacts on physical infrastructure and on communities. The final deliverable will include descriptions of the recommended concepts including schematics, cost estimates, and implementation plan.

So why go through all this.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  It has to do with community confidence in its leaders.  Resident look at whether their property will be protected.  Businesses look at long-term viability when making decisions about relocating enterprises.  The insurance industry, which has traditionally been focused on a one year vision of risk, is beginning to discuss long-term risks and not insuring property rebuild is risk-prone areas.  That will affect how bankers look at lending practices, which likely will decrease property values.  Hence it is in the community’s interests to develop a planning framework to adapt to sea level rise and protect vulnerable infrastructure through a long-term plan.  Plan or….


The rainy season has sort-of started in south Florida and with it comes flooding and discussions of the falls end of season and concurrent high, high tides for the year, flooding and the impact of sea level rise on low-lying areas.  Much focus has been spent on the causes of sea level rise and the potential flooding caused by same.  However the flooding can be used as a surrogate to impacts to the social and economic base of the community.  By performing vulnerability assessments, coastal areas can begin planning for the impacts of climate change in order to safeguard their community’s social, cultural, environmental and economic resources. Policies need to focus on both mitigation and adaptation strategies, essentially, the causes and effects of climate change. Policy formulation should be based on sound science, realizing that policy decisions will be made and administered at the local level to better engage the community and formulate local decisions.

Making long-term decisions will be important.  Businesses look at long-term viability when making decisions about relocating enterprises.  The insurance industry, which has traditionally been focused on a one year vision of risk, is beginning to discuss long-term risks and not insuring property rebuild is risk-prone areas.  That will affect how bankers look at lending practices, which likely will decrease property values.  Hence it is in the community’s interests to develop a planning framework to adapt to sea level rise and protect vulnerable infrastructure through a long-term plan.

While uncertainties in the scale, timing and location of climate change impacts can make decision-making difficult, response strategies can be effective if planning is initiated early on. Because vulnerability can never be estimated with great accuracy due to uncertainty in the rate of warming, deglaciation and other factors, the conventional anticipation approach should be replaced or supplemented with one that recognizes the importance of building resiliency.  The objectives of the research were to develop a method for planning for sea level rise, and providing a means to prioritize improvements at the appropriate time.  In addition the goals were to provide guidance in developing a means to prioritize infrastructure to maximize benefit to the community by prioritizing economic and social impacts.

Adaptation planning must merge scientific understanding with political and intuitional capacity on an appropriate scale and horizon.  According to Mukheibir and Ziervogel (2007), there are 10 steps to consider when creating an adaptation strategy on the municipal level.  To summarize, these are as follows:

  1. Assess current climate trends and future projections for the region (defining the science).
  2. Undertake a preliminary vulnerability assessment of the community and communicate results through vulnerability maps (using GIS and other tools).
  3. Analyze vulnerability spatially, by overlaying development priorities with expected climate change on GIS maps to identify hotspots where adaptation activities should be focused.
  4. Survey current strategic plans and development priorities to reduce redundancy and understand institutional capacity.
  5. Develop an adaptation strategy that focuses on highly vulnerable areas. Make sure the strategy offers a range of adaptation actions that are appropriate to the local context.
  6. Prioritize adaptation actions using tools such as multi-criteria analysis (MCA), cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and/or social accounting matrices (SAM).
  7. Develop a document which covers the scope, design and budget of such actions (what they call a Municipal Adaptation Plan (MAP)).
  8. Engage stakeholders and decision-makers to build political support. Implement the interventions prioritized in the MAP.
  9. Monitor and evaluate the interventions on an ongoing basis.
  10. Regularly review and modify the plans at predefined intervals.

 

The strengths of this framework are the initial focus on location-specific science, the use of both economic and social evaluation criteria, and the notion that the plan is not a fixed document, but rather a process that evolves in harmony with a changing environment.  The final two steps occur at regular intervals by the community with associated adjustments made.  The next question is how to develop the data and priorities.


