Richard Kampf, Gowanus Canal Conservancy
This is the first of two blog posts about the impacts of climate change on a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.
On a beautiful 50-degree day in early January, Dr. Klaus Jacob, a professor at Columbia University, and Paul Reale, a Presenter from The Climate Reality Project, joined me in leading community members on an expedition to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York. We set out to explore the potential effects of climate change on the neighborhood; specifically, how sea level rise and more severe storms could impact the local canal.
My name is Richard Kampf. I am a local environmental consultant and member of the Board of Directors for the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, stewards of the Gowanus watershed. Our mission is to improve water quality, promote public access and ecological restoration, and provide educational and volunteer programming. You can check out our website here.
The Gowanus Canal, built in the late 1800s, played a key role in the development of the surrounding residential neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, it is also known as a receptacle for industrial waste and raw sewage and has been declared an EPA Superfund site. Moreover, during many rain events and snowstorms, sewage is allowed to overflow into the canal when it is too much for treatment plants to handle. That’s known as a combined sewer overflow (CSO).
Here’s a video where I explain more about how severe weather impacts the canal:
At 10:30 a.m., we gathered on the Union Street Bridge. We were at the base of the watershed which is surrounded by the densely populated residential neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Boerum Hill. We could hear the hoo-ing of an owl located somewhere under the bridge and were reminded that the canal is home to a unique ecosystem even today.
The local threats that are posed by climate change include the potential for increased frequency and severity of storms, which could result in an increase in the frequency and duration of CSO events and urban flash flooding. On top of that, scientists expect a rise in sea level of up to four feet over the next century, which would flood parts of the New York metro and be compounded by coastal storm surges during storm events.
Dr. Jacob, a geophysicist by training and a local climate adaptation expert, is frequently called upon to assess the impacts of climate change on New York State and has participated in the New York City Panel on Climate Change.
Dr. Jacob pointed out there are significant limitations in the maps that FEMA prepares to project the impacts of severe flooding. Current flood maps do not take into account the infrastructure limitations that result in urban flash flooding outside of the 100- and 500-year flood zones that are depicted in FEMA maps. Also, later this century, one-in-100 year storm events are likely to take place once every 10 to 25 years as a result of climate change.
Below, you’ll find several graphics prepared by the Gowanus Conservancy to reflect how FEMA maps can be adjusted to prepare for climate impacts.
In this video, Dr. Jacob talks more about the impacts of sea level rise:
Stay tuned for the second part of this expedition blog post, when I’ll talk more about some creative solutions.