On Air: Coastal Resilience in the Hudson Valley
Hudson River Estuary - News

Kingston, NY, January 1, 2021 - In this episode from season five of the Future Cities podcast, George Scott interviews Dr. Klaus H. Jacob, an expert in disaster risk at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (@LamontEarth), Ryan Palmer, the Director of the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak (@slccurb/@sarahlawrence), and Jessica Kuonen, the Hudson River Estuary Resilience Specialist at New York Sea Grant (@nyseagrant) to learn more about how the Hudson Valley and its local communities are planning to enhance their resilience to climate-related coastal threats.

The Hudson River flows from the alpine peaks of New York State’s Adirondack Mountains to the harbor of New York City. Its tidal valley includes diverse suburban communities and post-industrial cities that will face new challenges from sea level rise and amplified storms as climate changes over the next few decades. 

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Stream the conversation above or listen to the podcast via Future Cities main page - Jessica's discussion begins around 28 minutes and 50 seconds into the podcast. Her segment runs until about 39 minutes and 46 seconds into the 45 minute podcast. She provides additional insights on resilience around 41 minutes and 39 seconds until about 42 minutes and 52 seconds.

Future Cities is a monthly podcast that aims to increase awareness of, and to catalyze action on, urban resilience. The show examines this topic by discussing ongoing research, highlighting current efforts, and sharing stories of resilience in cities across the world. By exploring a wide variety of perspectives, the show digs deep into understanding the many dimensions of resilience and the ways in which cities prepare themselves for the extreme weather events of tomorrow. New episodes will be released at the start of every month. 

Partial Transcript:

[00:00:15] Hi, I'm George Scott, a current senior at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, studying ecology and environmental science. And I will be your host for this episode of Future Cities for the next 40 minutes or so. We will be talking [00:00:30] about coastal resilience in the Hudson Valley.

[00:00:33] The Hudson Valley is approximately a 7,000 square mile region surrounding the Hudson River in New York State. The valley is home to major cities such as Albany and Troy at its northernmost point, as well as Yonkers and the southern part of the region bordering the New York metropolitan area. The Hudson River runs primarily from north to south in the valley before eventually emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, just 30 miles south of Yonkers. [00:01:00] The portion of the Hudson, that flows through the valley is considered a tidal estuary, which means that these cities along the river generally experience to high tides and two low tides a day. During these tides, the saltwater of the Atlantic flows all the way up from New York Harbor to Troy and mixes with the fresh water of the Hudson River. Tidal estuaries are extremely productive ecosystems that sustain an abundance of biodiversity and provide many ecosystem [00:01:30] services, such as commercial fishing and recreational activities. The Hudson River estuary is no exception. It is home to over 200 species of fish and key habitats such as marshes and mudflats. For the Hudson Valley, the estuary is an indispensable economic and ecological resource. Many of the major cities in the Hudson Valley, including Albany and Yonkers, are built directly adjacent to the Hudson River shoreline.

[00:01:58] These waterfront communities [00:02:00] face numerous challenges and becoming more resilient and adapting to the various impacts of climate change and global warming. Among these major challenges are sea level rise and storm surge. Because of the ebb and flow of the estuary, the effects of rising seas in the Atlantic and major storms like hurricanes are felt all the way up the valley.

[00:02:23] During this podcast, I will be speaking to a geophysicist and members of two different local organizations in [00:02:30] order to learn more about the research and work being done to build coastal resilience in the Hudson Valley. What can we learn from these waterfront communities and cities in the Valley who are on the front lines when it comes to the impacts of climate change? We will also be taking a step back and discussing what resilience really means in the face of climate change and global warming.

[00:28:52] Lastly, I spoke with Jessica Kuonen, who is the Hudson Estuary Resilience Specialist at New York Sea Grant, Jessica works from Kingston, New York, [00:29:00] in the Hudson Valley and specializes in watershed and land use planning and policy in response to climate change impacts and extreme weather. She serves a variety of stakeholder groups as part of New York Sea Grant that include coastal communities, coastal businesses and public and private landowners in the Hudson Valley. Here is what we talked about.

[00:29:21] What are some ways that the Hudson Valley area is impacted by climate change?

[00:29:26] So when it comes to climate projections for the Hudson Valley, we [00:29:30] kind of have these like three main projections and then all these cascading impacts. So one is increasing temperatures. So this can look like heat waves, which is not good for human health and is more of an issue in cities. If you think about it, if more people are running air conditioning, that leads to higher utility costs, it can tax the electrical grid, which leads to power outages and increasing temperatures and heat waves can impact our food systems, [00:30:00] you know, if crops fail and it also impacts the ecology. So all these plant and animal communities that, you know, the Hudson, this environment is where they thrive. And since the environment is changing, they're stressed, they're shifting where they live. And that can lead to more of a chance for things like invasive species and pests to come in. The second big one is changes in precipitation patterns. So that means more erratic, [00:30:30] more frequent and intense rain events with periods of drought in between. So yesterday was a really good example. It rained, you know, hard and heavy all day long. I'm sure you experienced it. And I was on Facebook in the evening and a lot of people were reporting things like having flooded basements, flooded roads, emergency services were out helping people.