There has been significant discussion about the potential impacts of climate change on the world:  more intense rainfall events, more severe thunderstorms and tropical cyclones, droughts, loss of glacial ice and storage, increased demand for crop irrigation.  However for much of the State of Florida, and for much of the coastal United States east of the Rio Grande River, the climate issue that is most likely to create significant risk to health and economic activity is sea-level rise.  Data gathered by NOAA from multiple sites indicates that sea level rise is occurring, and has been for over 100 years. About 8 inches since 1930.

The impact of climate change on Florida is two-fold – Florida often is water-supply limited as topography limits the ability to store excess precipitation for water use during the dry periods and sea level rise will exacerbate local flooding.  The highly engineered stormwater drainage system of canals and control structures has effectively enabled management of water tables and saltwater intrusion by gravity. The advent of sea-level rise will present new challenges, because the water table is currently maintained at the highest possible levels to counter saltwater intrusion, while limiting flood risk in southeast Florida’s low-lying terrain and providing for water supplies.  As sea level rises, the water will not flow by gravity, which disrupts that balance struck between flood risk and water supply availability in the canal system.

Occasional flooding is not new to Florida, but the increasing frequency we currently experience is related to sea level rise, not just along the coast, but for large expanses of developed property inland due to topography and groundwater levels.  As a result, the challenge for water managers in the state, especially in southeast Florida, is to control the groundwater table, because control of the water table is essential to prevent flooding of the low terrain.

The issue is not lost on local governments in south Florida nor on the educational institutions in the area.  Florida Universities are studying the impacts to the region to identify ways in which we can mitigate, respond to and adapt to these changes. My university, Florida Atlantic University, is located in this vulnerable part of the State has been proactive in partnership with the Four County Compact in addressing these issues and we have now joined with other Universities in the State to form the Florida Climate Institute, a consortium working with state and federal agencies to address the multiple challenges and opportunities facing this State. FAU in particular, has been proactive in developing tools to evaluate risk and identify adaptation strategies to protect local and regional infrastructure and property. 

Our efforts have included using high resolution NOAA data to map topography at the +/- 6 inch level, combined that topography with mapping of infrastructure and groundwater, to identify vulnerable areas throughout Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, as well as initiated projects in Palm Beach County and other coastal regions throughout the state.  By identifying vulnerability based on sea level changes, the timing and tools for adaptation can be designed and funded to insure a “no-regrets” strategy that neither accelerates nor delays infrastructure beyond its need. 

While we have all heard the discussion of an estimated two to three feet if sea level rise is anticipated by 2100; sea level rise is a slow, albeit permanent change to our environment.  The slow part allows us to make informed decisions about adaptation strategies that may prove useful in the long term as well as the short term.  Of prime importance is the need to plan for these needs 50 or more years out so that we do not increase our exposure to risk.  Keeping development out of low lying areas, redeveloping pumping and piping systems with change in mind and reserving areas where major efforts will need to be undertaken, is important to the public interest and will affect private business, tourism and homeowners.  Sea level rise is already a problem for many low lying areas such as Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and other coastal communities. It will be an incremental problem creeping up on us for the rest of the century and beyond.

The lowest lying areas are the roadways, which are also the location of electrical, water, sewer, phone and drainage infrastructure.  Fortunately given the current Federally funded special imagery and NOAA data systems we are able to predict pretty accurately where flooding will occur.  Linking that information with detailed projections of sea level rise impacts we can  map vulnerable areas and build adaptive measures into every action and plan we undertake.  But the impacts are not only on the coast. Sea level affects ground water table levels and with our intense rainfall areas far inland can be flooded, even subject to long term inundation.  Water levels are rising and will continue to rise as groundwater rises concurrently with sea level. Add the impact summer rains and dealing with water becomes a major priority. Figures 1 and 2 outline the roadway network degradation at present, 1, 2, and 3 ft of sea level rise.  The figures demonstrate that a major, underestimated amount of property is vulnerable on the western edge of the developed areas because the elevations are decreasing as one moves west from I95. 

