HUDSON–Climate change and the increased incidence of 100-year and 500-year floods was on everyone’s mind at Revitalizing Hudson Riverfronts, a conference held on April 13 at Columbia-Greene Community College.
The event was organized by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Scenic Hudson and the state Department of State.
Now that the Hudson Common Council has approved a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP), which is intended to set the stage for economic growth and quality of life improvements, the challenge facing the city is how to develop the waterfront in the face of new information about climate change that is becoming harder to ignore.
“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing riverfront communities today. Any discussion of riverfront development must address how communities will respond to this issue,” says Scenic Hudson’s publication “Revitalizing Hudson Riverfronts.” The environmental group cites predictions by the Union of Concerned Scientists of rising temperatures, more days in the Hudson Valley with over two inches of rainfall, a threshold that can cause local flooding, and an increase in severe storms. If Hudson River rises two to three feet, as predicted, structures on the waterfront will be affected to a greater extent than what happens now during storm-driven water surges.
“Neither the Hudson Comprehensive Plan nor the LWRP address rising sea levels,” said Hudson’s energy advisor, Michael O’Hara, who applied for and received a grant to fund energy-saving projects from NYSERDA, the state energy research and development authority.
Adaptation strategies were the talk of the day. Restore and preserve riverfront flood plains, place parkland along river and critical infrastructure above the 500-year floodplain, advised Betsy Blair, director of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
When conference attendees broke up into small groups, Common Council President Don Moore and his group studied a floodplain map of Hudson before concluding that Hudson’s most vulnerable structures are the train tracks, train station, and Route 9G. The state highway, which runs south toward Mt. Merino and the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, floods so often that it has its own permanent, flip-down “Road Flooded” sign. Some parts of the track in the city were under water last August during Hurricane Irene.
Repeatedly, speakers urged municipalities to carefully consider where they locate new development. They praised design strategies to manage rainfall close to where it falls, steps that include “green roofs,” minimal paving, and shallow water catching depressions with plantings, to allow the landscape to absorb rainfall. This approach favors open curb cuts filled with absorbent earth and plantings over culverts that carry storm water away.
LWRP planning and implementation grants are available from the state. The DEC Estuary program offers storm water management and shoreline habitat restoration grants to municipalities and funding is available for parks, boat launches, and docks.
“Resist the urge to make the natural shoreline too tidy. Tread lightly and give shore room to move,” said Ms. Blair. A pleasing and well designed waterfront that protects both wildlife habitat and infrastructure is not necessarily a sleek, cement and steel hardened platform. State planners favor a more natural design that allows public access to the waterfront wherever possible but also protects wildlife habitat and ecologically sensitive areas, and preserves significant historic and cultural sites.
One possible conclusion from all these observations and suggestions is that development close to the water’s edge may have to be seasonal and temporary.