Adaptation Snapshots

October 15, 2013

Special Report: Part Two


Location: Detroit, Mich.
Project Type: Rainfall usage

Detroit is home to the largest single-site wastewater treatment plant in the United States. Due to aging infrastructure and excessive demand, it often faces the danger of overflow, a problem worsened by the threat of more frequent and intense storms brought about by climate change. The Sierra Club has explored green infrastructural options for surface-level water filtration, such as raincollection barrels and rainwater/greywater gardens. The Sierra Club’s approach has placed an emphasis of community participation and organizing to encourage green infrastructure and gardening. The effort has led to the creation of five rain gardens to date, with at least two more on the way, and a community initiative for Detroit to incentivize rainwater collection for businesses and residents.

Location: Portland, Me.
Project type: Climate change and fishing

As lobster populations continually migrate north due to global warming, the market outlook for lobster fishers in Maine has suffered in spite of the increased abundance of these bottomfeeders. Due to lobster overabundance, the effects of climate change and a centuries-long pattern of overfishing, other marine-life populations have plummeted in population, and rising sea temperatures are posing an imminent threat to the lobster population in Maine. Despite the lack of action by state government, lobster fishers, marine biologists, and policy makers came together at the end of July for a symposium on the threat to lobsters posed by climate change and overfishing. The symposium attendees called for greater regulations on overfishing, including no-fish zones, and yield-management strategies for lobster hauls.

Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Project type: Green infrastructure

After the success of greenways elsewhere, the city of Los Angeles has started work on a greenway next to the Los Angeles- Glendale water reclamation plant. Designed as a self-sustaining infrastructure, the greenway will use rainwater to both nourish the plants in the greenway and to funnel the water into the treatment center. The greenway will also be designed with an educational focus, including signage and displays to help show visitors how the greenway works, and how they can use rainwater in their own gardens.

Location: Yarnell Hill, Ariz.
Project type: Wildfire adaptation

Following the disastrous Yarnell Hill wildfire that earlier this summer killed 19 firefighters and affected more than 8,300 acres, researchers wonder whether directly combating wildfires made increasingly frequent and dangerous by climate change is the best approach. Researchers at the Pacific Biodiversity Institute found only a small percentage of homes in the Yarnell Hill region had an adequate buffer zone between their homes and flammable vegetation or other fire hazards. Researchers called for a focus on building adaptive, fireready communities in these vulnerable areas, using buffer zones and fire-resistant materials in construction. Wildfire-vulnerable communities are also starting to investigate community awareness programs and more efficient evacuation routes.

Location: Cape May, NJ
Project type: Restoration of natural coastal resources

On New Jersey’s Atlantic shore, nonprofit group The Nature Conservancy is leading a coastal restoration effort that melds adaptation efforts with the long-term sustainability and progress goals of climate change mitigation. The focus is on the creation and restoration of naturally occurring coastal features, such as coral reefs on the shoreline, to buffer against tidal risks presented to shoreline communities. The group has placed particular emphasis on restoring forests, marshes and meadows near the shoreline, taking advantage of their capacity to buffer storm surge and retain water. One example is a restored meadow on the shore of Cape May, completed in 2006, that withstood both Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy without any damage to the dunes or wetlands.

Donald Borenstein is a freelance writer and recent environmental policy graduate of Fordham University. He can be reached at

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* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Fall 2013. Each new issue of SEJournal is available to members and subscribers only; find subscription information here or learn how to join SEJ. Past issues are archived for the public here.