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Climate Change and Rainfall: New Ways To Mitigate Flooding and Manage Watersheds

Sep 20, 2015 09:39 PM EDT
Concrete Dam
When too much rain drowns an area, dams and watersheds are at risk of overflowing. This could have devastating effects on local areas.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Flooding might not seem like an immediate concern, what with the widespread drought plaguing California. But there are also risks associated with too much rain. When this happens, watersheds risk overflowing. This may then lead to damaging wastewater, or runoff. To mitigate the consequences, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggest that land use managers use different development strategies in the future. 

"We also want to highlight the importance of natural systems such as forest cover and open space when a town is considering new parking lots or shopping centers, for example. You can't just take away such ecosystem services and expect everything to be OK. All towns now have a big problem dealing with storm water, and with climate change it's going to get worse. In the past, the problems just flowed away to become some other town's problem, but that isn't going to work anymore," Timothy Randhir, a watershed scientists, said in a news release

Using satellite images and water flow and temperature observations, the researchers devised practical and incentivizing ways for developers to include water quality, green infrastructure and conservation plans in future projects.

Their study also provides a better understanding of the role that climate change has in the hydrologic system, and how to assess what areas in the U.S. are at risk of runoff from flooding watershed systems. To do this, they had to consider not only the temperature and precipitation of an area, but also local stream networks, soil type and land uses, meaning number of parking lots or dam systems. 

Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. The researchers suggest that if land use planers are able to use preventative measures from the beginning, there will be less pieces to pick up after excessive rains.

"There seems to be a better understanding now that water flowing away from you doesn't just disappear, it affects someone else, and a problem in the system above you will affect you. This kind of systems thinking has to take over, and cooperation has to be used more often," Randhir said in a statement. 

One example of future development strategies that could be implemented is more porous pavement, which would allow the ground to absorb water and lessen the amount of runoff. 

"Right now this is not built into anyone's thinking, but we also suggest that cities and towns move away from using only site-specific approaches that fix a local problem and a shift toward a system-wide approach. We hope towns and cities can use this information to change their land use practices," Randhir added in the release. 

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).   

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