Hundreds of U.S. cities, with a combined population of about 40 million people, have water infrastructure where stormwater and human sewage mingle in the same network of underground pipes. In a combined sewer system, rainwater typically enters storm drains, mixes with sewage, and is directed to a water treatment plant. The treated water is then discharged into a nearby stream, river, or lake. Occasionally, an influx of snowmelt or heavy rainfall can overwhelm treatment plants. As a result, untreated rainwater and sewage is released, along with a host of industrial pollutants, pathogens, and flushed debris, into the nearest water body. These events are known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs).
Cleveland, OH has long struggled with a number of urban stormwater issues, which directly impact the Lake Erie ecosystem. In 2011, the EPA, the State of Ohio, and the City of Cleveland signed an agreement outlining a plan to bring the City of Cleveland into compliance with federal Clean Water Act standards. Although sustainable energy systems are being installed in the region, there is a severe lack of technical expertise regarding the maintenance and repair of energy systems, resulting in inefficiencies and shortened system lifecycles. Without ensuring the productivity of new sustainable energy systems, the region will likely continue to rely on diesel fuel generators.
This fact sheet is part of the Dow Global Impact Series, which provides a glimpse into the interesting, and often rewarding work of graduate students engaged in the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program. Each summary in the series is based on a report produced by student teams, and highlights key issues, their approach and project outcomes. Videos provide student perspectives about the Fellows Program.
Keywords: Cleveland, OH, stormwater, combined sewer overflows
Living shorelines show great promise in coastal South Carolina as a tool to control erosion, increase habitat, and protect coastal areas from hazards both short-term (e.g., storms) and long-term (e.g., sea level rise). The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto (ACE) Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve have constructed oyster-reef-based living shorelines adjacent to public land for 15 years, and private property owners are also showing interest in using living shorelines to prevent erosion. Current South Carolina permitting processes, however, do not address this emerging strategy, which serves as a barrier for private property owners wishing to pursue this approach.
This project responds to the state’s desire to develop a comprehensive, science-based regulatory process to address the design and permitting of living shorelines. The researchers will analyze a suite of living shoreline possibilities specifically suited to South Carolina, noting their performance under varying physical and environmental conditions. Using a stakeholder-driven process, case study assessments, experimental research sites, and monitoring, the project team will generate the information needed to develop a statewide living shoreline policy. Ultimately, this project will help remove a critical barrier to living shoreline implementation.
Keywords: shoreline, erosion, habitat, sea level rise, oyster reef
Approximately 30% of land in the City of Detroit is vacant, and infrastructure was built for a population nearly three times its current size. As a result, numerous sustainable redevelopment ideas have been proposed to address these challenges. The University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute partnered with Data Driven Detroit on the Detroit Sustainability Indicators Project. This fact sheet provides a summary of the data, tools, and analysis developed to help decision makers in Detroit consider sustainability in their planning efforts.
Investigators: Joan Nassauer, Margeret Dewar, Eric Dueweke, Jen Maigret, Maria Arquero de Alarcon, NicoleScholtz, Stuart Batterman, Brian Min, Jowei Chen, David Bieri
Keywords: D3, Detroit, Sustianability Indicators
Blue carbon storage—carbon sequestration in coastal wetlands—can help coastal managers and policymakers achieve broader wetlands management, restoration, and conservation goals, in part by securing payment for carbon credits. The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has been at the forefront of blue carbon research, working with end users to provide the information and tools needed to bring blue carbon projects to the carbon market. While end users are becoming more interested in the opportunities that carbon markets present, they are limited by uncertainties, particularly the potential transaction costs associated with bringing a wetland restoration project to market.
Through this project, the Waquoit Bay Reserve and its partners are building on efforts from Phase 1 of the “Bringing Wetlands to Market in Massachusetts” project. The team is working with end users to test the broader applicability of a previously developed model to accurately predict greenhouse gas fluxes across a wide range of coastal wetlands using a few environmental and ecological variables. The team is exploring, and working to fill, the blue carbon-related information needs of end users. One effort involves conducting a first-of-its-kind carbon market feasibility study for a wetland restoration project. The team is also developing targeted tools and education programs for coastal managers, decision makers, and teachers. These efforts will build an understanding of blue carbon and the capacity to integrate blue carbon considerations into restoration and management decisions.
