Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Adaptation
Cities and towns across the United States are identifying, preparing for, and responding to the impacts of climate change, a process known as climate change adaptation. They are using a variety of nature-based approaches to protect people and property that also have adaptation value for wildlife and habitat areas. Cities are working to prepare for a wide range of challenges including flooding, wetland degradation, drought, rising sea levels, threats to water quality, loss of species and habitat, and many more.
Inland River Flooding
The increased frequency of storms caused by climate change will undoubtedly increase precipitation levels for many areas, seriously threatening inland communities along rivers and floodplains. Allowing for wider, natural floodplains instead of building higher levees that are frequently breached not only allows rivers to flow, but also reduces property damage and provides floodplain habitat for fish and wildlife. The city of Philadelphia has committed to protecting and restoring riparian areas in the city to improve their capacity to protect against rising waters and to provide healthy wildlife habitat.
In communities across the country, failing and outdated infrastructure is unable to handle the large volumes of stormwater produced by growing populations in urbanized areas. Extreme weather events, like flash floods, can pose serious runoff problems for community stormwater systems, particularly in urban areas. The resulting overflows produce sewage backups in streets and in the basements of buildings, and can easily contaminate and aquatic ecosystems. King County, WA is particularly concerned with the health of highly sensitive salmon habitat, and is promoting the increase of permeable surfaces in the area. This will allow stormwater to filter into the ground, relieving some minimizing runoff and relieving pressure from civic infrastructure. These permeable surfaces include open spaces like parks and rain gardens that can also provide wildlife habitat.
Between rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms, coastal cities are particularly threatened by the effects of climate change. Preserving and protecting coastal wetlands can help communities be better prepared for climate impacts by retaining flood waters, providing a buffer from storm surge, and limiting erosion, while providing much needed habitat for wildlife. The city of Chula Vista is managing for inland migration of its coastal wetlands to both provide habitat for threatened species and improve their capacity to mitigate flooding and sea-level rise.
Urban Heat Islands
Cities and urban areas tend to experience higher temperatures than rural areas due to a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect (UHIE). Cities have a high percentage of impervious and artificial surfaces (i.e. buildings, roads, railways) that retain more of the sun's energy, raising temperatures. The high energy usage in cities also produces waste heat. The UHIE will only exacerbate climate change's higher temperatures in urban areas, which are likely to experience dangerous, record-setting temperatures with increased frequency in years to come. Many cities, like Washington D.C., are planning to use natural shade to combat the coming heat: the District has committed to increasing its urban tree canopy to 40 percent of total city area by the year 2035, providing valuable habitat for wildlife and cooling shade for all.
Population centers consume large amounts of fresh water, but long-term drought and decreased snowpack caused by climate change will threaten both the quality and quantity of water supplies for many communities. These shortages will impact both human drinking water supplies as well as the in-stream flows necessary to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems. Local water storage and conservation activities will help communities like Chula Vista prepare for drought and will lower GHG emissions by reducing the amount of energy expended in transporting water.
Cities Using Nature-Based Approaches
Learn more about what communities across the country are doing to prepare for the effects of climate change!
More About Climate Smart Communities