The Nature Conservancy has announced plans to work with catastrophe risk modeling firm RMS, as well as with the Global Disaster Preparedness Center and others, in an effort to address climate impacts in South Florida.
The global conservation organization said the partnerships will focus on two risk demonstration projects in Miami-Dade County to find new ways to address sea-level rise, storms, floods and other climate impacts in the disaster-prone region.
According to the Conservancy, the projects will highlight and maximize the use of nature-based infrastructure solutions, such as mangroves, coral reefs, wetlands and dunes, as an important line of defense for coastal and community protection. These natural features, according to the Nature Conservancy, are often cost-effective tools to absorb floodwaters, lessen wave energy and protect coastal residents and assets from the damages caused by storms.
The organization said it plans to look at ways to protect Miami-Dade County’s more than $345 billion in assets and 2.6 million people at risk due to flooding and sea-level rise. The county has already invested millions of dollars in natural and coastal area protection along with parks, trails and other open spaces. These natural areas – or natural “capital” – can be leveraged for more protection for county residents and assets, and enhanced and restored for further community risk reduction, according to the Nature Conservancy.
“The new partnerships will further support and demonstrate how effective these efforts can be to build resilience across the region and beyond,” the group said in a statement.
The new two-year partnerships formed by the Nature Conservancy to advance Miami-Dade’s community resilience include global catastrophe risk modeling firm RMS. It will focus on building standards for the modeling of mangroves and salt marshes in RMS models, ensuring that the coastal protection value of these natural systems is reflected in risk assessment and management decisions.
“Through RMS’ risk models we can quantify the way that natural ecosystems, such as coastal marshes, can reduce the cost and damage from floods to the properties they protect. In an era of rising sea levels and potentially stronger storms we will increasingly want to evaluate the role that such habitats can play in risk mitigation,” said Dr. Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at RMS.
The Conservancy will also partner with The Global Disaster Preparedness Center (managed by the American Red Cross) to incorporate natural systems into disaster preparedness plans in two soon-to-be identified key geographies, with a focus on technology and coastal cities’ ecosystems for the protection of vulnerable people.
Finally, the Conservancy is partnering with engineering firm CH2M and Miami-Dade County to prepare conceptual planning designs for two projects that contribute to flood risk reduction using natural systems or natural/engineered hybrid approaches in Miami-Dade County.
The first project, Wagner Creek Green Spaces, will involve the redesign of several creek-side properties in the Health District to create a desirable open space that absorbs some of the storm water flooding in the area. The second pilot project, in South Dade, will model the flood risk reduction and storm protection provided to the County’s billion-dollar South District Wastewater Treatment Plant by the mangroves and other natural features between the plant and Biscayne Bay. Opportunities to maintain or increase protection of the plant with natural and hybrid approaches will also be modeled.
“When you learn that just 100 meters of mangroves can reduce wave height by 67 percent you know instantly that this is not your usual feel good story about the environment – this is a strong business case for nature – and it often comes with the added benefits of improved water quality and fisheries protection,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, managing director for Coastal Risk and Investment, The Nature Conservancy.
The use of natural infrastructure – alone or in tandem with hybrid coastal and inland engineering techniques – can be more cost effective over time than just the use of concrete seawalls and levies on their own. Nature grows larger and stronger over time, whereas seawalls and breakwaters erode and cost more due to necessary maintenance and repair. One study, the Conservancy said, shows the cost of building a breakwater versus restoring a natural reef, is 20 to 1.
“Taking action is key, and understanding and using our natural capital, especially when we can measure how cost effective it can be in protecting coastlines and our infrastructure, is just plain smart business,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. “The decisions we make today about the infrastructure we put in place – whether natural or manmade – will have a long-lasting impact on how we live and work. We should let nature do its very best job for us.”