Image

While time will impact our environment, there are three options to address the change:

 

  • Protect infrastructure from the impacts of climate change
  • Adapt to the changes, and
  • In the worst case retreat from the change.

 Retreat does not need to be considered in the short or medium term.  South Florida has developed in the last 100 years and there will be well over 100 years of life left.  As a result, the best option is adaptation.  Adaptation takes different forms depending on location.  I have developed a toolbox of options that can be applied to address these adaptation demands, resulting in an approach that will need a more managed integrated water system, more operations and inevitably more dollars.  For example we can install more coastal salinity structures, raise road beds, abandon some local roads, increase storm water pumping, add storm water retention etc. to address many of the problems.  The technology is available today.

Much of the actual needs are local, but the problem is regional and requires a concerted effort of federal, state and local agencies and the private sector to address the scales of the problem.  A community can address the local problems, but the regional canals, barriers, etc., are beyond the scope of individual agencies.  Collaboration and discussion are needed. 

The needs will be large – in the tens of billions.  But there are two things in south Florida’s favor – time and money.  The expenditures are over many, many years.  Most important in the near term need is the early planning and identification of critical components of infrastructure and policy needs and timing for same.  That is what FAU does best.  At risk are nearly 6 million of Floridians their economy and lifestyle, $3.7 trillion in property (2012) in south east Florida alone and a $260 billion annual economy.  All of these are expected to continue to increase assuming the appropriate plans are made to adapt to the changing sea level.  Protection of the area for the next 100-150 years is achievable as long as we have the science, the understanding and the will to do it.  Plan now, and over the rest of this century starting now we can raise those billions of dollars needed.

 


I had to share this, from a nonscientific survey of people adamantly opposed to any consideration of changes to our climate:

1. I can’t do anything about it so I don’t care about it
2. People can’t alter what is happening with the earth because it is too big
3. It’s natural, so we can’t do anything about it
4. It’s not an issue now, so it’s somebody else’s future problem
5. The science is inconclusive so why do anything yet. Let’s see what happens
6. Trying to address it will cut jobs
7. We won’t be competitive (i.e our profits will drop)
8. It requires changing our business model (energy)
9. If we talk about it no one will develop in our community
10. Costs too much

I had to post this as many of you will have comments. But before you do, these about this a minute……

The first five are based on no facts, but a desire to ignore the issue entirely. The second five are more poignant because aren’t these pretty much the same arguments to deny the need to correct water pollution concerns in the 1930s? Or 1950s? Or even 1970s? Or even today with hog farms, frack water, acid mine waste, coal dust slurries, etc.? Or actually pretty much every regulation? I seem to recall Tom Delay making this argument when he was in Congress before he was indicted.

Now think about the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and others. These regulations are designed to correct ills of the past that were simply ignored due to the first five arguments above, ignoring the fact that prevention is always less costly than cleanup afterward. To we pass regulations to clean up problems and protect the public health going forward. Otherwise why have a regulation?

So let’s talk about that jobs impact. The reason is that after the passage of these regulations, didn’t the number of professional jobs (like civil and environmental engineers, environmental and other scientists – STEM jobs) increase? Isn’t increasing STEM jobs a priority? So won’t dealing with climate issue perhaps create a similar increase in STEM jobs? Yes, costs for water increased and the cost for the effects of climate changes will cost money, but don’t these challenges create opportunities? Isn’t this akin to dealing with problems with development from the past? Just asking…..


I went to Colorado in July, and it was bone dry like I noted in a prior blog.  The trend was expected to continue, but then something happened.  It rained.  A lot. It’s been raining for almost a month.  Last week it was wet out there, really wet, devastatingly wet on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park (Boulder, Estes Park, Longmont, Lyons). The rain has not really let up so mountain streams are over-running their banks, flooding streets, washing away bridges, damaging property and businesses.  Helicopter evaluation of the damage indicates that miles of roadways are badly damaged. Route 34/36, the primary eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park may have 17 miles (of 20) damage pavement and foundation needing immediate repair.  Estes Park is cut off from the world and there was mud in the streets.  Rocky Mountain National Park is closed to allow access from Grand Lake for emergency vehicles, residents and supplies.  And eastern emergency route from Nederland is also available.  Tourism has halted in the peak of Fall tourist season.

