Washington, DC -- American Rivers today named eight of the nation’s top “water wise” communities that are protecting clean water and public health with innovative green solutions. The report, “Natural Security: how sustainable water strategies are preparing communities for a changing climate,” comes as Congress is gearing up to consider a climate bill including so-called “adaptation measures” that will help communities get ready for the floods, droughts, and waterborne diseases that come with global warming.
“We are at a transformational moment for our nation’s rivers and water infrastructure, and these eight cities are forging the path to a healthier, more secure future,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “The green solutions are models for communities nationwide that need to prepare for the impacts of climate change.”
The eight cities highlighted in “Natural Security” are:
• Boston, Massachusetts protected wetlands along the Charles River and as a result saves $40 million in flood damage every year.
• Clayton County, Georgia beat the drought with an innovative water recycling system.
• Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved 49 homes and businesses out of the floodplain to higher ground, and now enjoys better protection from floods.
• Portland, Oregon’s “green street”, eco-roof and downspout disconnection programs, combined with other investments, will dramatically reduce sewage overflows.
• Staten Island, New York uses streams and wetlands to help transport and treat stormwater runoff.
• Seattle, Washington’s embrace of water conservation and efficiency has reduced per capita water use 33 percent since 1990.
• Augusta, Maine is enjoying improved water quality, healthier fish and wildlife and better recreation, thanks to the 1999 removal of Edwards Dam.
• Grand Junction, Colorado is cleaning up and reclaiming its rivers as social, economic, and recreational amenities.
“These cities recognize that there is more to water infrastructure than big pipes, dams, and levees. They see the value of natural infrastructure like healthy rivers, forests, and wetlands and they are proving that by helping nature, we actually help ourselves. Green solutions like floodplain restoration and water efficiency are often cheaper, more reliable, and more effective than traditional approaches,” Wodder said.
Even with the most aggressive and successful greenhouse gas reduction efforts, climate change will have profound impacts on the nation’s communities. These impacts will hit rivers and freshwater first and worst. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will threaten both the quality and availability of water for drinking, agriculture, and municipal use. Drought and floods will become more frequent and severe. The risk of waterborne diseases will rise.
Each of the communities showcased in “Natural Security” is reaping the benefits of green infrastructure – an approach to water management that works with nature, not against it, and has three critical components:
1. Protect healthy landscapes, like forests and small streams, that naturally sustain clean water supplies.
2. Restore degraded landscapes like floodplains and wetlands so they can better store flood water and recharge streams and aquifers.
3. Repair natural water systems in urban settings to capture and use water more wisely, and prevent stormwater and sewage pollution.
“We need a fundamental shift in the way our country manages water,” said Wodder. “This report provides a blueprint for how communities can make the shift away from expensive, unreliable, outdated approaches of the past and toward 21st century solutions that benefit people and the environment.”
Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar created the Climate Change Response Council, the first-ever coordinated strategy to address climate impacts to our nation’s lands and waters. American Rivers praised Secretary Salazar for his leadership and urged Congress to also act swiftly to help communities prepare for climate impacts.
“NATURAL SECURITY” COMMUNITY SUMMARIES
Improving Public Health
Portland, Oregon: In response to stormwater runoff and sewer overflows that have long degraded water quality and threatened public health, Portland integrated a number of green infrastructure solutions with expanded sewer and stormwater pipes. The city’s “green street,” eco-roof, and downspout disconnection programs, while still in early stages, currently capture 15 percent of the city’s annual stormwater runoff and have potential to absorb 80 percent. By 2011, Portland’s investments will reduce sewage overflows by 96 percent. Green infrastructure will provide the added capacity and flexibility to minimize stormwater problems and protect public health, even as extreme storms grow more frequent and intense in a changing climate.
Staten Island, New York: To overcome the problems of septic systems leaking sewage into streams and persistent flooding caused by stormwater runoff, Staten Island constructed sanitary sewers and created an innovative stormwater system that utilizes streams and wetlands to transport and treat runoff. The program has drastically reduced flooding and improved water quality, effectively removing 65 percent of total organic carbon, 93 percent of fecal coliform from stormwater runoff, and most excess nutrients. As storms and droughts become more frequent and severe, the program will continue to protect public health, clean water and local streams.
Reducing Flood and Storm Damage
Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin: After years of major flooding in the Kickapoo River Valley, the town of Soldiers Grove decided to relocate its downtown out of the floodplain. By 1983, 49 homes and businesses had been moved out of harm’s way. While massive floods in 2007 and 2008 devastated surrounding communities, Soldiers Grove remained largely protected. As climate change brings more severe storms and floods, Soldiers Grove’s forward-looking relocation effort will minimize losses and keep residents safe.
Boston, Massachusetts: To prevent recurring floods that had caused extensive damage in Boston and neighboring communities, the Army Corps of Engineers created an innovative plan to acquire and protect more than 8,000 acres of wetlands along the upper reaches of the Charles River. Those wetlands help prevent $40 million in flood damages every year. As precipitation increases and storms become more intense in a changing climate, wetlands will continue to provide cost-effective and natural protection against floods.
Securing Clean Water Supplies
Clayton County, Georgia: While most Southeastern communities experienced major water shortages during the 2007-2008 drought, Clayton County was an exception. An innovative water recycling system that filters treated wastewater through a series of constructed wetlands helped the county maintain an abundant water supply throughout the record-setting drought. While nearby Atlanta’s Lake Lanier shrank to a 90-day supply of water, Clayton County maintained a 230-day supply in its reservoirs. As climate change makes precipitation more variable and uncertain, Clayton County’s water capturing and recycling system will ensure a secure and reliable water supply for its residents.
Seattle, Washington: Population growth in the Seattle metropolitan area has strained water supplies during the past several decades. To maintain a consistent supply and ensure enough water remains in streams for ecosystem health, Seattle Public Utilities has undertaken a number of water conservation and efficiency measures. The city has reduced water consumption by 26 percent and per capita water use by 33 percent since 1990. Combined with protecting the lands surrounding drinking water sources and taking a flexible approach to planning, water efficiency and conservation measures will allow Seattle to maintain a safe and consistent supply of water even as rising temperatures reduce the snowpack that the city relies on to fill its reservoirs.
Augusta, Maine: When the Edwards Dam was removed in 1999, the Kennebec River began to restore itself. Water quality improved and fish stocks rebounded rapidly. The river’s restoration has created new recreational opportunities, boosted the local economy, and improved the quality of life in Augusta. As climate change threatens clean water and fish and wildlife, a healthy Kennebec River will be better able to adapt to changing conditions and allow Augusta to remain a vibrant community.
Grand Junction, Colorado: Grand Junction’s rivers were once forgotten places with uranium tailings, salvage yards, and a landfill along their banks. Gradually, local river clean-up projects turned into a valley-wide effort to reclaim the rivers as social, economic, and recreational amenities. Through the creation of riverfront trails and parks, restoration of the riverfront has helped stimulate economic growth and improve quality of life in Grand Junction. The community’s restoration efforts will help keep quality of life high, regardless of the challenges brought by climate change.
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.