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Weathering the Storm

Jeff Gunderson

Extreme weather events, like the Solstice Flood we experienced in Duluth, are impressive in their raw power, devastation, and ability to disrupt peopleís lives. The increased frequency of extreme weather, not only here but across the U.S., has given urgency to Sea Grantís work with coastal communities and regional climate change. Reflecting on Minnesota Sea Grantís efforts related to storms, stormwater, and mitigation practices, I realized weíre helping coastal communities in numerous ways.

Much of the devastation from heavy rainfalls is caused by how communities have paved, roofed, and mowed their watersheds, funneling and speeding water along its way. Minnesota Sea Grant coordinates Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) in cooperation with University of Minnesota Extension. Through NEMO, hundreds of local leaders in watersheds across Minnesota have a better grasp on the ways impervious surfaces affect water quality and runoff. Our popular education tool, The Watershed Game, has proven to be an award-winning way to inspire local governments, resource managers, and extension educators to cooperate on water quality challenges and to factor watershed integrity into community planning.

Stormwater runoff along the shoreline of Lake Superior following the Solstice Flood of 2012. Photo by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Stormwater runoff along the shoreline of Lake Superior following the Solstice Flood.

Directly blaming events like the deluge in Duluth on climate change is foolhardy, but such extreme weather is consistent with climate change predictions. Our new Climate Change Extension Educator (funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and co-supported by Wisconsin Sea Grant) is working with coastal communities along the shores of Lake Superior to review infrastructure needs with respect to the expectation that storms will continue to be more frequent and intense.

Not too long ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationís Coastal Storms Program approached the Sea Grant Network about establishing an outreach program in the Great Lakes. We made a successful pitch for placing one of two new positions in Minnesota. Partnering with the Coastal Services Center, we are hiring a Coastal Storms Outreach Coordinator. The coordinator will support Great Lakes coastal communities with accessible weather, beach, and water safety forecasts and work with them to minimize stormwater impacts by instituting mitigation practices.

Taking our Regional Stormwater Protection Team (RSPT) commitment seriously, Minnesota Sea Grant has been selected to host a Minnesota GreenCorps member. The position, coordinated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is part of the nationwide AmeriCorps Program. Our GreenCorps colleague will work with the RSPT to provide resources, information, and assistance to youth, residents, and businesses in the Duluth area on managing stormwater. Such focus on public education and capacity building will significantly boost regional stormwater efforts.

Several years ago, Minnesota Sea Grant joined with others to install stormwater treatments in a neighborhood of Duluth. While the rain gardens and barrels, swales, rock sumps and ditch checks did little to temper the June 2012 deluge, they lasted through it and will continue to slow runoff during smaller rain events. There is a great deal we, and other Great Lakes communities, can learn from our regionís Solstice Flood. Our work to help coastal communities better prepare for an uncertain future is more important than ever.


By Jeff Gunderson
July 2012

Return to July 2012 Seiche



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