NOAA Awards $243,000 to Prepare New Hampshire Watershed for Climate Change and Population Growth

Syntectic International LLC and Antioch University New England to partner with stakeholders

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded Syntectic International, LLC of Portland, Oregon; Antioch University New England of Keene, New Hampshire; the Lake Sunapee Protective Association of Sunapee, New Hampshire; and partners, $243,000 to prepare the Lake Sunapee watershed for climate change and population growth.

The partners’ objectives are to protect a community comprised of vulnerable stormwater and drinking-water systems, and disseminate results to promote safe communities nationwide. The study accomplishes a key recommendation of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report: providing decision-support for implementation of stakeholder-driven adaptation. By developing a reliable, local-scale adaptation protocol, the project seeks to maintain historical flood protection levels for the study site and other communities facing significant impacts from climate change and population growth.

Funded by NOAA’s Climate Program Office, the interdisciplinary team includes Latham Stack of Syntectic International; Michael Simpson, Jim Gruber, and Colin Lawson of Antioch University New England (AUNE); Dr. Robert Roseen of the University of New Hampshire Storm Water Center; Thomas Crosslin of Climate Techniques in Portland, Oregon; Robert Wood of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association; and internationally recognized adaptation expert Joel Smith of Stratus Consulting in Boulder, Colorado. Five of the eight researchers are either AUNE faculty members or alumni.

The project will study a region that, like many others, is experiencing an unusual and ongoing period of extreme or record rainfalls. These significantly diverge from the historical climate pattern. Previous studies by the team at other sites found that portions of existing stormwater drainage systems are currently undersized as a result of already-changed rainfall patterns.

“Recent experience and scientific studies are clear,” said Latham Stack, CEO of Syntectic. “Storm patterns are worsening and it is no longer prudent to delay action. We will never have perfect science, however sufficient science is available now. This project will protect the community with adequately reliable, local-scale information to support informed decisions.” By encouraging the participation of local stakeholders, the project will empower citizens to choose adaptation plans that are best for their towns. For example, Low Impact Development methods can minimize runoff and significantly reduce the need for more expensive drainage system upgrades.

According to Michael Simpson, director of AUNE’s Resource Management and Conservation program, “The availability of reliable and economical solutions can make the difference between returning to historical protection levels, or continuing to expose people and assets to worsening hazards.” Simpson explained that stormwater engineers and planners have always needed to cope with uncertainty and change, and the construction of water systems designed using best-available knowledge has always proceeded in parallel with the development of theory. “The past was not as certain as we like to think, and problems posed by population growth and climate change are actually not that different from previous challenges,” said Simpson.

The project will be broadly transferable, according to Stack. The team hopes to catalyze similar work nationwide, reducing further loss of life and damage from worsening storms. By demonstrating a practical protocol for action, this study will provide urgently needed decision-support to leaders seeking to maintain historical protection levels in their communities.

[Source: Syntectic news release]