As global warming melts the polar ice caps we are witnessing a human caused increase in sea level. The city of Rotterdam is on the front lines of holding back this tidal increase and they have designed some nifty ways to protect the people that live in the city from the encroaching waves. They are using a rive that flow through the city to act as a giant sponge to absorb any influx of water from storms, this will contain and slow the water from entering parts of the city with lots of people or commerce. It’s a nature-friendly way to deal with a human caused problem.
A €2.3bn “Room for the River” project – making floodplains at more than 30 locations on four rivers – is credited with saving the country from the worst flooding this year. The national delta programme is investing in action to guard until 2050, and a multi-billion euro flood protection programme (HWPB) involves 100 projects to strengthen kilometres of dykes, without which, says Rijkswaterstaat infrastructure organisation, 60% of the country would regularly be under water.
But in cities, too, water protection must meet urban design to create an attractive, adaptive city, says Arnoud Molenaar, Rotterdam’s chief resilience officer. A vast amount of work has been going on, and the city has built water squares, green and blue roofs and a 2km-long railway viaduct rooftop park. The water squares, also designed by De Urbanisten, are, very simply, built in overflow areas – when there is too much rainwater they fill up, and then slowly drain away so that the storm drains are not overwhelmed. And when the water has gone, they become public spaces again.
The good folks at Mossy Earth are flooding a forest in Slovakia, and it’s to protect the environment. You might think that flooding a forest would be a bad thing since we need forests to store carbon and clean the air; however, wetlands are far better at storing carbon than forests. Wetlands are wonderful for carbon capture and are even better as a habitat for many at-risk species. Whenever possible, we need to protect our wetlands (if you’re in Ontario let your anti-wetland Conservative MPP know you want wetlands saved).
This ambitious project aims to restore an area of degraded wetland by digging water channels that will reconnect the site to a nearby river. These channels will enable water to travel from the river to the core area of the wetland and restore a more beneficial flooding regime. The project will also remove encroaching woody vegetation that is outcompeting the native wetland plant communities.
Over time this intervention will:
create suitable conditions for the regeneration of the wetland plant communities;
suppress the expansion of non-native plant species;
create suitable habitat for a diversity of invertebrates, amphibians, birds and mammals;
and finally, sequester vast amounts of carbon.
Within the next two years, we will be supporting our partners Broz to create 650 meters of water channels to restore a 64ha wetland.
For years engineers tried to prevent flooding, then they realized they can’t stop nature. Now instead of trying to stop it, we try to mitigate flooding by creating spaces that can absorb a lot of water (parks along rivers are an example of this). Still, these attempts don’t always work and with increasing instability in our climate it’s getting harder to deal with more extreme flooding instances. This is where a new startup, Floodmapp, fits in. They are using machine learning and AI to improve how we understand flooding instead of the traditional physics-driven modelling.
The companyâ€™s premise is simple: We have the tools to build real-time flooding models today, but we just have chosen not to take advantage of them. Water follows gravity, which means that if you know the topology of a place, you can predict where the water will flow to. The challenge has been that calculating second-order differential equations at high resolution remains computationally expensive.
Murphy and Prosser decided to eschew the traditional physics-based approach that has been popular in hydrology for decades for a completely data-based approach that takes advantage of widely available techniques in machine learning to make those calculations much more palatable. â€œWe do top down what used to be bottoms up,â€ Murphy said. â€œWe have really sort of broken the speed barrier.â€ That work led to the creation ofDASH, the startupâ€™s real-time flood model.
The impacts of the climate crisis increase in reach and damage every year with more people feeling the consequences. People have finally woken up to the fact that we need to act now to curb more climate chaos, the problem is that economists might figure that out too. Properties built on flood plains or other vulnerable areas are going to lose their value as global warming increases and that can spiral countries into recessions. In some parts of the USA politicians are planning ahead to navigate the troubled waters of the combined effects of climate and economic chaos.
If you want to address this today: ask the company you work for what their business plan is for a planet two degrees warmer than it is today.
A 2014 report from Arizona State University estimated that one year without water from the river could cause US$1.4 trillion in economic losses and impact 16 million jobs across the region. If calculations were done again today, those estimates of damage â€œwould definitely be bigger,â€ says Timothy James, a co-author of the report.
The technical fixes are easiest to predict: more water-efficient technologies and policies like higher prices on water to encourage their adoption. But adapting to climate change also requires hard decisions about the pace and scale of development. It could mean refraining from building new communities in the desert altogether. At the moment, however, Phoenix is growing rapidly.
Cities need to work with their local ecosystems and not against them. This is evidently true when it comes to waste management and overt displays of green initiatives. There is a harder aspect of ecological thinking for cities and it’s usually beneath our feet: water.
Water systems are complex in every direction – getting drinking water in and storm water out. The way cities plan for water issues is more important than ever before as we enter a time of water scarcity and extreme weather. What we should be doing (and smart cities already are) is designing our urban spaces with the flow of water in mind.
â€œWe need to acknowledge that the water is eventually going to do what the water wants to do, and shift our approach, as human populations living on the Earth, from one of trying to dominate nature to one that acknowledges the power of nature and works in synchrony with that,â€ says English. â€œWeâ€™ve already set ourselves down this path of dams and levees and water control systems, and itâ€™s really hard to turn back. But we donâ€™t need to keep replicating that. We donâ€™t need to make the situation worse. Itâ€™s time to step back from the approach of control and fortification.â€
â€œCities that today start to embrace water and take advantage of the skills of water, will be the cities that have a better performance economically and socially and politically in 20 to 30 years,â€ says Koen Olthuis, founder of Waterstudio, a Dutch firm that has found designing around water to be more than a niche market. â€œWhen situations changeâ€”and thatâ€™s happening now, the environment is changing, the climate is changingâ€”cities have to react. You have to change the skills and the performance of the city to give a reaction to this situation, and the reaction should be not fighting it, it should be living with it.â€