NOAA Awards $243,000 to Prepare Lake Sunapee Watershed for Climate Change/Population Growth

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

The project partners hope to protect a vulnerable storm-water 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 storm water risk levels for the Lake Sunapee watershed and other communities facing significant impacts from climate change and population growth.

Recent experience and scientific studies are clear. 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. – Latham Stack, CEO of Syntectic.

The interdisciplinary team includes lead investigator Latham Stack, CEO of Syntectic International; Michael Simpson, Jim Gruber, and Colin Lawson of Antioch University New England; Dr. Robert Roseen of the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center; Thomas Crosslin from Climate Techniques of Portland, Oregon; and Robert Wood of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association. Internationally recognized adaptation expert Joel Smith with Stratus Consulting in Boulder, Colorado 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, like many others, 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.

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 storm water 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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