On Flood and Thirst: How Communities Are Adapting to the Age of Unpredictable Water

In Keene, New Hampshire, Duncan Watson looks out the window with trepidation as rain pounds the glass of his office at the Public Works Department; in 2005, a flood in his hometown killed seven people. And across the country in Santa Fe, New Mexico, forest fuels specialist Bill Armstrong fears he’s losing a race against the clock to thin and prescriptively burn the tree-crowded national forest before a prolonged drought sets the stage for another mega-fire.

What do these two men have in common? They’re on opposite sides of the same coin, dealing with the consequences of what Watson calls a “caffeinated climate” in which change is not so much about the slowly rising thermostat, but about more pronounced extremes, from very wet to very dry.

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A Climate Adaptation Plan in the Unlikeliest City

August 21, 2013

Detroit, MI

When we arrive in Detroit, it is at once beautiful and dilapidated, bustling and devoid. The Detroit Institute of Arts building, an apartment building on East Kirby Street, the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church—they’re historical landmarks that have managed to stay current, stay open, stay inhabited. But there’s an emptiness that surrounds them. Buildings on the skyline are hollow; the memories of what once filled them fading. Woodward Avenue seems oddly wide for the number of cars traversing it. It was built for a time of more traffic.

Woodward Avenue in Detroit

Woodward Avenue in Detroit

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Fighting Drought with a New Super Corn

Gothenburg, Nebraska to Belmond, Iowa

August 14-17, 2013

So how exactly do you win a tilling competition? We’re at the Prairie Homestead Antique Power and Country Craft Show in Belmond, Iowa, of all places, watching farmers on tractors practicing for the next day’s tillage contest.

Farmers practicing for the next day's tilling competition in Belmond, IA

Farmers practicing for the next day’s tilling competition in Belmond, IA

“You drive as straight as you can,” David Sieck, of Glenwood, Iowa, tells us. Sieck, a former president and current board member of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, has been growing field corn (used for animal feed and ethanol) in Iowa for over 35 years.

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With New Rooftops, Chicago Tries to Keep Its Cool

Chicago, IL

August 19, 2013

The roof on top of Crane Technical High School on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago is blindingly white—so reflective that we’re squinting through our sunglasses. Installed by Knickerbocker Paving & Roofing Co., the 110,000-square-foot white roof is part of Chicago’s efforts to reverse the urban heat island effect that can make cities up to 10 degrees hotter than surrounding rural areas. From our vantage point, we can see a mosaic of light-colored roofs reflecting the sun’s rays away from the urban core.

The view from the white rooftop of Crane Technical High School

The view from the white rooftop of Crane Technical High School

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Glacier National Park Prepares for a Future without Glaciers

Glacier National Park, MT

August 7-8, 2013

Our hike up to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park winds through alpine meadows, along the edge of ice-cut cliffs, up a waterfall staircase, and around a stubborn ram. The views are breathtaking in the most literal sense of that word. The three lakes filling the valley below us are an impossible blue. As the trail cuts back and forth, we catch glimpses of Grinnell’s steel white face. And then finally, we’re there, standing at the edge of a giant ice bath as two young boys skip rocks across the mirroring water.

Allie Goldstein and Kirsten Howard atop a rock in front of Grinnell Glacier, which is retreating (melting) quickly.

Allie Goldstein and Kirsten Howard atop a rock in front of Grinnell Glacier, which is retreating (melting) quickly.

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Why Climate Change Is Not the End of Wine

July 26, 2013

Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley has often found itself featured in national newspapers and magazines as the paparazzied ‘poster child’ of climate change impacts on agriculture. Recent media coverage has been based on two studies: One 2011 study out of Stanford suggests the land suitable for premium grapes in Northern California could be cut in half by 2040, while vineyards might thrive in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. And a 2013 study led by Conservation International, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, predicts a two-thirds drop in production in the world’s major wine-growing regions, including Napa Valley.

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Preventing a Joshua Treeless National Park

July 21-22

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The desert has much to teach us about the marvels of adaptation. Relentless sun, little water, and summer temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit can make a forbidding world for non-desert dwellers. Yet hundreds of species conserve moisture and beat the heat in fascinating ways. –Joshua Tree National Park visitor’s map

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Mesquite at the Table

July 19, 2013

Tucson, Arizona

When Laurie Melrood, a social worker who counsels undocumented immigrants, moved to Tucson a decade ago, her motto changed from ‘eat your garden’ to ‘eat your yard.’ It wasn’t an easy transition. For a while, she brooded about the soil conditions behind her house. Then, one afternoon, a Yaqui friend came over, climbed a tree, and started shaking down mesquite pods. Melrood hadn’t given the trees much thought before this moment—in fact, she’d swept the pods off her patio to throw them away. But the stubborn desert plant soon captivated her, and today, Melrood holds mesquite workshops at her home a dozen times a year. She teaches the history and uses of mesquite, then takes the group to harvest pods from trees at nearby Joaquin Murietta Park.

