Monday, January 09, 2012

Planning For Climate Change In The Gowanus Watershed

Klaus Jacob of Columbia University, Richard Kampf of Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Paul Reale of The Climate Reality Project
Paul Reale of The Climate Reality Project
Klaus Jacob of Columbia University
On Saturday, Richard Kampf and Hans Hasselein of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy were kind enough to invite me to join a fascinating walking tour of the Gowanus Canal with climate change expert Klaus Jacob of Columbia University and with Paul Reale of The Climate Reality Project,which was founded by Al Gore, Nobel Laureate and former Vice President of the United States.
The purpose of the get-together was to discuss potential climate change impacts to the Gowanus, and how those changes need to be taken into consideration when planning the future of the canal and the area surrounding it.  
As Klaus Jacob explained, climate change will affect the canal in different forms.  First, weather events such as Nor'Easters in the winter, tropical storms and hurricanes in the summer, will most certainly become more frequent and intense.  Ordinarily, the tide in the canal rises and falls by about 5 feet twice a day.  During a strong storm, the resulting surge superimposes itself on the normal tide by a few additional feet or, in a worse case scenario, by up to 30 feet during a Category 4 hurricane.  
Additionally, scientists expect more intense rainfall in the future.  Since the Gowanus area serves as a drainage  basin for Park Slope, we can expect more flash floods.  Especially Third and Fourth Avenues, which already experience flooding now, will be affected more severely.
Most importantly, as Klaus Jacob explained, New York City is still using old projections when planning for the area's future. Current flood maps do not reflect Sea Level Rise projections. Nor do they take into account the acceleration of recent ice melt in the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.  Jacob thinks that this is a big mistake.
Ultimately, it is an adaptation issue.  Paul Reale confirmed that New York City seems to be emphasizing resilience and seems resigned to the fact that we will not be able to keep the sea back. Though the City "will tolerate" Sea Level Rise, which is scientifically expected, there are ways to mitigate the effects on our community. As Paul Reale points out: "We need to connect the local issues to the global issues.  We need to make the connection that we are all in this together."
How to adapt and plan for  climate change in the Gowanus corridor is a main concern of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy.  The community organization's objective is to serve as watershed steward and to participate in the planning for the future of the canal.
The organization's Sponge Park Master Plan is a conceptual design aimed at making the Gowanus area resilient to climate change by restoring habitat, managing storm water, improving water quality as well as providing public access to the waterfront.
These may seem like small steps, but they are steps in the right direction.
Tempting as it may be, the community cannot ignore sea level rise, storm surges and the resulting flooding of the area  The most important step forward is to demand that New York City and its responsible agencies use real science and real figures in planning for the future of the area. 
"It is a steep educational curve.  The City is starting to realize what this means" said Jacob.
We can only hope! And stay involved. 

I would like to thank Richard Kampf and Hans Hasselein for inviting me on the tour.  It was truly informative.

12-gowanus_storm_surge copy
9-gowanus_100yr wSLR_IPCC_rev-1 copy
10-gowanus_100yr wSLR_RIM_rev copy


Anonymous said...

The Flood Insurance Rate Maps are incorrect! If these people really care about potential flooding of our community, they should work with accurate maps that reflect the true contours of the land. Lazy research - get real!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first commenter; the maps are based on simple elevation measures that don't accurately describe what is going on. For instant, south of the 1st St basin the land is shown as being outside the 100 year flood zone. This is only because 15 feet of dubious fill has been dumped at the edge of the canal between 1st and 3rd Street. The site, once a pond, is just as flood prone as the adjacent areas.
There is a general feeling that these flood maps have been delineated as they are to favor large scale development of the area. Planners need real information to make appropriate decisions dealing with coastal lots.

Carroll Gardens family since before St. Agnes was built. said...

Well, it happened. High Tide, & Full Moon both during a Hurricane - - - And ONLY a Cat. 1 Hurricane, at that.

The canal rose and overflowed its banks as far as Bond Street and for the length of several blocks.

Now what?