[00:30:53] And just all this extra water leads to flooding based on the way that we've altered the landscape. Another factor in this [00:31:00] is water quality. You know, there's pollutants, there's nitrogen and runoff that can impact water quality and lead to harmful algal blooms and impact our drinking water supplies. And then the third major projection is rising sea level because we are in an estuary. So over the past century, sea level has risen about a foot in the Hudson Valley and it is currently accelerating. And by the end of the century, [00:31:30] it could rise as much as six feet. A lot of our waterfront communities are already experiencing extra high tides every now and then. It often happens during the full and the new moon. And we call this nuisance flooding, sunny day flooding where roads, homes and businesses along the waterfront can get flooded during a tidal cycle. When you have higher water levels and you have boat traffic, it's more energy hitting the shoreline and that can cause erosion. So this slowly starts to eat away at the land [00:32:00] along the river.

[00:32:01] And then finally, we have a lot of infrastructure down by the water. So things like our wastewater treatment plants, you know, we have our train tracks which are really vital for the Hudson Valley that are all located right there by the river. So all of these things together translate into a lot of money, money in the short term, money in the long term that we have to spend. And these are all kind of unfolding over time. And then, of course, I have to mention the extreme events, which [00:32:30] are our storms of record were tropical storms, Lee and Irene, which happened in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. And Lee and Irene, you know, the main thing was the precipitation. So there was all this rainfall that caused catastrophic flooding high up in the valley all the way down to the river. And then Hurricane Sandy, it was less about rainfall and more about the storm surge that came up from the ocean. So those two events back to back three events [00:33:00] actually were kind of wake up calls and gave us kind of like a glimpse into what we're going to be experiencing more in the future.

[00:33:08] Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with New York City Grant and what the mission of the program is? Because I know it's doing a lot of really important work right now.

[00:33:17] Sea Grant is a national program. We have a state program in every coastal and Great Lakes state, and it is a federal university partnership between NOAA and the Land Grant University in each [00:33:30] state. Sometimes it's a few universities, and the general mission is to help citizens better understand, conserve and utilize America's coastal resources. And so what that means is for my position, which is extension specialist, is really to be that bridge between the latest academic research and what coastal communities really need and are experiencing. And so that goes two ways: we make sure communities are informed, but also that researchers are informed about what is actually needed. [00:34:00] Because, you know, those two things don't always align. And my focus in the Hudson is resilience. But I have colleagues on Long Island and in the Great Lakes that focus on things like seafood, aquaculture in New York. New York Sea Grant's tagline is "Bringing Science to the Shore." And we're about to have our 50th anniversary.

[00:34:20] What have been some of the challenges of addressing coastal resilience issues in the Hudson Valley?

[00:34:26] Yeah, so we have some big challenges. For one, [00:34:30] New York is a home rule state and broadly what that means is that the state can't enact any type of comprehensive floodplain management policy that everyone has to follow. Every community has to do it individually. And so there are some pros and cons to that. But it's definitely a con when it comes to trying to have comprehensive climate adaption planning. So a lot of the things that the partners [00:35:00] in the region tend to do are help communities, you know, update their comprehensive plans. This is a process that includes a lot of public engagement, helping communities update their zoning, run vulnerability and risk assessments. But all this stuff really takes years. So it requires a lot of technical assistance. Kind of related to that is I mentioned before that we have a lot of small communities along the river. So, you know, sometimes the population is like, [00:35:30] you know, 2,000 - 10,000 people for some of these waterfront communities. And therefore they have issues with what we call capacity. And that just means that even if they wanted to do any of these planning processes, they don't always have the money or the people power, you know, to carry it out, you know, and even if they had people that wanted to carry it out, they might just not have time.

[00:35:53] So one way we try to tackle that is the Hudson River Estuary Program provides grants [00:36:00] and Cornell Cooperative Extension provides a lot of technical assistance to try to help add extra hands, extra people power to these communities so that they can do this planning. I think another challenge is general awareness. And in getting buy-in from the communities. A lot of the places that have made progress have had some real champions, you know, some real individuals that have been able to take this work and make it happen and carry it forward. So there's definitely like [00:36:30] just getting it on people's minds front and center that this is something that needs to be planned for is always a problem, I think, and especially because you don't get immediate payoffs from it. Right. That's always the problem with trying to prevent something from happening. And then I'll also just say that in the Hudson Valley, we have these steep slopes. We don't have a lot of land. We don't have a lot of places that people can actually move to. And we especially are having some issues with affordable [00:37:00] and low income housing.

[00:37:01] There are some of the specific ways that Sea Grant spreads awareness around issues of coastal resilience.