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Rainwater Harvesters Reap Bounty in Arid Tucson

Tucson, AZ

July 19, 2013

Brad Lancaster describes the strip of vegetation beside the sidewalk outside his Tucson, Arizona home as “an orchard and a pharmacy.” The desert ironwood tree has peanut flavored seeds and blooms that make a delicious salad garnish. Creosote is good for athlete’s foot. Chuparosa has a red flower that tastes like cucumber. The barrel cactus’s yellow fruit can be used for chutneys or hair conditioner. Mesquite pods make nutritious flour. And many more. Depending on the season, Lancaster gets 10 to 20 percent of his food from this sidewalk garden, and another in his yard.

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Colorado Fruit Growers Harness Wind, Water, and Fire to Save Harvest

July 8-10, 2013

Paonia & Hotchkiss, Colorado

Glenn Austin started farming on his family’s organic dairy and tobacco farm in Tennessee at the ripe age of five. As a young man, he worked for Monsanto, but after several years Austin decided petrochemical fertilizers weren’t for him, so he and his wife made the move from Tennessee to the Western Slopes of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to plant a sustainable orchard. This year he turns 70 and marks his 43rd year farming in Paonia. When we hopped on Austin’s golf cart to tour his family farm, which sits high on a mesa in the North Fork Valley, things were in full swing. Continue reading

An Almanac in the Age of Climate Change

New Orleans, Louisiana

June 28, 2013

Julia Kumari Drapkin originally wanted to start iSeeChange, a media project that connects citizen observers and climate scientists, in New Orleans. As a Florida native who grew up swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, Drapkin never imagined herself living in Paonia, Colorado, (generous) population estimate: 2,000.

So when the producer at KVNF, the local radio station in Paonia, asked her to bring her Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant there, Drapkin found the town on a map. She had covered climate science from the Arctic to Mongolia to Australia and had a hunch that there was more to the simplified story about the ‘climate debate’ in the United States. After talking with the producer, Drapkin realized that Paonia—an eclectic town of coal miners, fruit farmers, and journalists in the North Fork Valley—was the perfect place to rethink that story.

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Georgia Farmers Irrigate Smarter

Camilla, Georgia

June 24, 2013

Transcript:

Allie Goldstein: This is Allie Goldstein and Kirsten Howard of Adaptation Stories. On June 24, 2013, we visited Camilla, Georgia.

We spent the day with Casey Cox, a 21-year-old, sixth-generation Georgian who just finished college and has returned to Camilla to help run her family farm. Some people were surprised by her decision.

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Queen Quet, Unedited

Saint Helena Island, South Carolina

June 22, 2013

The Gullah/Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans captured in Angola and other parts of the Western Seaboard of Africa who now stretch from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, do not have a word for “adaptation” or “resiliency” in their Creole language. And yet, as Queen Quet, the elected head-of-state for the Gullah/Geechee, explains in the (unedited) clip above, the Gullah/Geechee are an incredibly resilient people: they maintained their culture through slavery and today continue traditional farming practices on family compounds.

“What we understand, or overstand as I like to say—that’s what others call adapting,” Queen Quet said. “We call it living.”

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Searching for Shade in Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky

June 12-13, 2013

Known for its derbies and its Olmsted parks; Louisville, Kentucky, is also gaining notoriety as the city with the fastest growing urban heat island in the country, according to research at the Georgia Tech Urban Climate Lab. We wanted to find out what people in Louisville are doing to prepare and protect themselves against the heat. Watch Louisville’s story about the citizens who are banding together to get trees in the ground.

To view more photos click here.

Keeping Baltimore Neighborhoods Cool

Baltimore, Maryland

June 4, 2013

Baltimore is known as the “city of neighborhoods.” Kristin Baja, the new Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Planner for the city, is working on learning the names of all 225 of them. She’s eight months into job and doing pretty well so far—as we drive around the city, she’s rattling off names: Patterson Park, the Middle East, Four By Four (which is actually a four block by four block square), Oliver, Ellwood Park. Easier than memorizing neighborhoods, though, is figuring out what areas of the city are in need of more tree canopy. These are the areas with no respite of shade during extreme heat events.

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Dropping Lake Levels Cause Pentwater Residents to Innovate

Pentwater, Michigan

May 13-14, 2013

Long-time residents of Pentwater, Michigan—population 847 as of the last census—have seen many changes over the years, from the array of windmills sited in their fruit orchards to tourists descending on what used to be a sleepy one-room schoolhouse village beside Michigan’s majestic freshwater ocean. Yet 10 o’clock coffee remains unchanged by the decades. A group of a couple dozen Pentwater men have been meeting at a local coffee shop six days a week since coffee was a dime a cup. ‘The Ladies’ started their own coffee club a few decades ago, but sit at a separate table at Good Stuffs, a local café.

“Come to 10 o’clock coffee to find out what’s going on. If not, come the next day,” Jack Patterson, owner of Patterson Marina, told us over a cup. Continue reading