Walking the Floodplain to Protect Historic Portsmouth from Sea Level Rise

Portsmouth, NH

Kirsten Howard

With the road trip part of the Adaptation Stories project now complete, I’m walking along narrow brick lined streets through the Historic District of my new hometown: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This quaint Atlantic Seacoast community was the third settled U.S. city, so the homes in the South End neighborhood are historic gems. Some played host to George Washington in the 1700s, while others housed factory workers in a more industrial era.

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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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Sharing Shelter in San Francisco

July 23-25, 2013

San Francisco, CA

From Nashville, Tennessee to Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Osos, California, Airbnb has been a favorite tool for finding accommodations on the road. If you aren’t familiar with it, Airbnb is an increasingly popular online platform through which people rent their spare room or extra apartment to travelers passing through town. The company is revolutionizing the bed & breakfast business—an in-house study found that Airbnb contributed $56 million to the San Francisco economy in 2011 and a whopping $240 million to Paris’s economy in 2012. Continue reading

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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Denver Residents Pay Forest Service to Keep Their Water Clean

July 11-14, 2013

Denver, CO

As we stand at the Dillon Reservoir in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, we’re daunted by the expanse of water. Sailboats and speedboats zip back and forth, enjoying the summer season. At one end, the water is mostly contained by a high cement wall but for a steady stream slipping over the dam on its way to Denver. Abutting the reservoir is the White River National Forest, made up mostly of lodgepole pine trees. Some trees are laid barren by the pine beetle, some scarred by fire, some still healthy.

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A Fight for Fire in New Mexico

Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

July 6, 2013

This story does not represent the views of the U.S. Forest Service. Bill Armstrong was interviewed as a fellow alumnus of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Driving through the Santa Fe National Forest, it is hard to believe that this landscape was once savannah-like, with grassy clearings opening up among the ponderosa pine. Now, there are about 900 trees crowded in per acre where there used to be 40.

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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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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.

Norfolk Rises Above the Rising Tide

Norfolk, Virginia

June 10, 2013

Everyone was dripping wet in the elevator on our way to the Flood Executive Group meeting in Norfolk, Virginia’s City Hall. A young man squeezed in on the third floor.

“I’m thinking of going for a swim today after work—right off my front porch,” he joked.

Norfolk has the distinction of being in the second most vulnerable metropolitan area in the U.S.—after New Orleans—to sea level rise, so quips about flooding are common. But, unfortunately, there is always some truth to the banter: even the day’s intermittent thundershowers would lead to flash floods in some neighborhoods.

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Delaware’s Beach Houses Surf, Then Freeboard

Lewes and Bethany Beach, Delaware

June 7-9, 2013

When Arthur and Roberta Leib returned to Bethany Beach, Delaware after the Great March Storm of 1962, instead of finding their army-surplus house in its usual grassy lot off 5th Street, they encountered it surfing among the downed utility wires at the intersection of 5th and Pennsylvania. Fortunately, they were able to retrieve the house and move it back to “higher ground,” which according to their son, Jeff Leib, consisted of the foot or two of sand that had blown into the lot with the Nor’easter winds. Thanks to this recovery, we were able to enjoy a few days at the beach in the quaint, blue house with an adventurous spirit. Of course, not every house was so lucky. Continue reading

For Vermont Farmers, the Road to Resilience Is Winding

Cuttingsville and Burlington Vermont

May 24-27, 2013

It takes us an entire morning and part of an afternoon to find Evening Song Farm. I think they got wiped out by the flood, the owner of a sandwich shop in Cuttingsville, Vermont shrugs. A few miles down the road, we find Evening Song’s faded sign. No answer at the door. A woman at the garden shop tells us to cross the bridge and then the railroad tracks, turn right onto a dirt road, and follow it to the top.

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‘Live Free’ Spirit Could Keep Keene, NH Afloat

Keene, New Hampshire

Thursday, May 23

Duncan Watson and André both get the jitters when it rains. For Watson, Assistant Director of Public Works for Keene, New Hampshire, heavy precipitation events bring back memories of the massive storm the city experienced in October 2005 that dumped 11 inches of rain in 24 hours. Near Watson’s house, the Cold River overflowed, unleashing a 20-foot tall wall of water that wiped out many homes and killed seven people.

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Ann Arbor’s Climate-Smart Stormwater Utility

Ann Arbor, Michigan

May 16-20, 2013

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees. In fact, the opposite is probably more true, as maintaining urban canopies and parks is a major expense for many local governments. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, a newly structured stormwater utility is helping the City pay for its namesake—and prompting residents to think differently about the connection between their land, water, and trees.

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Grand Rapids: A Little Riverside City with A Big Sustainability Punch

Grand Rapids, Michigan

May 15, 2013

Sitting in a conference room in the midst of Grand Rapids’ state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, Mike Lunn, the Director of the City’s Environmental Services Department, tells us a story. It’s a universal story—one that applies to countless towns and cities as they cropped up across America:

First, in the late 1800s, they just sent raw sewage in pipes straight down to the river. When the city started smelling unpleasant, some bright individuals combined the sewer pipe system with the rainwater system, allowing the rain to naturally flush out the sewage pipes. But eventually, the river’s foul odor was too harsh on the olfactory glands, so they ran the pipes parallel along the riverbed, sending the sewage downstream. After a while the neighbors complained, so, in the 1930s, they built the first wastewater treatment plant to clean the sewage water before it reached the river.

In some cities, the story more or less ends there. But in Grand Rapids, the Environmental Service Department’s (ESD) attitude is that the plant’s processes need to be continually improving.

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