Nature-based, ecologically enhanced, or soft shoreline stabilization techniques have the potential to maintain and enhance important ecological services, provide greater resilience to physical forces, and be cost-competitive with traditional approaches. In order for these techniques to be used more widely in the Hudson River Estuary, their performance must be demonstrated and evaluated locally. Landowners, site designers, and decision makers have expressed this need to enhance their confidence in proposing innovative designs to clients, investing in sustainable shoreline construction, and steering permit applications toward these less traditional options.
Over the past eight years, the Science Collaborative has supported the Hudson River Sustainable Shorelines Project, which engages a regional research team to quantify the ecological functions and physical stresses on the full range of Hudson River shorelines. This research is the basis for development of information and tools needed by regulators, engineers, and resource managers to identify the best settings and approaches for sustainable shoreline protection in the Hudson River Estuary. The current project expands that work by 1) developing and fieldvalidating rapid assessment protocols for physical and ecological functions of ecologically enhanced shorelines; and 2) training local land managers in these protocols. This work will solidify confidence in the suitability of novel shoreline techniques in the Hudson River Estuary and enable local managers to track performance.
Coastal restoration efforts are critical to restoring habitat, but projects are often carried out with little to no monitoring and evaluation of success. Without monitoring and evaluation, it is difficult to make comparisons across restoration designs to determine which are most functional, sustainable, and cost-effective. This reality, in combination with limited “best practices” resources for coastal restoration, significantly hinders project implementation.
The project team is collaborating with a group of coastal managers, researchers, and outreach specialists to help fill these gaps and evaluate several coastal restoration designs at the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The designs compare nursery-grown marsh plants with naturally colonized marshes, both with and without offshore breakwaters. Additionally, these combinations of restoration designs are being evaluated for their potential to address the effects of sea-level rise. Information gained from this research, and the regulatory knowledge provided by the advisory group, will be combined with pre-existing literature to produce manuals and workshops, and inform stakeholder meetings. The project team will share the manuals and workshops with private property owners, contractors, and agencies. The research and outreach associated with this project will improve the effectiveness and ease of implementation of coastal restoration projects.
This project confronts two critical obstacles to the advancement of public understanding of science. First, there is a need for K-12 teaching resources and professional development that will help teachers demonstrate scientific research practices and teach critical thinking skills. Second, while the best source of authentic, current, and topical research examples is scientists themselves, research scientists are often poorly trained to communicate their science to a broad audience. This project will enhance K-12 science curriculum by providing teachers with resources that offer authentic examples of the research process and how science is applied to solve problems. It will also enhance graduate students’ science communication skills by providing formal training and an opportunity to translate their research into activities for secondary classrooms.
Nature-based shoreline stabilization techniques have the potential to maintain and enhance important ecological services, provide greater resilience to physical forces, and be cost-competitive with traditional approaches. Over the past eight years, the Hudson River Sustainable Shorelines Project has engaged a regional team to develop the information and tools needed by regulators, engineers, and resource managers. These groups will identify the best settings and approaches for nature-based shoreline protection in the Hudson Estuary. Considerable knowledge is available about alternative techniques, current research, and regional conditions. However, there is a need to develop a common understanding of what resources are available, what is still needed, and how the review of proposed actions could be standardized. The Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve is workng with New York State agencies to capture what is known about nature-based shoreline stabilization approaches and other natural and nature-based features to reduce risk and enhance resilience.
The Gulf Coast continues to lose coastal wetlands at an alarming rate. In addition to improving water quality, stabilizing shorelines, and providing habitat, coastal wetlands sequester and store significant amounts of carbon in their soils. Valuation of this climate mitigation service, referred to as blue carbon, could lead to increased prioritization and funding for coastal conservation and restoration. Moreover, coastal managers are asked to consider greenhouse gas management implications of their decisions. For example, when coastal ecosystems are degraded or drained, the carbon stored in their soils can be released back into the atmosphere, resulting in significant emissions. Emerging carbon markets could provide funding for wetland conservation and restoration, supporting the protection of these substantial carbon stores. Restore America’s Estuaries is partnering with the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Training Program Initiative and the five research reserves in the Gulf Coast to promote blue carbon projects.