Impact of Climate Change on Infrastructure

Stormwater Pond 02

We’re all too familiar with the concerns over climate change. We’ve heard the statistics and the impacts of climate change in New England, including: higher temperatures, more frequent precipitation, and more intense storms. Sea level rise (SLR) is on “the rise” for coastal communities and is threatening vital community infrastructure.

What Are We Doing About It? What Can We Do About It?
To many community leaders, the answers are complex and filled with apprehension. Wright-Pierce has seen communities struggle with these questions, and as a result, we have made it our mission to simplify the issues and focus on solutions that are achievable and backed by sound engineering. Wright Pierce – Climate Change Adaptation and Impacts

Understanding Mitigation & Adaptation
To help simplify the issues at hand, it is important to understand the difference between climate change “mitigation” and “adaptation.”
Mitigation of climate change involves actions to slow or reverse climate change trends. Mitigation is a global issue and one that will require significant action from world leaders to reduce carbon emissions and promote alternative energies, among other things.
Adaptation to climate change involves approaches, typically at the local and state level, to deal with the current and future impacts of climate change. Adaptation measures tend to focus on engineered solutions to protect existing and future infrastructure from future weather and oceanographic trends. As such, most of the opportunities to deal with climate change in New England relate to adaptation strategies.

Adaptation Strategies – Step #1
An important first step in adaptation is to understand the infrastructure within a community that is at risk of being impacted by severe climate events.
For the past several years, Wright-Pierce has assisted community leaders with studies that assess the impact a severe weather event will have on critical infrastructure and other vulnerable assets, from undersized culverts to valuable wastewater infrastructure located in low lying coastal regions subject to rising sea levels.  Wright-Pierce is lending clarity to the risks associated with climate change.

Adaptation Strategies – Step #2
The second step in adaptation is to develop conceptual engineering solutions to protect the assets identified in the impact study. Examples are tidal berms, culvert replacement projects, and even relocating wastewater facilities. Wright-Pierce has provided study, design, and cost estimating services to many New England communities dealing with at-risk assets. These designs and cost estimates are valuable tools that can then be used in public education campaigns. It is important to develop public awareness programs about the need to protect assets so as to gain positive traction towards meaningful solutions.

Adaptation Strategies – Step #3
The third step in adaptation is to present the list of vulnerable assets to the community leaders so essential dialogue can take place centered on the topics of risk, adaptation cost, and level of service. It is important that a community be given the whole picture of the risks and cost associated with climate change adaptation such that informed decisions can be made. Once a decision is made at the local level to proceed with an adaptation strategy, Wright-Pierce is ready to provide design and construction administration services for the selected project(s).

If you are in a community that is ready to take action to protect your valuable infrastructure, why not give us a call?  We would be more than happy to sit down with you to bring clarity to the often overwhelming issue of climate change adaptation.

Increased frequency of storms and severity of flooding prompts beach community to look for solutions. Click here to read the article.


Ryan Wingard, PE, Senior Project Manager, Stormwater Management SpecialistRyan T. Wingard, P.E., Group Leader


Watershed Nitrogen Control


Lawn Management- the”low hanging fruit” opportunity for nitrogen control

Over the past six years Wright-Pierce has written extensively about nitrogen impairment of coastal waters and the need for nitrogen control strategies to achieve water quality objectives. One important article addressed "Nitrogen – as the 21st Century Coastal Environment Challenge. To read more about nitrogen challenges, click here.

The three biggest sources of nitrogen imported into watershed include:

  • Food which becomes wastewater discharged to a septic system or public sewer system|
  • Atmospheric nitrogen pollution which gets deposited onto the landscape
  • Fertilizer used for agricultural land and lawn/turf grass care

Of all the sources of nitrogen, the fertilizer used on lawns and turf grass is the nitrogen source most economically reduced and should be a first line strategy for every nitrogen impaired watershed.

The fact is the subdivision house with ¼ acre to 1+ acre lawn is as American as apple pie and as a result of  all those lawns, a huge lawn care industry has emerged offering to help us keep those lawns green. The lawn care industry generally generates more revenue the more nitrogen they sell and most of the companies recommend the average homeowner apply 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn per year. These recommendations are decades old, excessive and uniformed by today’s water quality challenges. If a homeowner has a ½ acre of lawn and apply 4 lbs of N/1000sf/year, they will discharge to their property over twice as much nitrogen as they discharge to their wastewater system.

The good news is there are strategies to significantly reduce the nitrogen used on lawns and many good resources to assist communities and homeowners in this endeavor, such as the Turfgrass Nutrient Management Bulletin B-0100 produced by University of Connecticut (see their recommendations in blue sidebar).

To effectively reduce the nitrogen from lawn management, communities will have to:

  • Educate the public regarding the environmental and cost implications of lawn fertilizers
  • Educate the public regarding lawn care best management practices
  • Modify the perception of what constitutes attractive landscaping
  • Consider regulatory strategies

Wright-Pierce has been at the forefront of integrated watershed management for nitrogen control and is ready to assist your community address this important environmental issue.

Leonard_EdEd Leonard, PE, Wastewater Team Leader II