Thursday, October 20, 2016

Our "new normal" is flooding us with opportunities #phenology

The current issue of Trout Unlimited (TU) magazine focuses on adaptation to global warming. One article in particular caught my attention. After the Flood describes the infrastructure and economic effects of our increased weather volatility. Minnesota has experienced several 1,000 year storms during the past decade or so. That strongly suggests to me that we need to do a major revamp of our environmental and infrastructure design, construction and regulatory approaches to guiding development and redevelopment. If we do it correctly, we'll save money as well as protect both our built and our natural environments.

Minnesota River bridge, high clearance
Minnesota River bridge, high clearance
Photo by J. Harrington

One approach could be based on something like the Department of Transportation's ongoing work to minimize crashes between vehicles and wildlife. Conversely, some of the reports coming out of North Carolina make me wonder if our Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and tailings basin design and management rules are overdue for revisions. Flooded animal operations and ash basins from Hurricane Matthew may leave lingering public health problems for North Carolina residents trying to recover from flooded property problems. Admittedly, Minnesota isn't in hurricane territory, but did Duluth and Rushford and other communities think they were in the path of the kind of floods they've experienced in the recent past? [NC CAFO update]

Stillwater "lift" bridge, limited clearance
Stillwater "lift" bridge, limited clearance
Photo by J. Harrington

An example from the Trout Unlimited article should motivate us to take a careful look at the risks and savings potential we face.
"Little Schoharie Creek [in New York state] cut deeper into its streambed, prompting a project initially budgeted at $12.1 million that grew to exceed $20 million to fix the damage, while experts agree that appropriate emergency measures would have cost only $1.5 million using recommended actions."
 It may be a coincidence that the arrival of the TU magazine arrived within a few days of the state's consideration of a request from thousands of medical personnel to do a Health Impact Assessment on proposed copper-nickel-sulfide-hard-rock mining. I prefer to think it's due to serendipity. We can't well manage a new normal with old tools. Examples, like truths, are out there. Will we pay attention? Fewer, more intense storms will affect fish that have evolved to different stream flow patterns. They'll have to adapt or become evolutionary failures. So will we.


By Natasha Trethewey

What's left is footage: the hours before
             Camille, 1969—hurricane
                         parties, palm trees leaning
in the wind,
            fronds blown back,

a woman's hair. Then after:
            the vacant lots,
            boats washed ashore, a swamp

where graves had been. I recall

how we huddled all night in our small house,
            moving between rooms,
                        emptying pots filled with rain.

The next day, our house—
           on its cinderblocks—seemed to float

           in the flooded yard: no foundation

beneath us, nothing I could see
                          tying us                      to the land.
                          In the water, our reflection
when I bent to touch it.

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