How fortunes have changed, and continue to change.  Three years ago it was the west side of Colorado with 300 inches of snow that flooded downstream communities.  Three months ago was drought. Are these changes part of a larger issue, or a continuation of the status quo?  Hard to know, but certainly both events were far above any prior events experienced in the area.  The local infrastructure was not constructed to meet these conditions, so either the climate is changing, our models are wrong, or both.  We see the same issue playing out regularly around the world when the 100 year or 500 year storm event occurs and wreaks havoc on a community which does not have infrastructure planned for events like this.

 Expect NE Colorado to be a federal disaster area.  Expect billions to be spent on reconstruction of roadways.   But the larger question is whether the new, replacement infrastructure will survive a similar, or larger climate event in the future.  Will our infrastructure planning be short sighted or will it be adjusted accordingly?  The potential for us to protect infrastructure, and property is completely related to our ability to adjust to infrastructure needs and to minimize exposure to weather events.  Keep in mind our economy and way of life is directly related to our infrastructure condition.  But people want to live near rivers and streams, but rarely consider the real risk and consequences. 

How do we address these risks?  FEMA evaluates the probability of flooding to set flood insurance, but FEMA does not prevent construction in flood zones.  Where construction can occur is a state or local issue.  Of course, few local entities want to limit development in any way, so we keep putting people at risk.  Local officials, like those in Florida, keep pushing FEMA officials to reduce flood risks, despite evidence of increasing rainfall intensity that would increase flooding.  Florida is not alone.  No doubt Colorado officials have the same views.  We need to impress upon local officials the risks and encourage them to reduce risks to citizens.  It’s our tax money and insurance premiums they are raising.  But they are rarely held accountable.  Nor are non-elected officials.  Somehow, this needs to change.  We need leaders to stand up and draw the  line in the sand.


The concept of horizontal wells arises from riverbank filtration concepts.  Riverbank filtration has been practiced for nearly 200 year in Europe, where the concept was to remove debris form polluted waters by drawing through the banks of rivers.  Much of the concepts for groundwater flow are related to the filtration ability of water to move through a porous media.  The concept was to dig trenches along the river and draw water from the trenches as opposed to the polluted rivers.  The concept worked relatively well.  The result is an abundant, dependable supply of high-quality water with a constant temperature, low turbidity, and low levels of undesirable constituents such as viruses and bacteria. Riverbank filtration also provides an additional barrier to reduce precursors that might form disinfection byproducts during treatment.

Now let’s look at this from another perspective, and we’ll pick on southeast Florida as is provides a great case study.  Sea level rise will inundate coastal property, both via coastal flooding and from a rise in groundwater. Since most stormwater drainage depends on gravity flow, drainage capacity will suffer as sea level rises reducing the head differential between interior surface waters and tide. Saltwater intrusion will be exacerbated. Furthermore, reduced soil storage capacity, groundwater flow and stormwater drainage capacity will contribute to increased flooding during heavy rain events in low-lying areas.  In low lying areas, current practices like exfiltration trenches will become impractical, as will dry retention will become wet retention.

Stormwater utilities will be faced with dramatic, currently unanticipated increases in capital expenditures and operating costs, and time will be needed for planning, design, securing permits and compliance. Additional local pumping stations on secondary canals will be needed to supplant the storm drainage system in order to prevent unacceptable ponding. Design capacities of these stations will depend on local rain patterns, drainage basin size and secondary canal system design.  Many will operate continuously, which means ongoing operations will increase substantially. Hundreds of pumping stations may be needed in some communities.

