Environmental Protection

Lake Sunapee Gets Funds to Prepare for Climate, Growth

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded Syntectic International, LLC of Portland, Ore.; Antioch University New England of Keene, N.H.; and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association of Sunapee, N.H., and partners $243,000 to prepare the Lake Sunapee watershed for climate change and population growth.

The project partners hope to protect a vulnerable stormwater and drinking-water system and develop and disseminate practical and transferable information for safeguarding communities, as well as provide specific and reliable estimates of climate change impacts on the Lake Sunapee watershed. By developing a local-scale action protocol, the project team aims to maintain historic stormwater risk levels for the Lake Sunapee watershed and other communities facing significant impacts from climate change and population growth.

The interdisciplinary team includes lead investigator Latham Stack, chief executive officer of Syntectic International; Michael Simpson, Jim Gruber, and Colin Lawson of Antioch University New England; Robert Roseen, Ph.D., of the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center; Thomas Crosslin from Climate Techniques of Portland, Ore.; and Robert Wood of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association. Adaptation expert Joel Smith with Stratus Consulting in Boulder, Colo., will also be a team member. Five of the eight researchers are either Antioch New England alumni or faculty.

The project, funded by the Climate Program Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will focus on the lake Sunapee watershed area. This region is experiencing an unusual and ongoing period of extreme or record rainfalls that significantly diverge from the historical climate pattern. Previous studies by the team in New England found that, as a result of already changed rainfall patterns, portions of existing drainage systems are currently undersized.

" recent="" experience="" and="" scientific="" studies="" are="" clear,"="" said stack.="" "storm="" patterns="" are="" worsening="" and="" it="" is="" no="" longer="" prudent="" to="" delay="" action.="" we="" will="" never="" have="" perfect="" science;="" however="" sufficient="" science="" is="" available="" now.="" this="" project="" will="" protect="" the="" community="" with="" adequately="" reliable,="" local-scale="" information="" to="" support="" informed="" decisions."="" by="" encouraging="" the="" participation="" of="" local="" stakeholders,="" the="" project="" will="" empower="" citizens="" to="" choose="" adaptation="" plans="" that="" are="" best="" for="" their="" towns.="" for="" example,="" low="" impact="" development="" methods="" can="" minimize="" runoff="" and="" significantly="" reduce="" the="" need="" for="" more="" expensive="" drainage="" system="" upgrades.="">

According to Michael Simpson, director of Antioch New England's Resource Management and Conservation master’s program, "The availability of reliable and economical solutions can make the difference between returning to historical protection levels, or continuing to expose people and assets to worsening hazards." Simpson explained that stormwater engineers and planners have always needed to cope with uncertainty and change, and the construction of water systems designed using best-available knowledge has always proceeded in parallel with the development of theory. "The past was not as certain as we like to think, and problems posed by population growth and climate change are actually not that different from previous challenges," said Simpson.

The project will be broadly transferable, according to Stack. The team hopes to catalyze similar work nationwide, reducing further loss of life and damage from worsening storms. By demonstrating a practical protocol for action, this study will provide urgently needed decision-support to leaders seeking to maintain historical protection levels in their communities.

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