A Watershed Approach to Develop a Foundation for Design and Planning of Sustainable Development

Lay Summary 

Sustainable development requires resilient infrastructure systems that includes the capacity to adapt to a changing climate, often called climate change resilience. Planning and design for resilient infrastructure in a changing climate is a challenge for engineers and decision makers due to uncertainty about the future. Choices must be made using uncertain information about future climate, potential changes in land-use, and demographic changes to support local planning and infrastructure design. The complexity of processes that impact flood flows in rivers, design parameters for storm water infrastructure, and hazards and vulnerabilities to extreme storms requires local analysis and modelling and makes it difficult to anticipate changes without advance modelling techniques and expert knowledge. Most communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, including those along the Baccalieu Trail region, have limited resources and are not able to engage the level of modelling expertise and analysis that would fully account for this complexity. At present, engineering standards that incorporate climate change in NL only require the use of IDF (intensity-duration-frequency) curves for precipitation based on climate change projections. IDF curves provide an estimate of the magnitude and probability of extreme rain fall events, and climate change will increase both of these elements.

Standards that use IDFs allow for the relatively simple and inexpensive inclusion of climate change considerations into storm water infrastructure design. In order to allow for a more complete inclusion of potential climate change impacts and an accounting for the relevant uncertainty of design parameters, new standards need to be developed. Such standards should take into account the available resources of a community/municipality to engage the relevant expertise. This project uses a watershed-based approach to integrate hydrologic and storm drainage models and create a virtual watershed that is capable of simulating potential impacts of anthropogenic climate change, land-use change, and management decisions on infrastructure systems at multiple scales. The project will locate and map hazard areas and assess vulnerability of natural and built infrastructure assets for at least two watersheds in the region. The project takes a community-based approach to develop strategies to address identified vulnerabilities and design sustainable infrastructure assets by maximizing the use of eco-assets and green infrastructure. The project will enable building adaptive capacity into the design of storm water infrastructure from a systems perspective that includes community knowledge and involvement in the planning and design process. Stakeholders and participants in this project will attain a better understanding about the way water flows and functions in their area so they can make more informed choices for sustainable development. The results and approach taken in this project can support many aspects identified within the priority themes for the Baccalieu Trail Region to thrive. In addition to potential improvement in roads and access, more attractive storm water solutions will support tourism and culture, and can lead to increased business investment. Civil infrastructure is the foundation for sustainable development, and resilient infrastructure leads to resilient communities in thriving regions.

Thriving Regions Fund
Newfoundland and Labrador
Start date 
18 Jun 2020