Permits will be a major challenge due to contaminants in the runoff as regulated by MS 4 Stormwater permits, and the inability to treat this water under the current structure. The cost and energy required for stormwater treatment would be a major concern going forward. But what if we sent this continuous flow to water plants as raw water?  All of a sudden we have a solution to two problems – stormwater and raw water supplies.  How often do you see a 2 for 1 solution?


If you live on an island, and your groundwater table is tidal, what should your datum be for storm water planning purposes?  Average tide?  High tide?  Seasonal high tide?  If you are the local official with this problem, what do you do, realizing that the difference from mean tide and seasonal high tide (when most flooding occurs) is 1.5 feet?  Realizing that property and infrastructure is at much higher risk for periodic inundation, does the failure to address the problem indicate a lack of willingness, understanding, hope or leadership?  We see all four responses among local officials, but the “head in the sand” mode is the most curious.  It’s tough challenges that often define leaders.  With sea level rise, there is time to plan, construct infrastructure in stages, arrange funding, and lengthen the life of infrastructure and property.  Meanwhile, those insurers, banks and the public we talked about in a prior blog wait and watch.


Based on my last blog, his inquiry came to me.  And I think I actually have an answer:  when bakers and insurance companies decide there is real exposure.  Let’s see why it will take these agencies.  There is very little chance, regardless of good faith efforts, significant expertise, or conscientious bureaucrats to stop growth and development.  The lobby is simply too strong and local officials are looking for ways to raise more revenues.  Development is the easiest way to increase your tax base.  As long as there are no limits placed on develop-ability of properties (and I don’t mean like zoning or concurrency), development will continue.  But let’s see how this plays out.  Say you are in an area that is likely to have the street inundated permanently with water as a result of sea level rise (it could be inland groundwater, not just coastal saltwater).  For a time public works infrastructure can deal with the problem, but ultimately the roadways will not be able to be cleared.  Or say you are located on the coast, and repeated storm events have damaged property.  In both cases the insurance companies will do one of three things:  Refuse to insure the property, insure the property (existing) only for replacement value (i.e. you get the value to replace) but no ability to get replacement insurance, or the premiums will be ridiculous.  We partially have this issue in Florida right now.  Citizen’s is the major insurer.  It’s an insurance pool created by the state to deal with the fact that along the coast, you cannot get commercial insurance.  So Citizens steps in.  The state has limited premiums, and while able to meet its obligations, in a catastrophic storm would be underfunded (of course in theory is should have paid out very little since 2006 since no major hurricanes have hit the state, but that’s another story). 

As the risk increases, Citizens and FEMA, the federal insurer, have a decision to make.  Rebuilding where repeated impacts are likely to happen is a poor use of resources and unlikely to continue.  Beaches and barrier islands will be altered as a result.  The need will be to move people out of these areas, so the option above that will be selected will be to pay to replace (move inland or somewhere else).  Then the banks will sit up.  The banks will see that the value of these properties will not increase.  In fact they will decline almost immediately if the insurance agencies say we pay only to relocate.  That means that if the borrowers refuse to pay, the bank may not be able to get its money out of the deal on a resale.  We have seen the impact on banks from the loss of property values as a result of bad loans.  We are unlikely to see banks engage in similar risks in the future and unlikely to see the federal insurers (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) or commercial re-insurers like AIG be willing to underwrite these risks.   So where insurance is restricted, borrowing will be limited and borrowing time reduced.  That will have a drastic impact on development.  The question is what local officials will do about it?

There are options to adapt to sea level rise, and both banking and insurance industries will be paying close attention in future years.  Local agencies will need a sea level rise adaptation plan, including policies restricting development, a plan to adapt to changing sea and ground water levels including pumping systems to create soil storage capacity, moving water and sewer systems, abandoning roadways, and the like, and hardening vulnerable treatment plants.  Few local agencies have these plans in place.  Many local officials along the Gulf states refuse to acknowledge the risk.  What does that say about their prospects?  Those who plan ahead will benefit.  Southeast Florid a is one of those regions that is planning, but it is slow process and we are only in the early stages.

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