New infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account: The Biden administration is proposing a huge infrastructure plan to rebuild deteriorating bridges, highways, and other essential assets across the country. However, in order for such investments to pay off, the United States will require designs that can withstand shifting climates. According to engineers, the majority of U.S. infrastructure is built to last for decades, even in the face of occasional storms and floods.
Extreme storms, which were deemed rare only a few decades ago, are now becoming more prevalent. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was the third “500-year flood” to hit the Houston area in three years, and two additional catastrophic flooding storms followed it.
It can be costly to build infrastructure now that will be able to handle the worst circumstances that the country may face a century from now. But what if the infrastructure was designed to fulfill immediate demands while also being easily adaptable to future climate changes? Here we are going to address why new infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account
The problem with building for 100-year floods
Bridges in the United States are generally built to allow for the unhindered passage of floods, which have a one-in-a-hundred probability of occurring each year. A dam spillway, for example, could be designed to withstand a 10,000-year flood and stormwater drains for two-year rainfall events.
These “return timeframes” have usually been determined using a method based on historical data and the assumption that the climate does not change much.
These historical numbers may underestimate the intensity of future floods in a warming climate with more intense rainfall, increasing droughts, and rising sea levels, putting essential infrastructure, homes, and lives in jeopardy. Therefore New infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account
Putting adaptive design to work
The Dutch are flood-control experts. It becomes a need when nearly a third of a country is below sea level. In recent years, as knowledge of climate change and its influence on storms and sea-level rise has grown, U.S. engineers have turned to them for guidance and New infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account
The Netherlands’ unique designs, such as the Maeslant flood defense’s massive gates, are attracting attention. Still, equally significant is how the Dutch use adaptive designs to plan for the future while keeping costs down.
The Maeslantkering shields The Hague, Rotterdam, and other cities from the North Sea’s high tides. Look at the Afsluitdijk (Dutch), a 20-mile-long dam that protects Amsterdam’s harbor from storm surges on the North Sea, to see the adaptable design in action.
When the dam was finished in 1932, it used gravity to drain river water to the sea at low tide. However, as sea levels rise and the necessity to maintain the water level in Amsterdam’s port low to protect the city, gravity-based drainage is becoming increasingly inadequate so New infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account.
The Dutch have installed pump stations to drain water into the North Sea to modernize the dam. Significantly, the new design leaves enough space to enlarge existing pump stations or construct new ones if future storms and rising sea levels necessitate it.
Lessons as the nations plan new coastal protections
Several U.S. cities, including Houston, New York, and Boston, are contemplating hurricane defense systems, but it’s unclear how much protection they’ll need in the future to avoid floods. They could provide room for expanding those defenses when the climate changes by adopting adaptable design and New infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account.
New infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account
This could entail constructing earthen dams and levees that are large enough to be raised if necessary and reserving an area for the enlargement and elevating of coastal dunes that are part of the system, and the addition of pump equipment.
Importantly, movable storm surge barriers, which generally make up a small portion of a barrier system, provide only intermittent hurricane protection and not long-term sea-level rise protection. The moveable barriers may need to be replaced in the future with a dam, shipping lock, and drainage pumps, which can also be planned for therefore New infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account.
The United States can save billions of dollars by starting with an adaptive design rather than building new systems decades down the road. The cost of recent upgrades to California’s Folsom Dam, erected in 1955, exemplifies this. A new spillway finished in 2018 worth $900 million, which is roughly the original cost of the dam when adjusted for inflation and New infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account
Adapting for Mississippi River flooding
Engineers in the Netherlands consider the Delta Scenarios when designing new levees, storm surge barriers, and river locks. The Delta Scenarios are four possible futures for flood risk and sea-level rise, ranging from moderate to high global warming. These scenarios create the basis for adaptive design.
A set of locks on the Meuse River, for example, has to be updated or restored since it is used to raise and lower ships and barges as they go up and downstream. A new lock complex must include adequate sluice gates that can be closed or opened to let high water to pass through after storms, preventing flooding of nearby farms and cities.
During times of drought, the associated weir — a low dam that raises the river’s level — must be high enough to retain adequate water for ship operations.
The lock complex could manage future climatic scenarios by building a towering weir with many sluice gates and increasing riverbank levees to match, but this would be costly. Instead, the complex can be created with adaptive architecture so that it may be easily updated afterward to accommodate changing climate needs. This involves making room for more sluice gates and creating gates that can be grown taller as needed by welding on extra components. “New infrastructure needs to take the changing climate into account” is very important.