[00:37:08] Yeah. So in general for New York Sea Grant, we have extension specialists like me throughout the state that stay informed on the issues. And so, you know, our role is really to connect people with resources based on whatever questions they have. So we have a website with resources and we have a pretty active social media account that people can plug [00:37:30] into if they want to. I also have a couple of projects going on in the Hudson to help raise awareness. One of them is establishing community flood reporting tool. And this is where if we were having a nuisance flooding one day, an extra high tide or maybe after a storm, people could go out, take pictures of it and then upload it to a website. And that way we can start to build a database that's actually documenting these impacts that can [00:38:00] help spread awareness because a picture is worth a 1,000 words. I also have a project that's developing some educational resources online that just kind of give that, like, broad view of what is happening in the Hudson Valley in a way that's simple, easy to understand and really speaks to the issues that matter to people. You know, we provide all this technical assistance, but I don't know if there's one resource we can point to for anyone that just wants the like, [00:38:30] you know, quick five minute skim, they can skim something and then like learn like, oh, this is what's happening here.

[00:38:36] So I have a project in the works to develop something like that within the next year. And then real quick, I also have a project I wanted to talk about, which is I worked with a colleague in Buffalo, Monica Miles, and we created an Environmental Justice Mapping Tools Guide. And this kind of gets at some of that interdisciplinary, justice-oriented [00:39:00] ways of approaching problems. And the way that came about as we started exploring how to use free online mapping tools to teach environmental justice just because maps are a powerful way to visualize data. And we ended up making this guide that brings together 22 different free mapping tools, talks a little bit about how to use them just because this information is out there. But people. Don't always know about it, and so my hope is that it will be used by community based [00:39:30] organizations and local officials to access data that can help them plan. And the data includes environmental stuff, demographic data, a little bit on health and housing and climate projections. So trying to bring that all together for people.

[00:39:48] It's clear that there is a lot of work and research being done to make the Hudson Valley more resilient. But what is resilience really mean? I asked both class and Jessica to unpack the term and get their own definitions. [00:40:00] Here's what they said.

[00:41:39] Resilience is a word that obviously means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and a lot of different contexts, but for this one, first, I'm going to read off a definition that's like a pretty good one that we use at New York Sea Grant, which is resilience is a community's ability to anticipate, prepare for, withstand and recover from extreme [00:42:00] weather events such as storms, flooding and drought. Resilient communities are better able to sustain vital services, healthy ecosystems and economic vitality. So that's a pretty good definition because it covers, you know, the human, the environment, the economy, all those different systems. But, you know, resilience, I guess my own personal definition, it's kind of the ability to accept and embrace change. It requires kind of like an openness to doing things differently, [00:42:30] being flexible and being comfortable with uncertainty. And another aspect of it, I think, is the ability to kind of center relationships. So relationships with the people you're working with, with your neighbors, with the environment, just because that kind of forces you to think more holistically and to take more of like a systems view.

[00:42:52] Klaus, Ryan and Jessica all pointed to some similar things during our interviews. They discussed how the Hudson Valley [00:43:00] and its coasts faced increasing temperatures, changes in precipitation, rising sea levels and potentially catastrophic storm surge. We also learned that all of these issues are going to impact crucial infrastructure in the valley, such as transportation systems and sewage treatment plants. Overall, it seems that there is a real need for comprehensive planning and spreading awareness about the impacts of climate change and global warming in local communities. The [00:43:30] best way to do this seems to be a combination of education, technical assistance, increased funding and collaboration among experts and community members. In Jessica's words, the more that we can accept and embrace change, the better.

[00:43:47] This has been an exploration of coastal resilience in the Hudson Valley. Thank you for listening.

[00:44:10] The [00:44:00] Future Cities podcast is an outreach effort brought to you by the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network, or (UREx SRN), as we usually refer to it. To learn more about Eurex, visit www.sustainability.asu.edu/urbanresilience.

[00:44:28] If you have any questions, feedback or [00:44:30] suggestions for future episodes, you can email us at futurecitiespodcast@gmail.com or send us a message on Twitter @FutureCitiedPodIf you enjoyed the episode, please rate and subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. See you next time.

More Info: New York Sea Grant

New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York (SUNY), is one of 34 university-based programs under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program.

Since 1971, NYSG has represented a statewide network of integrated research, education and extension services promoting coastal community economic vitality, environmental sustainability and citizen awareness and understanding about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources.

Through NYSG’s efforts, the combined talents of university scientists and extension specialists help develop and transfer science-based information to many coastal user groups—businesses and industries, federal, state and local government decision-makers and agency managers, educators, the media and the interested public.

The program maintains Great Lakes offices at Cornell University, University at Buffalo, SUNY Oswego and the Wayne County Cooperative Extension office in Newark. In the State's marine waters, NYSG has offices at Stony Brook University in Long Island, Brooklyn College and Cornell Cooperative Extension in NYC and Kingston in the Hudson Valley.

For updates on Sea Grant activities: www.nyseagrant.org has RSS, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube links. NYSG offers a free e-list sign up via www.nyseagrant.org/nycoastlines for its flagship publication, NY Coastlines/Currents, which is published quarterly. Our program also produces an occasional e-newsletter,"NOAA Sea Grant's Social Media Review," via its blog, www.nyseagrant.org/blog.

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