Post-Hurricane Sandy study citing nature as effective in reducing climate-related flooding wins ACEC Diamond Award
It turns out that the best way to fight Mother Nature’s fury rests with nature herself
Denver, CO | March 07, 2016
According to a study conducted in the wake of Hurricane Sandy by The Nature Conservancy and CH2M, slated to receive a 2016 American Council of Engineering (ACEC) New York Diamond Award this spring, nature-based defenses, in conjunction with gray solutions, can provide the effective protection against climate-related flooding.
Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge caused more than $19 billion in damages in New York City. In the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, City planners requested that The Nature Conservancy conduct a case study of one of the lowest-lying, vulnerable areas of Queens, to evaluate the role of nature and nature-based infrastructure in protecting communities from some of the impacts of climate change.
The Howard Beach Flood Risk Reduction Study and the resulting Urban Coastal Resilience Report found that a building-by-building elevation approach is not the most cost-effective way to tackle flooding challenges. Among a variety of alternatives examined, a neighborhood-wide hybrid approach combining both nature-based features and human-made solutions proved most effective in protecting coastal areas from storm flooding. In conjunction with sea walls and flood gates, natural infrastructure such as wetlands, marshes, mussel beds, dunes and native vegetation were found to be cost-effective in reducing the ingress of flood waters and minimizing erosion. They also enhance habitat quality, improve aesthetics and add economic value. The Nature Conservancy and CH2M included an innovative cost-benefit analysis for investment in natural solutions to quantify economic returns in terms of risk reduction, ecosystem improvements and enhanced property values.
The findings make a convincing case for investment in natural infrastructure to enhance coastal resilience and quality of life. CH2M, which developed engineering models with detailed coastal and flooding scenarios, also worked with Tetra Tech to develop a comprehensive economic analysis. The analysis goes beyond conventional assessments, which identify costs to protect assets from flooding, to include the economic value generated by natural assets.
The study provides another reason for greater reliance on nature-based infrastructure. More and more companies are adopting this approach, as described in the Natural Infrastructure for Business guide (NI4Biz.org), released by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), CH2M, and The Nature Conservancy. Supported by case studies from Dow Chemical, Royal Dutch Shell and other leading companies, the NI4Biz guide documents the cost savings and effectiveness of incorporating nature-based solutions to infrastructure and provides decision tools to assist companies in realizing the benefits for their own operations.
The Howard Beach Study, which led to the Urban Coastal Resilience Report, will receive a 2016 American Council of Engineering (ACEC) New York Diamond Award on Saturday, March 19, 2016 in New York City.
As the leading professional services firm delivering sustainable solutions to our clients around the world’s most complex challenges, CH2M advances the quality and standard of living for people everywhere. At US$6.1 billion in revenue, the firm has offices in 50 countries, with global headquarters based near Denver, Co., USA. More than 25,000-strong, CH2M people make a positive difference around the world, providing consulting, design, engineering, project management and delivery of vital infrastructure and resources to clients in public and private sectors and diverse industries. The firm operates five business segments, including water; environmental and nuclear; transportation; oil, gas and chemical; and industrial and urban environments. From management and delivery of world events such as the Olympic Games, to innovations in water, energy and transportation infrastructure, CH2M consistently ranks among Ethisphere’s World’s Most Ethical Companies; as the number-one firm in both environmental consulting and program management by Engineering News-Record; and among sustainability leaders by Verdantix, an independent analyst firm. In 2015, the firm received the Stockholm International Water Institute’s highest Industry Water Award for pioneering water conservation and reuse technologies. In 2016, CH2M received the Gold Medal Award for Sustainable Development from the World Environment Center.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.